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By: Robie I. Samanta Roy

India-Bangladesh Water Dispute

ICE Case Number 98


1. Abstract

The South Asian sub-continent is home to over 1.3 billion people, with close to one billion in the country of India alone. The inclusion of neighboring Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh add another quarter billion. The presence of this enormous population has exerted extreme pressures upon the environment and will continue to do so with the current and projected high population growth rates. The encroachment upon forests and other (previously) sparsely populated areas has led to increased desertification, an alarming decrease in the wildlife population, and soil erosion that has irreparably damaged ecosystems. Coupled with the widespread pollution of developing industries and mushrooming population densities in urban centers, environmental issues have become of critical importance.

2. Description

One of the perennially important environmental issues is the scarcity and sharing of fresh water resources between India and two of its neighbors, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Large rivers such as the Indus, Ganges, and the Brahmaputra are born in the lofty heights of the Himalayas and are harnessed for hydroelectric power (currently at levels far below their maximum potential) before flowing to the vast plains of the Deccan and on to either the Arabian Sea to the west or the Bay of Bengal to the east. The problem of water resource allocation and sharing, primarily for irrigation purposes, has plagued relations between India and its neighbors, and has led to a true case example of ■environmental security■ - where environmental issues are entwined with national security issues (e.g. environmental scarcity leads to tensions between nations sharing common resources).

The purpose of this paper is to examine how remotely sensed data and related analytical tools can make a unique and immediately useful contribution to the solution of these environmental problems, and how this data can be more applicable and have a direct impact on environmental policy making. Firstly, it is important to understand the background and historical context of these water conflict problems, and to critically examine the causes of the environmental problems and the resulting environmental security issues they have created. Once these issues have been identified and the existing level of knowledge regarding them is determined, a research strategy to study these issues further will be formulated to shed greater light on aspects that may not be clear at this point in time. This strategy will specifically address how remotely sensed data, among other data sources, can be used to study and address the problems. Lastly, a strategy to effectively apply and use these data for policy making decisions, and specific recommended actions will be proposed. The working hypothesis of this paper is that the use of remote sensing data may be able to contribute in some manner to the diffusion of environmentally based conflicts.


In this section, the background for the two principal international water disputes in South Asia is presented. Water conflict in this region presents an interesting case study in terms of the varied nature of the conflicts that are largely due to the dynamics of the power balances between the actors. In the case of India and Pakistan, the potential for real military conflict exists, and the issue of nuclear capabilities lends a chilling new dimension to armed engagement. However, as will be seen, the Indo- Pakistani dispute over the sharing of the Indus river system has not been as contentious as the Indo-Bangladeshi dispute. Indeed, since 1960 when the Indus Waters Treaty was signed by India and Pakistan, the main issues have been resolved - primarily due to international intervention.

However, the Ganges river dispute between India and Bangladesh has continued to fester, and despite a recent treaty signed in 1996, there is still much progress that remains to be accomplished. In this conflict, one party (India) completely dominates the other (in a military sense), and it is only through other channels, such as the pressures of illegal immigration caused by environmental disaster, that the conflict has truly manifested itself. Due to the lack of a comprehensive solution that treats the Ganges basin as a system independent of artificial national boundaries, as well as the complexity of the secondary repercussions, water allocation issues associated with the Ganges river system will be the primary focus of this paper.

To contrast the two conflicts, it is interesting to compare them in a notional "conflict space" as depicted in Figure 1. The two dimensions of this space are the potential severity of the conflict and the level of the environmental impact. As will be seen, the Ganges River dispute has had a higher environmental impact than the Indus River dispute, but the potential severity of the conflict is not as potentially intense as for the Indus River dispute where both parties have nuclear capabilities.

Figure 1. Relative Positions of South Asian Water Conflicts in a Notional Conflict Space

The Indus River Dispute (India vs. Pakistan) The Indus River is born in the highlands of Tibet, and flows to the Arabian Sea over the course of some 2,900 km through India and Pakistan. With a basin coverage area of over 900,000 km2, the Indus has a flow volume twice that of the Nile, and three times that of the Tigris-Euphrates river system. [1]

As far back as four millennium ago, the Indus basin was one of the cradles of civilization, spawning the ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo- daro. Agriculture was a main form of livelihood, and the Indus River was a fertile region. Only 200 years ago, during their occupation of the Indian sub-continent, the British actively encouraged agriculture in this region known as the Punjab (which means ■Land of Five Rivers■) that today straddles a portion of the border between present day India and Pakistan. The British motivation was to find an occupation for the many idle Sikhs who had put up stiff resistance to the British invasion. Consequently, British engineers began an extensive set of projects to divert the main tributaries of the Indus into a web of irrigating canals, and the Punjab became a fertile "breadbasket".

