River for two
JUN 27 -
The arrival of monsoon is greeted with relief every year. But soon after initial downpours, relief gives way to fears of flooding in many areas of the country. This fear is especially pronounced in the flatlands of Tarai districts where Nepal’s biggest river systems, Koshi and Gandaki, enter India. On Monday, for example, the officials monitoring floods around the Koshi Barrage hoisted red flags and sent the alert light flashing to signal the water level crossing the danger mark. Given the disaster that can result if the water level rises further now and in the future, governments of both Nepal and India should closely monitor water level in the Koshi and take precautionary measures to limit the damage. This is an annual ritual and it has a strong political dimension: Koshi Barrage after all was built, and still being managed, by India. But a river does not recognise man-made borders, nor does it distinguish between Nepalis and Indians. During the floods of 2008, when the river overran the eastern embankments of the barrage in Sunsari, more than 100,000 Nepalis were rendered homeless. Across the border in Bihar, millions were displaced.
It is in the best interest of both the countries to work closely, and urgently, to tame the river and share its benefits and costs fairly. Every time there are floods in Koshi, the incident casts a dark shadow over the relationship between Nepal and India. Every year, the flooding reminds Nepalis how the India-built-and-managed project washes away a vast swathe of rice farms and floods villages after villages, and sometimes, as in 2008, all of Eastern Nepal becomes cut off for days after the floods.
With the passage of time, increased sedimentation on the riverbed has meant that ageing infrastructure, most of it 50 years old, requires a modern upgrade, especially because Koshi is one of the highest silt-yielding rivers of the world. There are no quick fixes for floods, and the best way to prevent them from turning into disasters is to ensure proper drainage. At the same time, regular monitoring and upgrading of infrastructure will only serve to make the Koshi safer for both Nepal and India. It should be noted here that after the devastating 2008 floods, reconstruction and rehabilitation worktook place in a frustratingly slow pace.
The issues arising from Koshi agreement have been constant irritants in Nepal-India ties ever since it was signed in early 1950s. Along with the floods, political temperatures in Kathmandu go up, raising questions of compensation, infrastructure maintainance and, in some cases, even a call for review of the bilateral agreement. Moving forward, given the obvious sensitivity Koshi has on Nepal-India ties, both parties would do well to discuss the issue at the highest political level towards resolving all outstanding issues. Doing so would go a long way in turning the two countries into more trusting neighbours. That is, policymakers on both sides of the border should ensure that the Himalayan river system that unite the two countries become a source of mutual benefit.
Posted on: 2012-06-27 08:34