JBS Vol 14. Num 1. 2012 - Bangladesh-India Water Sharing Disputes: Possible Policy Responses

Shariful Islam

This paper assesses the Bangladesh-India water-sharing disputes which date back to the early 1970s with India's ill-conceived construction of the Farakka Barrage on the Ganges. Unfortunately, the bypassing of international laws and unilateral diversion of water from transboundary rivers has been the long-standing policy of India. Without any agreement with Bangladesh, it has embarked on constructing dams and diverting water from many transboundary rivers such as Teesta, Gumti, Khowai, Dharla, Dudkumar, Monu, etc. India also reportedly blocked rivers such as Muhri, Chagalnaiya, Fulchari, Kachu, and many others in Tripura flowing into Bangladesh. This caused a steady reduction in water flow, mainly due to intensive water diversion by India. Meeting the increased water demand of the fast-growing population in the coming decades will be a great challenge for Bangladesh, while India continues its non-compromising attitude on water sharing from the international rivers. Against this backdrop, water scarcity will trigger conflicts and instability, its consequences may spill over state borders, and regional tensions will become a threat to international peace and security. The paper argues that the water issue need not be a cause for tension; rather, it can be a catalyst for cooperation as in the eastern Himalayas and Mekong river basin. Such cooperation is the only remedy to avert future water conflicts, obtain collective gains, and ensure sustainable ecosystems.