In 1947, the British partitioned the region between India and Pakistan, and an agreement was signed between the two newly formed countries to maintain water supplies at the level of pre-independence times. However, disputes over water allocation soon arose, and in 1948, India cut off the water in canals flowing to Pakistan. Negotiations ensued, but the magnitude of the controversy that affected the agriculture of such a large region influenced the U.S. magazine, Collier's, to sponsor David Lilienthal, Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, to undertake a fact-finding tour and propose some solutions. Lilienthal's work was brought to the attention of the president of the World Bank at that time, Eugene Black, who attempted to persuade the two riparians to find a lasting peaceful solution.

After many years of discussions, the Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960. It was agreed that the amount of water available from the Indus would be increased by various engineering works funded by the World Bank, and the six primary rivers of the Indus basin would be split evenly between India and Pakistan (three to each party). [2] The Indus Water Treaty remains in effect today, and is largely intact because the amount of water available was able to be increased to both parties by the construction of various works that were funded by other countries [2]. Two other contributing factors were the simple fact that the splitting of the river branches made physical geographic sense, and that the population levels at that time did not exert strenuous demands on water resources. However, this region is increasingly growing in population today, and it remains to be seen how robust the Treaty will remain. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that this Treaty has withstood the strains of the major wars India and Pakistan have fought.

The resolution of the Indus River dispute remains as a good lesson in that as long as resources do not become overtly scarce, and there is strong external arbitration, there is hope for environmental conflict to be peacefully resolved to a large extent. However, it is true that remote sensing can still play an important role in monitoring long term change in the Indus River basin, and aid in the management of water flow and land use. We shall now turn our focus to the eastern boundaries of India where a festering dispute will be closely examined in the next section, and the potential benefits of remote sensing applications will be more apparent. The Ganges River Dispute (India vs. Bangladesh)

The Ganges and Brahmaputra river basin in South Asia is the largest in the region, encompassing over 1.6 million km2. Flowing from the Himalayans in Nepal and Tibet, both rivers course through India, and ultimately join in Bangladesh where they discharge into the Bay of Bengal. Before the Ganges enters Bangladesh, it divides off a smaller river, the Bhagirathi- Hooghly, that flows through the port of Calcutta. Four-fifths of Bangladesh, an area smaller than New York state, is straddled by this delta system. Approximately half of the country■s GDP is based on agriculture, and hence these rivers■ irrigation value is vital to the country■s economy and its over 120 million inhabitants. [1] The topography of Bangladesh (i.e. its sea level elevation and delta wetlands) and its geographical location make it extremely vulnerable to natural disasters. Typhoons and monsoons produce multiple floods almost on an annual basis, and during the dry season between January and May, the Ganges river may drop to levels that has a strong detrimental impact on agriculture and fisheries. Relations between Bangladesh and its neighbor to the west, India, have been hardly cordial at best, and there has been a continuing dispute over the allocation of Ganges water between the two states.

3. Duration: 1951 to Now

The origin of the conflict dates back to 1951 when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan. [3] India began plans for the construction of a mile-long "barrage" (a river flow obstruction) at Farakka, 18 kms from the Bangladeshi border, to increase the diversion of Ganges water to the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river to flush silt and keep Calcutta harbor operational during the dry season. It was thought that by increasing the river flow, the harbor could be kept from deteriorating from silt deposition. However, Pakistan protested on the grounds that this action would wreak havoc on the environment. Nevertheless, India continued, and began construction in 1962. With no other course of action, Pakistan (and then later Bangladesh) took the matter before the United Nations General Assembly in 1968 and discussions continued in that forum until 1976. The international attention to the issue caused India to at least concede that the Ganges was an international river, and that ■each riparian State was entitled to a reasonable and equitable share of the waters of an international river.■ [1]

In 1971, Bangladesh became an independent nation, with India aiding it in its independence struggle against Pakistan. It was expected that better relations between India and Bangladesh would result, but India persisted with its Farakka plans, and this led to a general souring of the relationship. In 1972, an Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission was established to study the river flow and develop the river water on a cooperative basis. However, work on the Farakka barrage continued, and it was finally completed in 1975. A short-term agreement was subsequently signed by India and Bangladesh to conduct a 40 day trial test of the barrage during the dry season.

Unfortunately, four months later, the President of Bangladesh was assassinated by elements of the military that found him too cooperative with India. The next dry season, India began to divert water at Farakka unilaterally, and continued to do so until 1977 when a treaty on ■Sharing of the Ganges Waters at Farakka and on Augmenting its Flows■ was signed by the two countries and guaranteed a minimum flow level for Bangladesh for a five year period. After the expiration of this treaty in 1982, two more short-term agreements were concluded on water sharing until 1988. Thereafter, India began unilateral diversions at will. Moreover, domestic political upheavals, and the growing polarization caused by rising national religious factions (Hindu India vs. Islamic Bangladesh), contributed to a rising level of animosity between the two nations.

The political climate began to change when in 1992, the prime ministers of the two countries met and agreed to renew efforts for a solution. In addition, Bangladesh revived its attempts to internationalize the affair by bringing forth the dispute before the UN General Assembly and the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting in 1993. In addition, the issue was raised in the South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), although no definite action was taken. SAARC comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and its main goal is to "accelerate the process of economic and social development in member states, through joint action in the agreed areas of cooperation."[4]

In 1996, a new atmosphere of regional cooperation was created with a change of government in India, and in December of 1996, a Ganges Water Sharing Treaty was signed that is supposed to last for thirty years. The Treaty addresses the heart of the conflict: water allocation during the five months of the dry season (January-May). During the rest of the year, there is sufficient water that India can operate the Farakka diversion without creating problems for Bangladesh. However, increasing upstream withdrawal in Northern India has further lowered the dry-season flow at Farakka, further complicating matters. Hence, the Treaty stipulates that below a certain flow rate, India and Bangladesh will each share half of the water. Above a certain limit, Bangladesh will be guaranteed a certain minimum level, and if the water flow exceeds a given limit, India will withdraw a given amount, and the balance will be received by Bangladesh (which will be more than 50%). [5,6]

Despite the Treaty, there are still factions in Bangladesh that feel that India should not be drawing off any water at Farakka, as well as elements in India that don■t want Bangladesh to receive any water. Annually, the Ganges brings to its mouth over 2 million tons of silt. Due to increasing deforestation in the foothills of the Himalayans, the amount of erosion is growing. With such levels of silt, it is increasingly no longer possible for the Hooghly to retain a flushing role for Calcutta Harbor, and it is time for India to realize this and terminate Ganges water withdrawal and concentrate on port development further downstream.

In addition, due to silt deposition and flooding patterns, the Ganges is actually naturally shifting eastward, and it is only a question of time before the Hooghly River will no longer be capable of supporting deep harbor operations. India should except this fact and plan for a harbor much closer to the Bay of Bengal, else it should consider regular and more intensive dredging operations. [7]

4. Location

Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Country: India

5. Actors: India and Bangladesh

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Water

Nearly 35 million people in about one-third of the total area of Bangladesh are directly dependent upon the Ganges for their livelihood. [8] Hence, the impact of water availability can have far-reaching consequences. The diversion of Ganges waters by India and the resulting decrease in flow through Bangladesh has disrupted fishing and navigation, brought unwanted salt deposits into rich farming soil, adversely affected agricultural and industrial production, changed the hydraulic character of the rivers, and brought about changes in the ecology of the Delta. In addition, there have been increased health problems due to the decreased availability of fresh water. [8] The worst effects are felt during the dry season between the months of January and May.

7. Type of Habitat: Tropical

8. Act and Harm Sites: India and Bangladesh

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Inter-State

10. Level of Conflict: Low

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities): 0

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Direct

The ecological impacts due to the reduced river flow have been dramatic. The salinity front has traveled upstream up to 280 km, and the salinity in surface water in the area has increased almost sixty-fold. The increase in salinity and the encroachment of saline water have affected soil and plant nutrients, resulting in the wide-spread death of trees. The largest natural mangrove forest in South Asia, the Sundarbans, is losing about $20 million worth of timber every year. [8]

River flow reduction has reduced the irrigation capacity, while also affecting the non-irrigated crops which depend upon the residual moisture in soil. The withdrawal has also delayed the planting of the crops, shortened the growing season, and affected the planting and production of subsequent crops. In addition, decreased flow has caused depletion of groundwater tables in the region, and has seriously impacted the capabilities of low-lift pumps. In 1982, severe food shortages were attributed by the UN to scarcity of water. Fish is a staple of Bangladeshi diets, and the reduced flow has been unable to wash out decomposing weeds, insecticides, and industrial debris which is taking a terrible toll on fish and prawn populations. [8]

Bangladesh is also heavily reliant upon its inland water navigation system for public and goods transportation. According to two surveys done by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority in 1975- 76 and 1976-77, the inland waterway transportation was reduced by 11 million tons because of reduced flow. Furthermore, the total number of waterways available for powered vessels dropped from 25,000 km to 5,000 km. [8]

The economic impacts of the reduced river flow are significant. According to the Bangladeshi section of the Joint River Commission, the consolidated financial losses of Bangladesh due to India■s water withdrawal from 1976 to 1993 amounts to nearly $3 billion (in 1991 dollars), with the greatest losses suffered in the fisheries and agricultural sectors.

All these environmental effects and their economic impacts have had a direct impact on the Bangladeshis who derived their livelihood directly or indirectly from the Ganges River. One of the significant outcomes has been a large-scale migration from Bangladesh to India. The populace in the affected rural regions have been forced to move away from their homes as a result of the loss of their livelihood, and the dwindling urban economy of Bangladesh has not been able to absorb them. Since the early 1970■s, over 2 million Bangladeshis have emigrated to the neighboring regions of India, namely the states of Assam and West Bengal. It is hard to determine the exact number of illegal immigrants, and hence population figures quoted are estimates, but the scale of the exodus is very large. This large influx, that has crossed a largely porous border, has led to numerous ethnic conflicts between indigenous inhabitants of Assam and West Bengal, and the numerous refugees from Bangladesh. In Assam, more than 4,000 people were killed in a series of violent incidents in the early 1980■s, and tensions even continue today. [8,9]

Moreover, immigration of Bangladeshi immigrants has started to spread to other parts of India. Excessive population pressures in the eastern states has led to increasing diffusion to western urban centers like Bombay and Delhi. These immigrants, due to their precarious financial situation, settle in urban slum areas where sanitary conditions are appalling. Dissatisfaction with living conditions and native-migrant tensions has led to many communal riots, and much loss of life. In 1992, the Indian government began a campaign to forcibly deport illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. However, protests from the Bangladeshi government and Indian intelligentsia terminated this approach. Nevertheless, this incident only deepened the rift between the two countries. [10]

As can be seen, the repercussions of tampering with a large-scale ecosystem can be far reaching and lead to many highly undesirable, unforeseen consequences. India now faces violent ethnic conflict within its borders due to the reduction of water to a neighboring country. With this background that has introduced the problem, the role of remote sensing will now be explored.

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Bilateral

When applying remote sensing data to the solution of any problem, it is essential to determine: what to do with the data? and who will deal with it? (i.e. who is the customer?) A big obstacle historically has been that India has treated environmentally related data as classified. This mindset must be broken - environmental information affects all, and it must be shared. Reliable information dissemination is key due to too much historical distrust between the two countries. A well defined information flow path must be established. Currently, the only joint structure between India and Bangladesh for water planning is the Joint Rivers Commission, but this body does not possess the independent power to formulate and implement solutions. Indeed, water planning is not even coordinated across all government sectors within India and Bangladesh. Thus, how can one country conduct planning if there is no firm coordination with the other, much less within their own country? The key goal is to make remote sensing data help the parties recognize the environmental situation and come to a common agreement. This data must help GOs, as well as NGOs, to understand that the Ganges River Basin is a system, and only can be treated as such - without regard for artificial national boundaries. This necessitates an integrated systems approach with the involvement of governments, NGOs, and international organizations that have the expertise on the problems. And above all, the bottom line issue must be always kept in sight: how will this data, and the resulting actions based upon it, directly impact and improve the lives of those on the ground that live in the affected areas?

