Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Dragon is Thirsty; it Wants Your Water

The area where the Yarlung Tsangpo enters India (Upper Siang of Arunachal)
My article The Dragon is Thirsty; it Wants Your Water appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer today.

Here is the link...

While diplomats from New Delhi and Beijing talk about border issues, Chinese engineers continue to firm up plans to divert the Brahmaputra river. This is despite assurances that the project has been shelved.

India had a 17th round of talks with China on the Sino-Indian border.
Shivshankar Menon, the Indian National Security Advisor (and Special Representative) and Yang Jiechi, his Chinese counterpart, met to discuss not only the possibility of fixing the 4,057-km frontier, but also common strategic issues.
Before the routine exercise, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin explained: “The special representatives are expected to focus their discussion for a framework for the resolution of the boundary,” adding: “the two representatives will also discuss the bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest.”
That sounds good, especially as a 5th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on the India-China border affairs was also held at the Joint Secretary level; in Akbaruddin’s words: “to review recent development on the India-China border areas especially the western sector and the implementation of Border Defense Cooperation Agreement.”
Unfortunately, while diplomats talk, Chinese engineers continue to plan to divert waters from the Brahmaputra.
During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing in October 2013, the Chinese and Indian Ministries of Water Resources inked a MoU on Strengthening Cooperation on Trans-border Rivers. The Memorandum says: “The Chinese side agreed to extend the data provision period of the Brahmaputra River [Yarlung Tsangpo].”
The Indian side was delighted; China had generously increased the period for providing hydrological information on the Brahmaputra River from May 15 (instead of June 1) to October 15 of the same year.
Frankly, this amounts to little when there was not a word about the planned diversion of the Brahmaputra’s waters. Of course, South Block can argue that the project has been denied by China.
In October 2011, Jiao Yong, China’s vice minister of water resources, told a press conference in Beijing that although there was a demand in China to use waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), "considering the technical difficulties, the actual need of diversion and the possible impact on the environment and state-to-state relations, the Chinese government has no plan to conduct any diversification project in this river".
A month earlier, returning from the UN General Assembly on September 27, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in one of high-flying interactions with the media affirmed: "I have myself raised this issue with both the President as well as the Prime Minister of China on a number of occasions. They have assured us that they are not doing anything which will be detrimental to the interests of India."
Already in 2006, the Water Resource Minister, Wang Shucheng had publicly stated that the proposal was "unnecessary, unfeasible and unscientific. There is no need for such dramatic and unscientific projects."
Recently, I got a shock when I discovered an article detailing the project on the website of the Yellow River Conservancy Commission of the same Ministry of Water Resources of China. It describes in detail the phaoronic Great Western Water Diversion and the Yellow River Waterway Corridor.
It mentions a preliminary feasibility study prepared by officials of the Ministry of Water Resources in Beijing. The idea of the Chinese engineers is to divert 150 billion cubic meters of water and ‘push’ these waters into the drying (and dying) Yellow River in order to irrigate northern China.
The Water Diversion Project would collect waters from 6 rivers: Yarlung Tsangpo (later known as Siang in Arunachal and Brahmaputra in Assam), Salween, Mekong and Yangtze, Yalung and Dadu rivers and before reaching the upper reaches of the Yellow River.
The website of the Chinese ministry gives details: some 50 billion m3 would be diverted from the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra (about 30% of the average annual runoff of 165.4 billion m3).
To my knowledge, it is the first time that a 'preliminary' study appears on a Government website with such details.
In the 1990s, a book by Li Ling, Tibetan Waters will save China was circulated amongst experts in China. Li and his acolyte Guo Kai, a retired PLA General had suggested a Shuotian Canal (‘Shuotian’ is a contraction of Shuomatan in Central Tibet, the origin of the canal and the city of Tianjing at the other end). This project would have diverted 206 billion m3 of water from Tibet to northern China.
According to Li Ling, in one strike, the recurrent floods of the Yellow River would be eradicated; inland water transport in north China would restart and the floods in Bangladesh and India would be prevented. The route suggested by Li Ling was however different from the one mentioned on the website of the Chinese Ministry of Water Resource.
The Chinese engineers bank now on two tributaries of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the Palung Tsangpo and Yigong Tsangpo through which the Yarlung Tsangpo’s waters could be ‘pushed’ eastward along the Sichuan-Tibet highway (China National Highway 318, running from Shanghai to the China-Nepal border) through the Baxoi County of Chamdo Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
The energy produced by six dams in Lengda, Zhongda, Langzhen, Jiexu, Jiacha and Zangmu (already under construction) will be used to push the diverted waters eastwards.
The diversion would meet the Salween, (one of the three parallel rivers, with the Mekong and the Yangtze) and proceed to Xiaya following the Chamdo-Tibet Highway.
The Sanjiang (Three Rivers) Water Transfer would then follow the Sichuan-Tibet highway before reaching Dege and the confluence with the Upper Yangtze. Now, the ‘four rivers’ could run along the Sichuan-Tibet highway through the Chola Mountains of Western Sichuan and via Garze reach the confluence with the Yalung River. There would now be five rivers (Yarlung Tsangpo, Salween, Yangtze, Mekong, and Yalung). The water transfer would then proceed along the Sichuan-Tibet highway, via Dadu in Luhuo County.
After the confluence with the Dadu River, it would finally shoot off north along the highway through Zamtang of Ngaba prefecture before reaching the Yellow River which would be crossed to reach the Yellow River Ma Chu Great Bend where a reservoir would regulate the flow of the river. 'Maqu' or 'Ma chu' ('River of the Peacock' in Tibetan) is the local name of the Yellow River.
The above details show that the project has seriously been studied.
How feasible is it to realize this mega project? It is impossible to say.
The first leg, before the transfer reaches the Salween, seems impossible, but, in this case, why do the Chinese engineers keep working on the ‘feasibility’ of such a megalomaniac scheme? And why tell Indian diplomats (and the Prime Minister) that it has been shelved?
The problem is that China is thirsty; the Middle Kingdom needs water so badly.
Did the Special Representatives discuss the issue? It is doubtful.
Probably, the present government prefers to leave this hot potato to their successor to tackle?

No comments: