Experts call for joint India, China action on release of water from quake-hit river

Updated 2017-12-28 16:00:18 CGTN

Experts are calling for transnational cooperation between India and China to ensure sustained release of water from three barrier lakes formed along Yarlung Zangbo River after a series of earthquakes hit the region since last month.

As a result of the natural disasters, these lakes are threatening to burst endangering lives of hundreds of villagers residing downstream.

A 6.4-magnitude earthquake on November 17 was followed by a swarm of quakes with the epicenter near the great bend – world's highest gorge – from where Yarlung Zangbo River takes a U-turn.

The earthquakes triggered landslides blocking the river stream at various points resulting in those barrier lakes. The massive landslides have also polluted the river also known as Siang River in northeastern states of India.

Nayan Sharma, a river expert from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, told CGTN that the barrier lakes are likely to burst once the temperature starts to rise in the region.

"Both India and China should form a team of transnational experts to ensure easy release of water from the artificial lakes else it will lead to human casualties and large-scale destruction," Sharma said.

A similar landslide incident in April 2000 had killed around 30 in one of India's northeastern state and left more than 1,000 families homeless. Sharma added that China's response to the crisis is encouraging, and both sides should jointly work to resolve the crisis.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on a press conference on Tuesday, "China remains in contact with the Indian side through existing channels on the issue concerning cross-border rivers."

The landslides have led to substantial sediment load in the Siang River turning its water black. The debris from the mountains and silt polluted the river to the extent that Nephelometric Turbidity Unit – a measure of the concentration of suspended particulates in a liquid went up to 425.

The permissible turbidity for drinking water is around 5, a report by an Indian government laboratory claimed.

A few Indian politicians and a section of the media there had blamed Chinese dams and infrastructure construction for polluting the river.

Ripun Bora, a senior politician, and member of India's upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, accused China's massive infrastructure construction near the river for turning the river's water poisonous.

"There is an abnormal change of water in the Brahmaputra during the last one month, and poisonous, muddy, turbid water is flowing in this river. As a result, a lot of wild animals, aquatic life and have fish died," he apprised the Rajya Sabha.

China denied, and strongly reacted to the allegations. Hua, the FM spokesperson told reporters, a preliminary investigation carried out by the relevant Chinese department shows that the river pollution was caused by natural factors in the far-flung, uninhabited areas near the disputed region along the east section of the China-India borderline, rather than man-made incidents.

"We noted that the specialized department on the Indian side also analyzed and clarified the situation. We hope that the Indian media do not make these speculations before getting the facts straight," she said.

Chintan Sheth from India's National Centre for Biological Sciences and Anirban Datta-Roy, a doctoral student who studied satellites images to find the source of Siang River's pollution concluded, "Our analysis revealed that the origin of the sediments is from Gyala Peri landslides. We do not have any evidence of the Chinese diverting water."

Siang River originates from southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region glacier where it is known as Yarlung Zangbo. The river travels for nearly 2,000 km within China before entering India. The river then merges with the Dibang and Lohit rivers in Assam to become the mighty Brahmaputra River and also flows into Bangladesh.

Parag Jyoti Saikia, a faculty at Asia University for Women in Bangladesh who has earlier worked with South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) warned heavy sediment load in Siang River will have a far-reaching impact and needs a careful study.

"Not only Indian states but also Bangladesh is likely to suffer from Siang's pollution. Both sides need to conduct scientific studies to ascertain the impact of pollution and threat," Saikia told CGTN.

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