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1.3 million farming households may lose livelihood due to shipping, navigation in Ganga-Brahmaputra: Study

Counterview Desk
A new study “Expanding Tradable Benefits of Trans-boundary Water: Promoting Navigational Usage of Inland Waterways in Ganga and Brahmaputra Basins”, has raised the alarm that any changes in their water flow from growing shipping and navigation will affect the livelihoods of the nearly 1.3 million farming households and tens of thousands of fishing households dependent on the rivers.
Pointing out that currently, the transboundary river basins of Ganga-Brahmaputra support the life and livelihoods of over 600 million people, the study says that if the development of inland waterways is not properly regulated, this could damage to fish and dolphin sanctuaries due to dredging, river water pollution due to oil spillage and waste disposal also pose real challenges in Bangladesh and India.
Sponsored by two non-profit organizations, Asia Foundation and Jaipur-based CUTS (Consumer Unity & Trust Society) International , , the study says, “Though water is the major means of transport in Bangladesh, its scope is still hugely limited in India.”
The momentum for developing the waterways momentum gathered following a series of bilateral and multilateral agreements have been signed in recent years, including the 2015 Bangladesh- India Protocol on Inland Water Trade and Transit (PIWTT), providing an opportunity for both countries to explore investment on the routes designated.
Even as Bangladesh and India are working together and investing on infrastructure and maintenance to keep their protocol routes navigable throughout the year for cargo ships of no less than 2,000 tonnes capacity, land-locked Bhutan recently signed an MoU with Bangladesh in 2017 to use Bangladesh’s inland waterways for transportation of goods and services through Chittagong and Mongla ports for both imports and exports.
While these new agreements are welcome, the study says, especially in Bangladesh and India, there would be a new risk of “accidents, oil spills, waste discharge, turbidity changes and loss of spawning grounds for aquatic life with greater movement of vessels and further waterway developments. There were also many concerns about the effects of dredging, which is a must for navigation through the silt-laden rivers.”
“Cumulative impact of these is also a recipe for disaster to the local communities living around the rivers, specifically the fishermen and agrarian communities that depend on the riverbeds for their overall sustenance,” the report underlines.
“Maintaining waterways involves continuous dredging, sand mining, and other construction works, which can potentially have adverse effects on the biodiversity of the riverine ecosystem. This might create stress on the ecosystem, with potential for conflicts with local communities engaged in fishing and other livelihood activities”, it adds.
“Growing river traffic may threaten Hilsa sanctuaries unless adequate precaution is taken to prevent the damage from ships. There are five Hilsa fish sanctuaries on the protocol routes 1 and 2. Hilsa is a national fish of Bangladesh and a source of income for a majority of the fishing folks living in the coastal areas”, the report points out.
“The turtle sanctuary at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and the Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary at Bhagalpur, Bihar fall within Ganga’s National Waterway-1 in India; environmentalists have objected to vessel movement and dredging in these stretches”, the report continues.

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