Draft Agreement Promises Positive Outlook for Bangladesh Water Security

22 June 2011 FDI Team

Background

High-level talks between India and Bangladesh in June this year herald a timely agreement on the subject of sharing water from the Teesta River. The agreement represents an important gain for Bangladeshi water security and sets a positive precedent for future water-sharing arrangements.

Comment

India and Bangladesh have been trying to resolve the question of sharing the water from the River Teesta for nearly two decades. Bangladesh is dependent on water from the Teesta, especially during the dry season between December and March. At times in December and January, the flow falls from 141 cubic metres per second to less than 28 cubic metres per second, due to withdrawals by India. India has been using treated Teesta water to supply nearby localities with Bangladesh’s consent, but it is time for the arrangement to be formalised. Talks between the Bangladeshi and Indian Foreign Secretaries earlier in June appeared constructive, with both sides expressing optimism about the progress made. The draft interim sharing arrangement is proposed to last for 15 years.

While the issue is virtually settled and is slated to be signed during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka in August, some differences remain over the question of the percentage shares of the water. Bangladesh is in favour of a 50:50 arrangement, whereas India is proposing a 45:55 split. It has, however, been stressed by both Bangladeshi and Indian officials that this discrepancy will not prevent a resolution of the deal, but rather would be addressed in high level negotiations during Prime Minister Singh’s visit.

Wahid uz-Zaman, the Bangladeshi Water Resources minister, said that because Bangladesh is a low-riparian country, equitable water-sharing agreements are always of significance. It would appear that both countries now have the political will to resolve water-sharing arrangements for their 54 common rivers. The Teesta River talks also included discussion of other shared rivers, including the Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhukumar.

Bangladesh and India are both currently signatories to a treaty that provides water-sharing arrangements for the Ganges. The Ganges water agreement was signed in 1996, with forerunning agreements signed in 1977 and 1982. The agreement was intended to end the upstream abuse of the river by India, which left the water polluted with toxic chemicals and heavy metals from industrial effluent. The Ganges water agreement is yet to effectively protect Bangladesh’s interests, however. India continues to gain greater benefit from the arrangement which, notably, does not include any arbitration clause under which an aggrieved party could demand change. The history of Indian domination of common waterways places some doubt over the efficacy of any future agreement over the Teesta.

Yet, Bangladesh is confident that the new deal could represent a new beginning. It is seeking a next generation, comprehensive water sharing agreement, which will cover all 54 common rivers. An equitable resolution over the River Teesta would also represent an important element in future Bangladeshi water security. The deal comes at a time when Bangladesh has already sought to ensure its future food security by renting tens of thousands of hectares in Africa, with the aim of redirecting nearly all of the land’s agricultural output back to Bangladesh. Without government efforts to secure future food and water supplies, the poverty-stricken South Asian nation will be confronted with greater food shortages and price increases. Bangladesh was previously self-sufficient in rice production, but industrial expansion and population growth have meant that available farmland has been lost to factories and residences.

Prue Campbell

Research Intern

FDI Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme

 

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