Before proposing an approach and a possible organizational structure to address these issues, it is interesting to mention a problem solving approach adopted by Green Cross International (GCI), an international NGO founded in part by Mikhail Gorbachev. GCI has developed an initiative to work towards conflict prevention of international freshwater disputes. The objective of their conflict prevention strategy consists of four main components: awareness building, multi-sectoral partnerships, integrated assessment/management, and project implementation. [14]

Awareness building consists of conducting research to discover the underlying causes of the conflict. This is an area where remote sensing is vital to monitor and observe the environmental effects. Multi-sectoral partnerships include governments, international organizations, NGOs, local groups, business and industry, possibly academia, and others. In order for there to be sustainable solutions for a conflict, partnerships must be built recognizing all the actors. Integrated assessment/management alludes to the ■systems engineering■ frame of reference that must be used in order to come to a comprehensive conflict resolution. Socio-economic factors must be integrated into technical analysis, and water must be considered as only one part of the overall ecosystem. Lastly, the implementation phase must be carried out with all the above components and actors. [14]

The GCI approach is a reasonable one that appears suitable to serve as a framework for introducing remote sensing data into the solution of the problem. A possible solution is the organization of a working group responsible for a centralized data bank that consists of representatives from both countries, NGOs, and international organizations (IOs) such as the World Bank (due to its prior experience with the Indus River dispute) and SAARC. It is even conceivable to structure the organization within the framework of SAARC in order to make the riparians feel less pressured from outside players.

However, it is still important to maintain a strong presence from the IO and NGO community so that the relevant experience and expertise is readily available. In particular, after data has been acquired (say in raw form), the ingestion, geo-referencing, calibration, displaying, and processing and interpretation will have to be done by those that have the relevant experience.

There are a number of existing NGOs that have and are capable of conducting good work, but suffer from a lack of access to data about the problem. Such organizations include the Centre for Policy Research in India, the Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies in Bangladesh, and the Institute for International Developmental Studies in Nepal. [7,15] These three NGOs at least should become heavily involved in lending their local expertise. The role of this working group would be to see that (beyond national security issues) the remote sensing data is available to all parties involved so that all players can see a common picture as to what the effects of the water withdrawal at Farakka truly are. Within that context of a common understanding, then possible solutions can be formulated (such as India abandoning withdrawal for Calcutta, because the Ganges will ultimately bypass Farakka in its slow drift to the east).

The World Bank has also been involved in the region, but not in as a coherent strategic fashion as it would like to. This has been primarily due to restrictions and sensitivities that the host governments impose upon project undertakings. The World Bank currently has active programs in developing Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to incorporate remote sensing data now. In addition, analytical tools have been developed to try to address the issues of coordination and management of data, information, and knowledge across various sectors. One set of tools being developed is called MEDUSA (Multi-objective Environmentally-sustainable Development Using Systems Analysis), which is basically a GIS tool that can integrate many different types of geographical/natural resource, social, agricultural, energy, transportation, and economic data, and perform optimization calculations to determine how water resources can best be distributed. [7] MEDUSA is only a tool in a greater process that the working group should strive to accomplish, namely, provide access to information, construct a set of focal points for such information, encourage the use of such information for decision making, assist in the process aspects of regional cooperation, facilitate dialogue and discussion on relevant issues, and guide future data and information collection efforts. [7]

It is important to ask what each side has to win or lose. India stands to gain by the relaxation of a growing refugee problem that is leading to internal ethnic conflict. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, to maintain Calcutta as a viable harbor will require much more effort than the diversion of the Ganges, so India■s primary reason for diversion is not valid. On the other hand, Bangladesh and other smaller neighbors of India such as Nepal and Bhutan stand to gain by trying to form a consensus when negotiating with India and pursuing possible trades between water resources and the hydroelectric power produced from it.

It should be kept in mind that there is a body of international law that has been developed to address water resource disputes. [16] These principles include: 1) equitable utilization of river resources; 2) prevention of significant harm to other states; 3) obligation to notify and inform on future actions pertaining to the river; 4) obligation to share data; 5) cooperative management of international rivers; and 6) obligation to resolve disputes peacefully. While there are questions as to their relative importance and means of enforcement, these principles should be referred to in any future negotiations regarding the Ganges River.

