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From the monsoon season this June, China will provide data on the water flow of the Brahmaputra and rainfall data in its catchment area to Bangladesh. A Memorandum of Understanding to this effect was signed between the countries at a meeting held in Beijing on March 24.

The water flow data – from three measuring stations in Tibet, where the Brahmaputra is known as the Yarlung Zangbo – will be provided once a day over e-mail from June to October, Zafar Ahmed Khan, secretary to the Ministry of Water Resources in Bangladesh, told thethirdpole.net. The same mail will contain data on rainfall in the river’s catchment area in China. Khan led the six-member Bangladesh delegation to Beijing in March.

By a 2010 agreement that was renewed and expanded in 2013, China already sells the same water flow data to India. There was no further advance on this agreement during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China last week.

The joint statement released by the two governments after Modi’s visit said, “The Indian side expressed appreciation to China for providing flood-season hydrological data and the assistance in emergency management. The two sides will further strengthen cooperation through the Expert-Level Mechanism on the provision of flood-season hydrological data and emergency management, and exchange views on other issues of mutual interest.”

The Brahmaputra rises in Tibet and flows through India before entering Bangladesh, where the river is known as Jamuna. By getting water flow and rainfall data from China during monsoon, Bangladesh can update its existing flood forecasting system and thus help people reduce agricultural and other damage, said Mir Sajjad Hossain, member of Joint River Commission (JRC) Bangladesh, a platform for management of transboundary rivers between Bangladesh and India.

Currently, the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre in Bangladesh can provide a five-day warning of a flood on the Jamuna, partly from data provided by the Indian government. The centre wants to increase this to 10-15 days, and hopes this will be made possible from the data to be provided by China.

Zafar Ahmed Khan said China had assured the delegates that apart from the data, it would help improve Bangladesh’s technical capacity to provide early flood warnings. Flood is a recurring feature on the Jamuna, and this became severe during the 2014 monsoon season, inundating 250,000 hectares of farmland, according to the Department of Agriculture Extension.

Bangladesh-India cooperation

Apart from the recent deal with China, Bangladesh has been working with India since 2010 on exchange of water flow data on different transboundary rivers during the June-October monsoon. India now shares water level information from eight measuring stations on the Brahmaputra, Teesta, Ganga and Barak rivers. Of them, four measuring stations are on the Brahmaputra, two of the Ganga and one each on the Teesta and Barak rivers.

In 1996, the two countries signed a 30-year Ganga treaty by which India assures Bangladesh of a minimum water flow during the lean season. A key provision of the treaty is that if there is water, India and Bangladesh will alternately receive 35,000 cubic litres per second (cusec) over a 10-day period from March 11 to May 10 every year. However, JRC data shows that Bangladesh, the lower riparian country, has not received this volume all the time.

Ataur Rahman, a faculty in the Water Resources Management Department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said such type of data sharing will enhance cooperation in the region on water and river basin management.

Dam on the Brahmaputra

Parts of the Indian media have often accused China of building dams on the Yarlung Zangbo and thus reducing the flow of water in the Brahmaputra. Zafar Ahmed Khan the Bangladeshi delegates raised this issue during their meetings in Beijing, but were assured by the Chinese that it was not building any dam to divert water, only to produce electricity, and this would not affect water flow. “China confirmed to us that it is building dams on its Yellow river and the only purpose is to generate electricity.” China has earlier confirmed that it is building a dam at Zangmu on the river in Tibet to produce electricity.

After its stretch in India, the Brahmaputra – now called the Jamuna – has a 240 km run in Bangladesh before it joins the main branch of the Ganga (called Padma).

People who have lost their homes to river erosion along the banks of the Jamuna in Bangladesh Photo by Joydeep Gupta)

People who have lost their homes to river erosion along the banks of the Jamuna in Bangladesh Photo by Joydeep Gupta)

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