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Need for Codifying international law/obligations for ensuring environmental flow downstream: Lessons from Bangladesh.

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Miah M. Maniruzzaman
The author is a former Vice -Chancellor of the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.Prior to that he was Professor at the department of Geography and environment of the same University.He has authored or edited several books on water issues of Bangla

Keyword(s): Floods,Droughts,IPCC,Ecosystem,Environmental flow,International Law
AbstractIntroduction: Bangladesh is criss-crossed by a network of nearly 250 rivers, fifty-four of which have their sources in India, Nepal and China. In fact all the large and medium-sized rivers enter the country from outside. The total inflow from outside is on the order of 1060 BCM while only 340 BCM is generated within the country. Bangladesh and the countries around are located within the Monsoon Region. Naturally, the seasonal distribution of rainfall is highly skewed. Bangladesh being in the lowermost reaches of the three big river systems of Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna receives 92% of its flows from outside during the monsoon months causing floods, sometimes of disastrous proportions .The situation is reversed during the dry winter months. To give specific instances, while the annual maximum discharges of the Ganges range between 38200 and 73150 cumecs, the lowest flow ever recorded is only 1180 cumecs. In the case of the Brahmaputra, the minimum and maximum ever recorded are 3300 and 98000 cumecs (1998-flood). As mentioned earlier, floods sometimes cause havoc, particularly to agriculture. But abnormally low flows combined with droughts, which are also frequent, do no less. IPCC suggests that with passing years summers will have more disastrous floods while winters will be receiving lesser rainfall. Agriculture, the mainstay of the country’s economy ensures food security to millions of Bangladeshis and also provides employment to a larger chunk of the population. It is to be recognized that water is very important indeed for the country’s economy, as it directly affects agriculture, fisheries and transportation. For Bangladesh it is also of immense importance for preserving the entire eco-system of the country. Bangladesh is however faced with an irreversible damage to its ecosystem because of ever-increasing withdrawal of water upstream leaving only trickles that might come down the rivers from upstream. While rivers are drying up, its fisheries resources, the major sources of protein for the people, are on the wane, its flora and fauna are dwindling, and the mangrove forest of the Sundarbans, the abode of myriads of species of animals and plants of the saline ecosystem are gradually disappearing. In fact the entire ecosystem is in danger of suffering irreversible damage. While this is so, water from upstream is decreasing in quantity each year, not because of natural causes but because of human interference. This is happening because there is no international law that binds an upper riparian to allow a minimum flow so that there is no ecological or environmental disaster downstream. Objective: The objective is to assess the efficacy of the current international legal mechanism for ensuring equitable quantity of water including environmental flow by the upper riparian to the lower. Methods: Taking Bangladesh, a Monsoon country, as the example an analysis of its present position in regard to water availability will be made partly with data already available and mostly newly generated. Results and Conclusion: In regard to water availability Bangladesh suffers from the extreme difficulties. One, its location in the Monsoon region with both annual and seasonal variability of rainfall. Two, its position in the lowermost reaches of three big river systems leaving it very little option in the absence of a regional framework for water governance. And Three, the spectre of climate change to its disadvantage looming large. One probable solution to this is codification of international convention/treaty/law which can be binding on every country.
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