Being a transboundary river, the Brahmaputra is managed differently in the different basin countries based on their respective national policies.
“Conflicts exist among the basin countries over management of the shared rivers that need to be addressed through adaptive hydro-diplomacy that exceed conventional diplomatic practices. A multilateral mechanism for regional cooperation needs to be established by the basin countries, based on their shared interest in reducing disaster and climate risk, equitable benefit-sharing from sustainable utilization of the water resources, and regional peace and prosperity of the basin region,” the study, Sustainable Management Options for Healthy Rivers in South Asia: The Case of Brahmaputra published in the journal Sustainability, says.
The researchers from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Guwahati-based NGO Aaranyak said that ensuring riverine connectivity and ecological health of the river by keeping the river free-flowing as far as possible should be one of the top priorities in a multilateral, collaborative, basin-wide co-management strategy.
The Brahmaputra, one of the largest river systems of South Asia, originates in the Chemayungdung glacier in the Kailash range in the south of the Tibet Autonomous Region (at a 5300 m elevation), traverses China (for a distance of 1625 km), India (for 918 km), and Bangladesh (for 337 km, where it is called Jamuna). It merges with the Ganges (Padma) and then with the Meghna in Bangladesh, and eventually flows into the Bay of Bengal. The Brahmaputra river basin (BRB) is based within China (50.5%), India (33.6%), Bangladesh (8.1%), and Bhutan (7.8%).
The Brahmaputra river basin is key to the growth of the South Asian region because it is critical in meeting the demands for water and its uses for people and their livelihoods.
“In the changing context of the projected climate future, there is a need to balance the multiple demands for water between environmental management, social equity, and sustainable development of the basin communities and ecosystem. With increasing population and changing consumption patterns, it is likely that the demand for water from the Brahmaputra will rise, putting the basin’s social, political, and economic stability at risk,” the study says.
The river provided life-supporting services to about 70 million people. Massive flooding, land erosion, over-exploitation of water, excessive fishing, habitat degradation and fragmentation, exploitation of flood plains, climate change impacts, absence of integrated basin wide management, and transboundary cooperation are major challenges for the present and future sustainability and development in the basin.
“Riverine ecosystems, especially watersheds and wetlands, catchments, and the headwaters of river systems, should receive attention for the purpose of managing them and to use them wisely to enhance the lives and livelihoods of communities. This should be supported by scientific and evidence-based knowledge, including climate projections and scenario planning. For this to happen, the science-policy connection and conformity must be strengthened,” the study adds.