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In nature’s warning signs, a nudge to riparian states

GS paper 3

Syllabus: Disaster and disaster management, conservation of environment, etc


Directions: Important for mains, can be used as an example in impact of climate change, etc

Source: The Hindu


  • There has been an increase in the magnitude, the frequency and the intensity of floods in many parts of the world.

Recent examples of floods:

  • Pakistan
  • Assam, Bihar


Major impediments due to floods:

  • Impeding Poverty alleviation
  • Meeting Millennium Development Goals(MDGs)


Obstacles in understanding the magnitude of flooding:

  • Lack of transparency: In the sharing of hydrological information
  • Information relating to activities: By one riparian state that is transboundary in its effect (affecting other riparian states).


Customary international law:

  • Use of territory: No state has to use its territory in a manner that causes harm to another state while using a shared natural resource.
  • Binding obligation: There is a binding obligation on all states not to release water to cause floods in other co-sharer of the river water.
  • Other procedural norms:
    • Notification of planned measures
    • The exchange of data and information
    • Public participation
  • Article 27 of the UNWC Convention: Watercourse States shall, individually and, where appropriate, jointly, take all appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate conditions that may be harmful to other watercourse States.


The International Court of Justice (ICJ), in the Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina vs Uruguay) case (2010):

  • It upheld that conducting a transboundary environmental impact assessment (TEIA) of a planned measure or projects on the shared watercourse is part of customary international law.
  • The acting state must notify the affected party of the results of TEIA.


The Brahmaputra and India’s concerns:

Riparian state:

  • China(upper side)
  • India
  • Bangladesh


  • Recurrent feature: During the monsoon, flooding has been the recurrent feature in the last several decades in Assam.
  • Dam controller: China’s excessive water release, as a “dam controller”, in violation of customary international law has the potential to exacerbate flooding in Assam in the future.
  • No comprehensive sub-basin: There is no comprehensive sub-basin or all basin-level mechanism to deal with the water management of Brahmaputra.
  • Neither India nor China are party to:
    • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC) 1997
    • United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes 1992 (Water Convention).


Memorandum of understanding (MoU) (2013) between India and China:

  • Hydrological information: Sharing hydrological information during the flood season (June to September).
  • Urbanization and deforestation: The MoU does not allow India access to urbanization and deforestation activities on the Chinese side of the river basin.


India, Nepal and flood prevention:

  • Floods are a recurrent problem in the Koshi and Gandak river basins.
  • The intensity and magnitude of flooding are rising because:
    • Heavy seasonal precipitation
    • Glacial retreat due to global warming
    • Human-induced stressors: such as land use and land cover changes in the river basin area of Nepal (Terai) and Bihar.
  • Agreements: The India-Nepal Koshi agreement 1954 (revised in 1966) is aimed at reducing devastating flooding in the river basin.


Key challenge in developing cross-border flood warning systems:

  • India considers data on transboundary rivers as classified information.


Way forward:

  • River basins as single entities: It is important that the two neighbours view the river basins as single entities, which will help in facilitating an integrated approach for improved basin and flood risk management
  • Floods in Pakistan and the visible effects of climate change: It is important that all riparian states must comply with all the procedural duties pursuant to the no harm rule.
  • Water Convention: Countries must also think of becoming a party to either the UNWC or the UNECE Water Convention.


Insta Links:

Urban Flooding

The difficult path to India-Pakistan peace


Mains Links:

Q. The frequency of urban floods due to high-intensity rainfall is increasing over the years. Discussing the reasons for urban floods, highlight the mechanisms for preparedness to reduce the risk during such events. (UPSC 2016)


Prelims Links:


Water Convention

River basins

India-Nepal Koshi agreement 1954

The International Court of Justice (ICJ)

Brahmaputra and its tributaries

With reference to Ocean Mean Temperature (OMT), which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2020)

  1. OMT is measured up to a depth of 26°C isotherm which is 129 meters in the southwestern Indian Ocean during January-March.
  2. OMT collected during January-March can be used in assessing whether the amount of rainfall in monsoon will be less or more than a certain long-term mean.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

a. 1 only

b. 2 only

c. Both 1 and 2 only

d. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (b)


  • Ocean Mean Temperature (OMT) is measured up to a depth of 26 degrees isotherm.
  • It is measured with the help of satellites that orbit the earth.
  • In the Indian Ocean, OMT is analyzed by measuring the ocean thermal energy during the period from January to March.