The discussion is widening on the thorny problem of sharing water and managing trans-boundary flows among the five countries in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river basin.
Data and information on land use changes, river bed and flow regime changes, and actual stages of construction are critical to governments, scientists, civil society, and all river basin residents as they look at the best use of shared resources. Yet all states in the GBM basin are hesitant to share their hydrological data. Information on the construction of hydroelectric projects is even harder to find.
Much of the information already exists through online resources, satellite imagery, and aerial photography. The best public information is provided by non-governmental organizations including International Rivers and the Circle of Blue. Smaller organizations and individual scientists have also produced some excellent maps. But most maps lack exact locational data and in some areas satellite and aerial imagery that could potentially reveal infrastructure projects in the GBM and Mekong basins are blocked. On Bing Maps and Google Earth large sections of higher resolution imagery from companies like Digital Globe or Spot Image (superior to Landsat resolution) are not available.
While imagery may be purchased for any given area from these companies, it is typically at the behest of the governmental and commercial purchasers to dictate the distribution policy. This is especially distressing in looking at the key areas of the Great Bend of the Brahmaputra in Tibet and much of the Mekong basin within China’s national boundary.
Information on water and land uses in the basin can aid in flood alert and warning systems for residents and businesses, agricultural and industrial needs, and in overall human adaptation to climatic and human-induced changes to river flows. Thus the restricted access to information and satellite imagery on schemes for intensive water use does not bode well for transboundary dialogue and water sharing agreements. Any transboundary dialogue must start with a transparent method of information and data exchange on planned and current water use projects between the basin countries.
In this kind of complex governance issue, open and publicly available information is essential to finding sustainable solutions.
Chandana Mitra – Assistant Professor, Department of Geology and Geography, Auburn University. Memo #170
Ryan Hile – Undergraduate student, Department of Geology and geography, Auburn University. Memo #170
If you enjoyed this memo, subscribe to our e-newsletter for free and receive new memos 2+ times per week via email.
- China’s tourism plan quells Brahmaputra dam fears, The Hindu, June 2012.
- Managing South Asia’s Himalayan Rivers: A Human Development Framework (Memo #164, by Tashi Tsering)