China And India 'Water Grab" Dams Put Hydrology Of Himalayas In Danger
China And India "Water Grab" Dams Put Hydrology Of Himalayas In Danger
The future of the world's most famous mountain range could be endangered by a vast dam-building project, as a risky regional race for water resources takes place in Asia.
New academic research shows that India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan are engaged in a huge "water grab" in the Himalayas, as they seek new sources of electricity to power their economies. Taken together, the countries have plans for more than 400 hydro dams which, if built, could together provide more than 160,000MW of electricity – three times more than the UK uses.
In addition, China has plans for around 100 dams to generate a similar amount of power from major rivers rising in Tibet. A further 60 or more dams are being planned for the Mekong river which also rises in Tibet and flows south through south-east Asia.
Most of the Himalayan rivers have been relatively untouched by dams near their sources. Now the two great Asian powers, India and China, are rushing to harness them as they cut through some of the world's deepest valleys. Many of the proposed dams would be among the tallest in the world, able to generate more than 4,000MW, as much as the Hoover dam on the Colorado river in the US.
The result, over the next 20 years, "could be that the Himalayas become the most dammed region in the world", said Ed Grumbine, visiting international scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming. "India aims to construct 292 dams … doubling current hydropower capacity and contributing 6% to projected national energy needs. If all dams are constructed as proposed, in 28 of 32 major river valleys, the Indian Himalayas would have one of the highest average dam densities in the world, with one dam for every 32km of river channel. Every neighbour of India with undeveloped hydropower sites is building or planning to build multiple dams, totalling at minimum 129 projects," said Grumbine, author of a paper in Science.
China, which is building multiple dams on all the major rivers running off the Tibetan plateau, is likely to emerge as the ultimate controller of water for nearly 40% of the world's population. "The plateau is the source of the single largest collection of international rivers in the world, including the Mekong, the Brahmaputra, the Yangtse and the Yellow rivers. It is the headwater of rivers on which nearly half the world depends. The net effect of the dam building could be disastrous. We just don't know the consequences," said Tashi Tsering, a water resource researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada. "China is engaged in the greatest water grab in history. Not only is it damming the rivers on the plateau, it is financing and building mega-dams in Pakistan, Laos, Burma and elsewhere and making agreements to take the power," said Indian geopolitical analyst Brahma Chellaney. "China-India disputes have shifted from land to water. Water is the new divide and is going centre stage in politics. Only China has the capacity to build these mega-dams and the power to crush resistance. This is effectively war without a shot being fired."
China and India have both displaced tens of millions of people with giant dams such as the Narmada and Three Gorges over the last 30 years, but governments have not published estimates of how many people would have to be relocated or how much land would be drowned by the new dams. "This is being totally ignored. No one knows, either, about the impact of climate change on the rivers. The dams are all being built in rivers that are fed by glaciers and snowfields which are melting at a fast rate," said Tsering.
Climate models suggest that major rivers running off the Himalayas, after increasing flows as glaciers melt, could lose 10-20% of their flow by 2050. This would not only reduce the rivers' capacity to produce electricity, but would exacerbate regional political tensions.
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You cannot be an environmentalist and applaud the building of these dams. This could not be more foolhardy. The environment of this region is fragile. The people who live here are steeped in culture and tradition. Their lives depend on farming. Flooding so much land and displacing the amounts of people that would have to be displaced all to show some sort of might and control over the region should be roundly decried by every international human rights organization.
It is known fact that in so many instances these dams that displace thousands of people offer little in remuneration after having their homes taken from them. Livelihoods, homes, cultures, farms, all taken in a regional war of power for investors to make money to provide power to the rich to satisfy their ravenous selfish appetite for it. At a time when climate change effects are now sending this region careening into catastrophe this is the last thing they should be thinking of.
They need the flow of the rivers as nature intended to grow food and to protect the biodiversity of this region. China as well as India and Pakistan are in a cycle of perpetual heatwave, drought and flood now. Hydro dams of this magnitude in a region where glaciers are melting precipitously as the planet continues to warm will not help in giving a solution. Are they so blinded by greed they cannot or will not see this?
This dam rush is tantamount to the Fracking frenzy being pushed by US President Obama and the fossil fuel industry as well as other leaders like David Cameron of the UK. In that push as well, the rush is on for control of what is left of the fossil fuels buried deeper in the ground and harder to get and more expensive to excavate. Once again, we see the folly of greed manifested in the likeness of politicians who present one face to the people and another behind their backs.
Dams on the whole specifically of the mega dam variety are huge environmental disruptors. It isn't only the flow of the river that is disturbed, it is the very rhythm of life and all that depends on these waters for life. Fish, birds, insects, plants as well as humans depend on the water for their sustenance. However, it would appear that the government of China is also two faced in trying to present an image of a solar patron saint because it cares about the environment, when really all they are doing is trying to corner the market on a "new trend." The day I see solar take the place of these megadams and coal plants they are still building is the day I will believe they really care about the environment.
It matters not if it is China, the US, Britain, etc. It would appear that we the people of this world have a huge fight ahead of us to preserve that which gives us life from those who only see the false choice of profit. Thousands upon thousands of lives are at stake here. Dams are also not clean energy. They are a vehicle for profit to moneyed investors and exacerbate climate change due to the amount of CO2 needed to build them and the methane released from organic matter within them.
To see this many dams built is as was quoted above: a way for China and other countries in the region to declare war without having to fire a shot. Oil was and to a great extent still is a weapon used to subjugate countries to the whims of those owning it. Now, water will be even more of a weapon as we see climate change take firm hold on the world. And for those who think building dams in China, India, etc like the Hoover Dam is a good thing, it is now said that due to the loss of water in the Colorado due to climate change and overuse that there may not even be enough water to power the Hoover Dam into the mid century.
The disconnect we have as humans to water and its capacity in our hands when abused is one of the greatest moral challenges we now face for the present and future.
I stand with all people in this area of the world who stand to keep these dams out of their rivers, their farms and their lives. We have better ways to provide electricity that will not disturb the natural flow of water which flows as it does for a reason. Who are we to be so arrogant to think we can change the flow of rivers? To drill the Earth until her lifeblood runs dry? She will not be kind and she will find a way to make it known that what we do brings great pain not only to her but to ourselves.
Also see: Dam Construction To Reduce Greenhouse Gases Causes Ecosystem Disruption
Will we ever get it right? To work with nature is the only way to survive.
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See more from this site on dams