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Monday, March 28, 2016

Teesta deal not now Delhi ends speculations ahead of Modi's Dhaka visit

Pallab Bhattacharya and Rezaul Karim
Putting an end to all speculations, India yesterday made it clear that the Teesta water-sharing deal will not be signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's June 6-7 Dhaka visit, as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is yet to give consent to it.

“There will be no deal on Teesta during the coming visit because we have to take the state [West Bengal] government on board for this,” India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told a press conference at the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan in New Delhi.
She said this in response to a query about the possibility of signing the Teesta deal during the Indian PM's visit to Dhaka.
"We have not reached a position for signing of the Teesta pact. Any understanding between governments of India and Bangladesh will not be enough as no decision is possible without consulting the state government," Swaraj said.
Asked if there was any possibility of Mamata dropping out at the last minute like she did in 2011, the minister said, "This time there is no such possibility. Mamata Banerjee is definitely going there."
Swaraj, however, said the process of taking the state government on board for the Teesta deal was on.
Her statement set at rest speculations swirling in both Indian and Bangladeshi media about the signing of the Teesta agreement during Modi's visit.
This time, Indian media highlighted the possibility of signing the Teesta deal following Modi's surprise meeting with his predecessor Manmohan Singh four days ago, and the news of Modi's forthcoming talks with ex-Indian premier HD Deve Gowda on Wednesday or Thursday. 
Manmohan is familiar with details of negotiations on the Teesta deal, which couldn't be signed during his Dhaka visit in September 2011 due to opposition from Mamata, while Deve Gowda had signed, along with Hasina, the Ganges water-sharing deal in June 1996 in New Delhi.    
Determined not to repeat the fiasco of September 2011 when Mamata pulled out of Manmohan's Dhaka trip, the BJP-led NDA government had worked to bring Mamata on board.
Following the ratification of historic Land Boundary Agreement (LBA), Modi made hectic efforts to resolve the long-pending Teesta issue. He initiated talks with Mamata to reach a consensus.
Swaraj, who has good equations with Mamata, took the lead role in trying to convince her. Finally, the Indian PM invited the West Bengal CM to accompany him on his Bangladesh visit and she accepted it.
During her February 19-21 Bangladesh visit this year, Mamata assured Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina about the Teesta deal, saying “have faith in me”.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who visited West Bengal recently, also said the Teesta deal would be signed soon.
On May 28, Partha Chatterjee, Trinamool Congress secretary general and West Bengal education minister, announced that Mamata would accompany Modi.
But in a span of only two days, Mamata made a sudden announcement on Saturday that she would visit Bangladesh on June 5 and return home the next day after signing the LBA.
Many took the announcement as an indication that the Teesta deal might not be inked during the Indian PM's visit, as Mamata will travel to Dhaka from Kolkata separately, not with Modi who will fly in from Delhi on June 6.
Earlier this month, the Indian parliament had unanimously passed a constitution amendment bill to ratify the LBA, seeking to settle India's 41-year-old land boundary issues with Bangladesh.
The legislation would operationalise the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement that provides for exchange of 161 enclaves adversely held by the two countries.
At yesterday's press conference, Sushma Swaraj said the issue of deportation of Ulfa leader Anup Chetia from Bangladesh was likely to figure in the talks and noted that while extradition process will take long, he could be repatriated.

India has been pressing for deportation of Chetia, who is lodged in a Dhaka jail for over 17 years. 

Source: The Daily Star, 01 June 2015

Sink or swim: The need for water guardianship

Aminul Islam

Access to water for life is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. But leading experts now predict that as early as 2025, large parts of the world could experience perennial water shortages. Even now, around four billion people live in a situation where they don't have enough and suitable water for drinking, generating electricity, agriculture and so on. In fact, just as wars over oil played a major role in 20th-century history, many commentators are now making convincing cases that many 21st century conflicts will be fought over water.
With this rather grave background and with renewed sense of urgency the world is celebrating World Water Day with the theme 'Water and Sustainable Development.' Water is central to the sustainable development of our country, and something that we must all take responsibility for managing properly. As we celebrate World Water Day, we must look to empower communities as water guardians and establish strong national governance structures to protect and sustainably manage our precious water resources for the benefit of all!
In Bangladesh the crisis has some familiar faces. Water bodies such as rivers, canals, haors, etc. are increasingly being encroached upon. Various forms of pollutions and contamination due to industrial and agricultural chemicals, arsenic contamination, impacting etc. are limiting the supply of drinkable water. Additionally, salinity intrusion and water logging in the coastal regions are making the available supply of water unsuitable for many uses. On the other hand, the demand for water is increasing with industrialisation, intensive agricultural practices and population growth. As a result, demand for fresh water continues to outstrip supply, with the gap growing. If these challenges were not enough, the impact of climate change is set to complicate things further.
The good news is we can solve this. We can overcome adversity. With the Bangladeshi brand of resilience and innovation we can adopt new collaborative models from the grassroots right up to the national level authorities to address the challenge.
Communities can play an important role as local guardians in sustainable water management. National level enforcement agencies are incapable of monitoring and managing the challenge of water pollution, encroachment and salinity intrusion. In contrast, community level interventions have already established credibility. For example, after the oil spill in the Sundarbans in December last year, it was the people from the local area who were the first to respond, whose contributions in part assisted in avoiding a major environmental catastrophe.  The Joint UN-GoB Mission recommended an action plan including community preparedness, highlighting appropriate safeguards and mitigation measures to prevent and prepare for oil spills in the Sundarbans and throughout Bangladesh for all significant marine routes.
To this end, empowering communities with the right tools and skills is a useful first step. Building local and regional networks of stakeholders including, community, local government, police and media is a holistic way to tackle the problem. This network can act as a watchdog to crowdsource water management at the grassroots and as a mechanism or conduit for communicating to the national level. Engagement of community organisations in such initiatives can follow the good practices learnt through UNDP's Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction programme and many other international examples of empowerment and participatory resource management.
Local level guardianship must also be supported nationally in a holistic and coordinated way. Having stronger institutional governance at the national scale would help in enforcement of existing laws that help to protect and manage the water resources of Bangladesh. There are three areas which would strongly support the national process, including addressing planning issues, developing an information management system and using community voices and research to inform decision making.
The master and local plans for water management should be revisited with public participation encouraged in the review and revision process. Starting this process will ensure integrity, coordination, and efficiency of the plans, whilst also improving accountability issues associated with their implementation. This will help to keep powerful vested interests in check, and develop an information system that is both a repository of water related information (such as public documents on river boundaries, water related public investments, water quality data) and a platform for crowdsourced reporting of violations. Such a tool will increase transparency, improve enforcement of existing laws and create greater equity of water resource distribution and access.
The third step is the establishment of an informed decision making process. There should be an independent experts' platform, like that responsible for the 7th Five Year Plan, constituted by the government. This platform should be made up of all the key water actors including the Ministry of Water Resources, Department of Public Health Engineering, City Wasa, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, Water Resource Planning Organisation, and the private sector amongst many others. This coordination mechanism of local and national level guardianship must be driven by a result-oriented management structure, in order to deliver the urgent changes needed in the water sector. To support this approach, a recent study compared the water governance and management systems across nearly 30 river basins around the world. The results indicated that governance systems with distributed political power and good co-ordination help to implement the principles of good governance in water management practice.
With a federation of regional community organisations helping to raise local voices to the national level, and stronger institutional governance and national guardianship, protection and management of the water resources of Bangladesh can be achieved, promoting sustainable development for all. Working together, Bangladeshis can accomplish anything.

