Multilateral treaties for Integrated river basin management

News Excerpt

Recent report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) describe climate change as the urgent catalyst for collaboration over three key river basins in Asia: the Indus, the Ganga, and the Brahmaputra; across eight nations.

Key Points of ICIMOD and AWP report:

  • Three major studies by ICIMOD and AWP highlight that these basins are critical for food and water security, industry, and economic policies in the region.
  • Climate change exacerbates existing pressures on water resources, leading to increased risks from floods, land erosion, and salinity. There is a pressing need for collective action to address humanitarian, ecological, and economic risks. This further calls for the importance/ need of sustainable development for humankind.
  • Report provides recommendations to mitigate risks by focusing on multi-dimensional perspectives/ issues i.e., economic, ecological, energy, social, geopolitical, and governance issues.
  • Report advocates for integrated river basin management (IRBM) approaches by emphasizing on the importance of data sharing and multi-stakeholder engagement.
    • Collaboration is essential for identifying areas of common interest and promoting mutual benefits. 
  • Report highlights: Potential for countries and other stakeholders to collaborate in protecting vulnerable communities, maintaining ecosystems, and fostering economic growth in order to ensure the balance between economic growth and environmental protection
    • Importance of harnessing Indigenous local knowledge systems. These insights can play a crucial role in resolving crises effectively and empowering local communities to build resilience.
  • The Indus, Ganga, and Brahmaputra river systems provide for water and related needs of millions of people and are equally crucial for energy strategies in the development of the region.
    • Harnessing their hydropower potential is essential for meeting energy demands.

What is Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM)

  • IRBM is the process of coordinating conservation, management and development of water, land and related resources across sectors within a given river basin, to maximize the economic and social benefits derived from water resources equitably while preserving and, where necessary, restoring freshwater ecosystems. 
  • It is mainly suitable for India and other developing countries as it envisages equitably maximizing socio-economic benefits ensuring the sustainability of freshwater ecosystems. 
  • The aforementioned development is concerned with identifying structural and non-structural measures to ensure the water availability, overcoming its spatial & temporal variability to meet development objectives, subject to various technological, social and financial constraints.
  • The seven key elements of a successful IRBM initiative are:
    • A long-term vision for the river basin, agreed to by all the major stakeholders.
    • Integration of policies, decisions, and costs across sectoral interests such as industry, agriculture, urban development, navigation, fisheries management and conservation, including through poverty reduction strategies.
    • Strategic decision-making at the river basin scale, which guides actions at sub-basin or local levels.
    • Effective timing, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise while working within a strategic framework.
    • Active participation by all relevant stakeholders in well-informed and transparent planning and decision-making.
    • Adequate investment by governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations in capacity for river basin planning and participation processes.
    • A solid foundation of knowledge of the river basin and the natural and socio-economic forces that influence it.
  • IRBM: A Multidisciplinary Approach
    • Historically, projects have been undertaken in a fragmented manner such as management of individual reservoirs to meet local irrigation demand, abstraction of ground water for drinking water etc. 
    • Integration needed at river basin scale (conjunctive use etc) which may further call for integration at regional, national and possibly international scale. It enables a holistic approach for addressing issues related to water resources in a river basin.
    • The major disciplines for IRBM are as under:
      • HYDROLOGY: Concerned with quantifying natural water distribution in time and space (assessment of water resources)
      • HYDRAULIC ENGINEERING: Concerned with design and management of structural measures whereby water can be stored and distributed in time and space
      • ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING: Concerned with quantifying water quality in time and space, and with waste water treatment processes whereby this can be altered to accord with water quality standards for river water etc.
      • SOCIAL SCIENCES: Concerned with formulating objectives of development, with assessment of water demand and with water governance and public participation
      • SYSTEMS ANALYSIS: Interacting roles of above disciplines can best be studied through the medium of systems analysis. Variables describing inputs to, components and states of, and outputs from a system can be defined and relationships between them can be represented through equations in a mathematical model. 

Indus water treaty: 

  • The Government of India has signed water treaties/ agreements with our neighboring countries in the past for mutual benefits in the field of water resources. The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 with Pakistan concerning the use of waters of the Indus system of rivers. 
  • The Treaty extends to main rivers of Indus basin i.e. Sutlej, Beas, Ravi (Eastern rivers) and Jhelum, Chenab and Indus (Western rivers) including their tributaries and sub tributaries and other water bodies. 
  • All the waters of the Eastern Rivers were allocated to India for her unrestricted use while India is under obligation to let flow all the waters of the Western Rivers, except for the domestic, non-consumptive and other uses permitted in the Treaty.

GANGA Water treaty with Nepal and Bangladesh Respectively:

  • A Treaty has been signed with Nepal in the year 1996, viz. Mahakali Treaty concerning Integrated Development of the Mahakali River (known as river 'Sarda' in India), including Sharda Barrage, Tanakpur Barrage and Pancheshwar Project. In addition, Kosi Agreement, 1954 (amended in December, 1966) and Gandak Agreement, 1959 (amended in April, 1964) were signed with Nepal for construction of Kosi Project and Gandak Project respectively.
  • Ganga / Ganges Water sharing Treaty was signed with Bangladesh in the year 1996 for sharing of Ganga/Ganges waters at Farakka. As per the Treaty, the Ganga/Ganges waters is being shared at Farakka (which is the last control structure on river Ganga in India) during lean period, from 1st January to 31st May every year, on a 10-day period basis as per the formula provided in the Treaty. 

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