China's Dams

China dams on Brahmaputra pose huge ecological risk

The author of “Meltdown in Tibet” challenges China’s claims its cascade dams planned for the trans-boundary Brahmaputra River pose no impacts for downstream communities. “These dams are just the start of things,” he says. If all the proposed dams go into operation “the river will never be the same again”. Free Press Journal reports.

By Zafri Mudasser Nofil for Free Press Journal

New Delhi : If all the large dams proposed by China on rivers within Tibet begin operations, the Brahmaputra river will never be the same again, warns a Canadian environmentalist who has done extensive research on the subject.

“Currently, Chinese engineers are constructing a five-dam cascade on the mid-reaches of the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra).

Zhangmu Dam, with a capacity of 540 MW, has already started operation. The dam lies 86 miles southeast of Lhasa. Construction is under way on the other dams in this cascade,” says Michael Buckley.

“China claims these dams will have no impact downstream, but the fact is that these dams are just the start of things, with bigger and bigger dams on the drawing-board, such as 800-MW Zhongyu Dam on a Yarlung Tsangpo tributary. Within Tibet, at least 20 large dams are planned for the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) and its tributaries. If all go into operation, the river will never be the same again,” he told PTI.

Buckley has also written a book “Meltdown in Tibet: China’s Reckless Destruction of Ecosystems from the Highlands of Tibet to the Deltas of Asia” in which he tries to focus on the darker side of China’s emergence as a global super power. The book, published by Palgrave Macmillan, has a preface by the Dalai Lama in which the Tibetan spiritual leader says that “Meltdown in Tibet” should be “part of a wake-up call to the international community and China to seriously assess ecological and environmental conditions on the Tibetan plateau and take remedial measures”.

On the ecological impact on Assam and Arunachal Pradesh that may be posed due to the construction of big dams on the Brahmaputra and other rivers by China, Buckley says the fragile ecosystem is at risk.

The Great Bend (in Tibet) of the Brahmaputra from where the river begins its course towards India holds the greatest hydropower potential in the world, says Buckley, who has travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia, and the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges and has made a documentary on major environmental issues in Tibet.

“A huge dam at the Great Bend would devastate the river’s fragile ecosystem – destroying the magnificent biodiversity of the Assam and Himachal Pradesh region. This is much more than a question of water coursing into India: a huge dam would withhold the river’s sediment from the fertile floodplains of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

“A huge volume of nutrient-rich sediment (silt) flows down the Brahmaputra from Tibet.

Dams block silt, thus affecting the food security of the nations downstream, which need silt for productive agriculture and to bolster the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta against rising sea-levels. Tributaries swell the Brahmaputra from the Indian side, but the greatest sediment load comes in from Tibet,” he says.

Buckley suggests a moratorium on mega-dam building in Tibet – and across the entire Himalayan range – and including India’s own mega-dam-building plans.

The original version of this article is available at the publisher’s website here

For more on the Brahmaputra file, see here

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