The writer is the Senior Advisor, Sustainable Development at UNDP Bangladesh. (Opinion expressed, is his own and may not be subscribed by UNDP or any of the member states that it represents.)
*(Human Development Report 2006).

Source:  The Daily Star, 22 March 2015

Precious yet we pollute: Water of over 300 rivers stinks with industrial, human waste

Tawfique Ali

Natural sources of fresh water, especially rivers, are becoming highly contaminated with industrial effluents and human waste, causing serious hazards to public health and ecological system, warn experts.
The rivers around the capital in particular are polluted due to mindless dumping of untreated waste and effluents that contain heavy metals and residues of toxic chemical, they observe.
“As a natural resource, sweet water is as valuable as minerals like coal and natural gas,” Hasin Jahan, policy advocacy director of WaterAid Bangladesh, told The Daily Star.
“The rivers, the prime sources of sweet water, are being contaminated heavily with lethal effluents,” she observed.
Besides, rainwater, the purest form of natural water, is callously wasted by letting it run off and merge with polluted rivers in the absence of a harvesting system, she said.
Of the 80,000 tonnes of human waste generated a day in the country, at best two percent (1,600 tonnes) is treated at Pagla treatment plant near the capital, and the rest eventually ends up in rivers, said Hasin.
Most industries in and around the capital release untreated effluents directly into the Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Balu and Turag rivers, taking advantage of the authorities' lax attitude towards enforcing environmental laws and regulations, she added.
Prof Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology said river water is turning unsafe for drinking because of rampant release of untreated human waste and industrial effluents that contain heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, lead and mercury, and toxic chemicals.
More than 300 rivers in Bangladesh are polluted the same way, said Mujibur, who has worked extensively on environmental issues.
Such pollution makes river waters unsuitable for agriculture, fishing, household chores, and bathing. It also ruins the riverine ecological system and biodiversity.
The four rivers around the capital have become virtual dumping grounds for all kinds of solid, liquid and chemical waste, as hundreds of tanneries and textile factories are situated by these water bodies, he observed.
Prof Dr Mohammad Ali, who has carried out the first liver transplant in the country, said excessive accumulation of heavy metals through regular consumption of contaminated food and water might damage brain, liver, kidney and the nerves.
Contaminated water could cause deadly hepatitis-A and E and typhoid, and eventually lead to liver failure, particularly in children and pregnant women, said Prof Ali, also founder secretary general of National Liver Foundation of Bangladesh.
According to the findings of WaterAid Bangladesh, more than 7,000 children under five die from diarrhoea while waterborne diseases cause nearly a quarter of total deaths a year in the country.
Taqsem A Khan, managing director of Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa), said, “Unfortunately, the rivers around Dhaka are so polluted that their water is almost impossible to treat.”
Dhaka Wasa, which serves around 12.5 million people in a 360-square-kilometre area, uses water of only the Shitalakkhya at a pre-treatment and treatment plants at Sayedabad to meet 22 percent of the total demand for 230 crore litres of water. The rest is extracted from underground.
The groundwater table in Dhaka city depletes by around three metres a year with roughly 1.5 metres of annual recharge, according to an official estimate.
Taqsem said replenishment of the groundwater table is obstructed due to unplanned concrete coverage of the surface, and destruction of wetlands, open space and rivers.
Rainwater, which is supposed to recharge the water table, runs off the concrete surface and merge with polluted water of rivers.
Mega projects, including Jasaldia (Mawa) and Gandhabpur (Narayanganj) water treatment plants, have been taken up to bring water from the Padma and the Meghna, from a distance of 33 km and 23 km to supply surface water to the city dwellers, said the Wasa boss.
He said only 20 percent of the population whom the Wasa serves is under sewer coverage.

Those beyond the coverage don't have septic tanks and release human waste directly into the environment through open and storm drains as well as rivers, he added. 

Source: The Daily Star, 22 March 2015