Above all, what is necessary is better management of ground and surface water resources. Through increased water use efficiency, more land can be irrigated for a given amount of water, or the same amount of land can be irrigated with less water. In fact, ■if irrigation waste could be cut by a factor of 10%, another 2 million hectares of cropland could be irrigated.■ (this is worldwide) [17] Solutions to this problem do not just include high technology irrigation techniques such as drip irrigation, but also the simple process of leveling a farming field so that the water is evenly distributed, thus not leaving some areas to become waterlogged while others remain dry. [18]

Lastly, it is interesting to inject a thought about the future impact of global warming in the region. Given that Bangladesh has an elevation very close to sea level, flood monitoring and the status of the rivers must be closely tied with possible future rises in the sea level. This is a very important topic that remote sensing data should be used to keep a time history of, and should be used by the respective governments for planning purposes. Indeed, it is actually these very regions that have flaunted international regulations on ozone-depleting emissions, and have left their industries to operate unbridled from concerns for the global environment. However, as the Ganges River dispute has shown, the consequences of attempting to modify the ecosystem can lead to unpredictable and often highly undesirable consequences.

14. Outcome of Dispute: Agreement

One of the key aspects of the Ganges River dispute is the lack of reliable data in terms of river flow rates and water utilization, as well as the precise impact and damage of the Farakka withdrawal. Given the general atmosphere of distrust between the two countries, there is very little sharing of data, and available data are often called into question. In addition, data dissemination within the respective governments is not coordinated and systematic, i.e. the Indian government does not have one common database on the Ganges River dispute which any governmental agency can use. The very first step to resolving this dispute is the generation of reliable data regarding the water resources, land use, and the overall environmental impact of reduced river flow rates. This data must then be disseminated in a timely fashion to both riparians.

Data Needs

The beginning step in assessing the potential benefits of remote sensing on any environmental problem is to identify what types of data are necessary to understand the underlying mechanisms, as well as the effects of the problems. Then, one must ask the question what added value does remote sensing bring versus alternative techniques such as in situ measurements. To better understand water resource allocation problems, it is necessary to quantify water production, transmission, and usage. In other words, it is important to keep a ■balance sheet■ on how and where is the water produced, how is it carried from the source to users, and how and how much water is used. Due to the sheer physical size of the Ganges River basin and the affected area in Bangladesh, remote sensing from space is the most cost-effective approach for monitoring and collecting data on these large-scale issues.

For Ganges River water production, aspects like amounts of rain fall from the monsoons, snow fall and melting rates in the Himalayan mountains, and river flow patterns should be monitored. To characterize transmission, factors like river flow rates, soil characteristics for ground seepage losses, and evaporation rates are helpful. For both production and transmission, ground and surface water quality should also be monitored. The two key aspects of water usage are irrigation patterns and land capacity utilization (i.e. how effectively is the water being used). Both factors are key in helping determine an equitable distribution of water. As an added side benefit, the data gathered during these remote sensing efforts can also be used for flood warning and monitoring, especially in the low-lying areas of Bangladesh.

Remote Sensing Assets

Currently, there is a wide spectrum of remote sensing assets that can provide the above data - at least within various restrictions on resolution and revisit rate. In the near future, there will be other systems that will become available with greater resolution and imaging abilities. The particular data needs for monitoring the Ganges River Basin are not unusual, and the remote sensing capabilities offered by current satellites are quite adequate. Indeed, most of the types of data that should be collected to understand the Ganges River Basin in Bangladesh have been collected in one form or another for other regions of India - although not on a systematic basis.

Since the early 1990's, India has pursued vigorous development of an indigenous remote sensing capability, and has conducted a wide number of studies aimed at investigating water and land usage patterns. Some of the missions to map and monitor water resources include: 1) the identification of erosion prone areas in selected major watersheds in different terrain/ environmental conditions of the country; 2) preparation of flooded area maps for major river basins in near real time; and 3) preparation of ground water potential maps for drought prone areas. Land usage studies have aimed at classifying land for soil management and agricultural planning, as well as drought management. Remote sensing data has also been used to map once-fertile areas that became saline and waterlogged after the introduction of irrigation. [11]

As some other examples, the first Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS-1A) was used in an India-wide hydrogeomorphological mapping study to help determine ground water prospects. Based upon the statistics of over 170,000 wells that were dug using these maps, the success rate of finding water rose to 92 percent, versus a 45-50 percent success rate using laborious conventional ground techniques. IRS-1A and its follow-on satellites (-1B/C) have also been used for mapping of coastal regions to provide inventory and monitoring of tidal wetlands, potential aquaculture sites, mangroves, and shoreline/estuary dynamics. Additionally, the Indian government has used IRS data to provide real-time flood mapping and to use remote sensed images to provide valuable information about areas that are affected by lack of proper drainage. [11] These techniques developed and the past experience accumulated could easily be applied to the Ganges River dispute, and with greater cooperation, Bangladesh could greatly benefit from this remotely sensed data that India could begin to gather and share.

