Conference on using rivers to spur cultural, economic ties on in Shillong

Shillong, July 15 (IANS) Experts on rivers and rural development on Friday gathered here for the Nadi 2016 festival, intended to explore possibilities of enhancing cultural ties and amplifying the creative use of riverine connectivity by catalysing environment friendly trade and tourism between India’s northeastern states and her immediate neighbours.

The two-day event, the first of its kind in the region, is being organised by the Asian Confluence, India, East Asia Centre, Shillong, in collaboration with the Meghalaya government and the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, as a celebration of the spirit of commonality between the northeastern states and neighbouring countries through the rivers of the region, which had for long been the treasured highways of culture and unison among the people.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, who inaugurated the festival stressed on the need to revive crucial inland waterways between India’s northeastern states with Bangladesh.

“River basins have become a source of mutual prosperity and every livelihood activity revolves around the source of water,” Sangma said at the inaugural function of the festival involving India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.

Bangladesh Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon, Bangladesh Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla, Nepal’s former Water Resources Minister Dipak Gyawali, former Ambassador of Bhutan to India, Dago Tshering, High Commissioner of Bangladesh in India, Syed Muazzem Ali and High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh Harsh Vardhan Shringla were also present.

A nearly 150-member Bangladesh delegation comprising politicians, diplomats, journalists, tour operators, bureaucrats and river experts is attending.

Sangma said that the festival through dialogue and engagement with the stakeholders would pave the way for effective convergence and “actionable” for using rivers for mutual benefit and prosperity in the region.

“We need to look at holistic system of managing our rivers and have a comprehensive action plan involving all the stakeholders to ensure that the rivers through scientific usage become a source of prosperity to all through trade and commerce and other activities,” he said.

Calling for reviving the river routes that once existed and were so efficiently managed in the past, he expressed happiness that National Waterways Authority of India has approved inland waterways to connect with Bangladesh through Brahmaputra in the northern slopes and other rivers in the southern slopes of Meghalaya.

“To ensure that the hydrology of these rivers remain sustainable, we also need to see that the state is capable of taking care of the sustainability of the livelihood of the people who are in upstream and catchment areas,” Sangma added.

Stressing on the need to invest in river management, Lal Thanhawla recalled how the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers were extensively used for trade and transport between the northeast and the outside world during the British rule but these rivers the have lost their relevance inspite of the huge economic potential post Independence.

“India’s inland waterways make up for only 3.5 per cent of the total transport in the country. In China it is more than 40 per cent. Therefore, we have to develop the huge river transport potential especially of the northeast region which shares a long international boundary,” he said.

Alam also called for cooperative water resources management which can serve as catalyst for broader regional cooperation, economic integration and development and even conflict prevention.

He also suggested the delegation to conduct an economic analysis on international rivers to identify and measure the potential benefits of cooperation, determine the distribution of benefits among riparians.

Noting Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India in June 2015 had reiterated their commitment to address the issue of water resource management of common rivers including water sharing, in a holistic manner through common basin management, he said: “To get benefit from rivers, we have to provide benefit to rivers as well. This would help accrue multiple benefits like dry season flow augmentation, increased irrigation and food production and others.”

“Apart from the important security dimension, we should also look at greater economic integration that both India and Bangladesh can reap is through trade and connectivity,” Alam said.



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