Shahidul Haque, professorial fellow, NSU, and former foreign secretary of Bangladesh, said water is seen as a strategic asset nowadays, not only as a resource.
River influences geopolitics in South Asia, which is a tool to analyse in the context of political views and national interest, he pointed out.
He came up with the remarks while chairing the second day of ‘7th International Water Conference 2022’ titled ‘Teesta River Basin: Overcoming the Challenges’, organised by ActionAid Bangladesh on Friday.
Mr Shahidul also said geopolitics should not be seen as a zero-sum game and should be a win-win situation looking through the geopolitical lens.
The second day of the conference focused on the thematic issues- Structural Interventions and Regional Geo-politics around Teesta River Basin and Teesta River Basin and its Ecosystem and Gender Implications.
Urging for a basin wise water management system, parliament member Hasanul Haq Inu said, barrages and dams are affecting the ecosystem.
In this conference, Jayanta Basu, Environment Documentation expert, director of Environment Governed Integrated Organisation (EnGIO), faculty, Calcutta University, presented a paper titled ‘Geopolitics of River Teesta and need to pursue Nature based Negotiated Approach (NBNA)’.
According to his paper presentation, South Asian transboundary river issues linked to regional geopolitics as all countries in the region strongly depend on rivers mainly for agriculture, hydroelectricity amp; other reasons. Unequal political power positioning in the region; the influence of international, national, and local political relationships river and climate change are the vital factors in regional geopolitics.
He stated that upper riparian vs lower riparian country narrative does not hold water in such a dynamic water sharing paradigm and proposed for the holistic inter-country stakeholder level discussion to arrive at a comprehensive transboundary river water usage model.
“Between India and Bangladesh, there is no holistic basin-based approach although both countries share 54 transboundary rivers. A holistic basin-based approach is needed to be taken”, said, Jayanta Basu.
Basu also said Nature Based Negotiated Approach (NBNA) to Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) is key in addressing the conflicts like Teesta.
Keeping agriculture and food security at centre, Dr Atiq Rahman Executive Director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), said that restricting the flow of water by barrages and holding water can disrupt the live and livelihood of the river-based people.
He also said West Bengal and Bangladesh are fortunate to have good civil society organisations that can act as a catalyst to mitigate any conflicting issues like Teesta river water.
Terming rivers as a living entity, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) said, this value is totally lost in India Bangladesh negotiation and decision-making process.
She said the nature-based negotiation approach is missing, and the negotiation process should be accountable and transparent regarding water management and allocation.
“Water management has to be basin wise management starting from the origin and down to the point where the river reaches the ocean”, Rizwana added.
As per the rule, the joint river commission between Bangladesh and India has to be sat twice in a year but the real scenario is different and no fruitful outcome is visible, said Sharif Jamil General Secretary, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA).
He also said, “The entire river system among Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna should be looked at holistically and five riparian countries should sit together and managed this entire three basins because this is an integral part of single river system.”
Noting that the Teesta river is associated with 25 rivers in Bangladesh, Tuhin Wadud
Professor, Begum Rokeya University, Director, Riverine People, said, “No decision should be taken on the Teesta without consulting the people on the banks of the river”.
Another paper titled ‘Living with the Teesta River: women’s livelihoods strategies in the changing climate of the Teesta River basin’ was presented by Zarin Yesmin Chaity, assistant professor at Gender and Development Studies, Begum Rokeya University.