There are many other systems that are available whose data can be used to contribute to a central database on the Ganges River Basin. Multi- spectral sensors such as on SPOT and the Thematic Mapper on Landsat are able to provide good resolution (20-30m) data on land use and classification for aspects such as crop health. The use of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) from Radarsat, JERS, and ERS would be useful for all-weather mapping of land usage, river flow, and in particular, Himalayan snowfall for water availability projections. Shuttle-borne SAR imagery has been successful in providing all-weather monitoring of floods (i.e. the 1993 Mississippi River floods), soil moisture content in the Midwest US, and the ice sheets and glaciers of the Patagonia region in the Andes mountains. Interferometric measurements with a SAR can also be used to determine river flow rates, although these measurements would only apply to the surface, and in situ calibration measurements would have to be made in order to determine the mean flow as a function of river depth. [12]

In addition, the SeaWifs instrument on the SEASTAR satellite would be able to provide information regarding the coastal regions of Bangladesh. [13] The color of the coastal area waters would help provide information on the amount of water flow, soil erosion, and from phytoplankton concentrations, a reflection of the health of the local fishing industry. In summary, there are many different platforms that have the capabilities for providing the necessary data to monitor the state of water resources in the Ganges River basin, and the next question that remains to be answered is how this data will actually be used in a meaningful way in order to have a positive impact on the resolution of the conflict.

Due to mushrooming populations and associated demands on scarce water resources, conflicts in South Asia have developed and have become illustrative examples of ■environmental security■. We have seen that remote sensing can play an important role in providing relevant data that can be shared with the conflicting parties, and have proposed an organizational structure that can lead the conflict resolution process. Ultimately, the success of remote sensing can only be judged by what impact it can make by bringing its impartial ■remote■ view to the negotiating table.

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related Cases

NILE Case Study

JORDAN Case Study


CAUVERY Case Study

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

[1]  McCaffrey, S.C., "Water, Politics, and International Law", in Water in
   Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources, ed. by P.H. Gleick,
   Oxford University Press, 1993.
   River Waters:  The Elemental Issue
[3]Swain, A., ■Conflicts over Water:  The Ganges Water Dispute■, Security
   Dialogue, Vol. 24, No. 4, 1993, pp. 429-439.
[4]South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Website: www.south- briefnew.htm
[5]  Website:, Treaty Between
   the Government of the Republic of India and the government of the
   People■s Republic of Bangladesh on Sharing of the Ganga/Ganges Water
   at Farakka
[6]  Website:, Ganges Water
   Sharing Treaty - A Critical Evaluation
[7]  Interview with H. R. Nagaraja, Environmental Specialist, The World
   Bank, Washington, D.C., Nov. 1997. (General discussions on the overall
   topic are also gratefully acknowledged.)
[8]  Swain, A., "Displacing the Conflict: Environmental Destruction in
   Bangladesh and Ethnic Conflict in India", Journal of Peace Research,
   Vol. 33, No. 2, 1996, pp. 189-204.
[9]  Homer-Dixon, T. and Percival, V., Environmental Scarcity and Violent
   Conflict:  Briefing Book, American Association for the Advancement of
   Science and University of Toronto, 1996.
[10] Swain, A., "The Environmental Trap:  The Ganges River Diversion,
   Bangladeshi Migration, and Conflicts in India", Report No. 41, Dept. of
   Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden, 1996.
[11] Natural Resources Management - A New Perspective, Ed., R. L. Karale,
   National Natural Resources Management System, Department of Space,
   Bangalore, India, 1992.
[12] Synthetic Aperture Radar Website:
[13] SeaWiFS Website:
[14] Green Cross International Website:
     - Fact sheet on Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers Basin
     - International Freshwater Conflict:  Issues and Prevention Strategies
[15] Verghese, B.G., Waters of Hope:  Himalaya-Ganga Development and
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[18] Website:, Mirage:  Irrigation gives
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November, 1997