Damning Truths From New Study

Jan 25th, 2013 | By | Category: Disaster and Emergency, Ecosystem Functions, Energy, Environment, Flood, Forest, Governance, Hydropower, Land, Lessons, Livelihood, News, Rainfall, Research, Resilience, River, Technologies, Tourism, Vulnerability, Water

Sevensisterspost: A new study has confirmed the worst fears of Assam’s anti-dam activists who are opposed to building mega hydel projects in the highly-seismic Northeast, known for its rich biodiversity.

Unprecedented dam building in the Indian Himalayas holds serious consequences for biodiversity and could pose a threat to human lives and livelihoods, a team of researchers led by Professor Maharaj K Pandit from the University Scholars Programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS) found in a study.

Professor Pandit, who also holds a courtesy appointment with the department of Geography at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and his team at the University of Delhi and the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences investigated close to 300 dams and related hydropower infrastructure on the Himalayan rivers across some of the biggest river basins in the world, namely the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.

Using field data and modelling, the researchers discovered that almost 90 per cent of the Himalayan valleys would be affected by dam building and that 27 per cent of these dams would affect dense forests with unique biodiversity.

The team projected that dam-related activities will submerge and destroy about 170,000 hectares of forests. The researchers also predicted that the dam density in the Himalaya is likely to be about 62 times greater than the current global average, which would result in deforestation and the extinction of 22 flowering plants and 7 vertebrate species, a statement from the NUS said.

The study, co-funded by NUS, was published in prestigious journal Science in January 2013 as well as other scientific journals such as Conservation Biology, PLOS ONE and cited in a Nature article in 2012. The study found that water volume is the main driver of the richness of fish species in the rivers.

“Water withdrawals due to massive dam building activity would seriously undermine fish survival and diversity, fragment habitats and limit fish migration in these rivers, with long-term consequences for the livelihoods of fishermen,” the statement said.

Besides threatening biodiversity, the study also revealed the impact of dam-building activities on human lives and livelihoods. Due to high population density, dams have displaced Indian citizens for decades.

“We are deeply aware of the country’s need to develop economically. However, there is a need to balance development and not venture into haphazard dam building without caring for biodiversity and people,” Prof Pandit was quoted as saying in the statement.

Organisations were quick to react on the report, with the Aasu and KMSS saying their stands have been vindicated again.

“First a report by experts of the state had laid bare the possible affect of the dams. Now a foreign university has said about the hazards. It is high time that good sense prevail on the Tarun Gogoi government,” Aasu president Sankar Prasad Ray said.

Ray said the chief minister, as promised, should hold discussions among experts of the country and abroad soon. The Aasu also dared the government to counter the NUS study and explain to the people of Assam that the dams would not affect the people and the biodiversity.

“If the government still fails to realise, we will have no other option but to intensify our agitation,” the Assu president said.

KMSS spokesman Kamal Medhi also described the study as extremely significant for the people for Assam and the organisations which have been all along opposing mega dams in the region. “What we have been saying so far as been vindicated. We appeal to the government to realise the gravity of the issue now,” Medhi told Seven Sisters Post.

“Can we afford to risk the wiping out of a civilization in the name of development?,” he questioned. The findings from the study highlight the need for sustainable power development. In their paper published in Science, Prof Pandit and his co-author Dr Edward Grumbine from the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences provided suggestions to improve the planning and implementation of India’s proposed Himalaya hydropower projects such as the reduction of power losses during transmission and distribution.

Prof Pandit will continue his research on the impact of water withdrawals on the biodiversity of Himalayan rivers at NUS and his research will focus on the large number of endemic species inhabiting the marshy habitats and the floodplains in the Himalayan foothills, such as the one-horned rhino, which are likely to go extinct due to upstream water withdrawals.

By:Rituraj Borthakur

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