Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Study on China dams brings the Brahmaputra into focus

Topics Covered: India and its neighbourhood- relations.

Study on China dams brings the Brahmaputra into focus

What to study?

For Prelims: Key findings of the report, important dams in Mekong and Brahmaputra river, overview of these river basins.

For Mains: Impact of dams on people and ecology, ways to address them.

Context: China’s upstream activities along the Mekong River have long been contentious — but a recent study has sparked fresh scrutiny over its dam-building exercises, reigniting warnings that millions of livelihoods could be destroyed.

The US funded study was carried out by research and consulting firm, Eyes on Earth.

The report was published by the UN-backed Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, and the Lower Mekong Initiative — a multinational partnership of the U.S. with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Key findings and observations:

  • China built its first dam on the upper Mekong in the 1990s and currently runs 11 dams along the river. The country has plans to build more dams, which are used to generate hydropower.
  • These dams are holding back large amounts of water upstream on the Mekong, which exacerbated a severe drought in the Southeast Asian countries downstream last year.
  • Some of those dams have compounded the alteration of the river’s natural flow, resulting in the Lower Mekong recording some of its lowest river levels ever throughout most of the year.
  • China’s dam management is causing erratic and devastating changes in water levels down stream.
  • Unexpected dam releases caused rapid rises in river level that have devastated communities downstream, causing millions in damage shocking the river’s ecological processes.


Should India be worried?

India has long expressed concerns over dam-building on the Brahmaptura. In 2015, China operationalised its first hydropower project at Zangmu, while three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha are being developed. Indian officials have said the dams are not likely to impact the quantity of the Brahmaputra’s flows because they are only storing water for power generation. Moreover, the Brahmaputra is not entirely dependent on upstream flows and an estimated 35% of its basin is in India.  But, India does not have a water-sharing agreement with China.

 About Mekong:

The 4,350 kilometer (2,700 mile) Mekong River runs through six countries.

Starting from China — where it is called the Lancang River — it flows past countries like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, before emptying into the South China Sea via Vietnam.

It is the lifeblood of these Southeast Asian countries and supports the livelihood of nearly 200 million people there who depend largely on farming and fishing.

Insta Links:

Prelims Link:

  1. Countries through which Mekong flows.
  2. Dams constructed across Mekong and Brahmaputra.
  3. What is Brahmaputra called in China? Its tributaries.
  4. Does India has any water sharing agreement with China?
  5. Himalayan region through which these rivers pass.

Mains Link:

Discuss how China’s upstream activities along the Mekong River have impacts on countries downstream and the ecology surrounding.

Sources: the Hindu.