Lack of cooperation over shared water results in an annual loss of over USD 14.2 billion ( Rs 1420 crore) in the trans-boundary Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghana (GBM) basin, a new report has said and suggested shift in focus from volumetric distribution of water to sharing multiple benefits from freshwater resources.
Endowed with rich natural resources such as rivers and forests, the trans-boundary Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghana (GBM) basins support the lives and livelihoods of more than 670 million people across Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal.
“Non-cooperation over shared waters governance in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) basin results in basin countries losing over USD 14.2 billion annually. Such a high cost of non-cooperation in one of the most climate-stressed regions warrants for more urgent action by various stakeholders to improve and sustain cooperation on shared waters and associated natural resources,” said the report ‘Understanding the Costs of Non-Cooperation in the GBM Basins’.
Commissioned by the Government of Sweden-funded Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) regional programme, the report was released late Tuesday India time. It has been prepared by the UNESCO Chair on International Water Cooperation at Uppsala University, Sweden.
TROSA is a regional water governance programme funded by the Government of Sweden and managed by Oxfam, a trans-national NGO. It works with riverine communities in the GBM and Salween basins to strengthen and promote more human rights-based and inclusive water resources governance.
According to the initial estimates by the authors — Ashok Swain and Sajid Karim — from the UNESCO Chair on International Cooperation at Uppsala University, “due to limited or lack of cooperation on shared waters, GBM basin countries are losing more than USD 14.2 billion annually in the water, energy, food, and environment sectors.”
The GBM basins’ region is one of the most water-stressed regions and climate change impacts are further exacerbating the water, food, and energy security of the region. Most of these drivers and impacts are transboundary in nature and hence the need for better cooperation mechanisms at the basin and regional level.
One of the first such analyses for the GBM basins, the report has attempted to quantify the economic costs due to non-cooperation while the other social and cultural costs, including the differential impact across various countries, sectors, and social groups, are yet to be explored and quantified.
The research team — led by Swain, professor of Peace and Conflict Research at the Uppsala University — has analyzed the economic costs across the water, energy, food and environment sectors and has identified nine different costs of non-cooperation.
These include the adverse impact on the flow regime of the rivers and water availability; deteriorating water quality and associated health hazard; higher transportation cost due to lack of water connectivity; reduction of agricultural productivity and output; reduction in fisheries; increased environmental stress and degradation of ecosystems; adverse impact of climate change; untapped hydropower potential, higher energy price and energy insecurity and loss of life and livelihoods due to natural disasters.
“The cost of non-cooperation in the GBM is already remarkably high, which would degenerate in the future if no action were taken. Maintaining the status quo would augment the existing vulnerabilities and emerging risks emanating from population expansion, unsustainable economic growth, unilateral infrastructure development, and the adverse impact of climate change,” the report said.
“If ignored, the existing non-cooperative atmosphere would have a tremendously negative impact on the economic potential of the basin along with its water-energy-food-environment security, which in turn could adversely affect the peace and stability of the entire region,” it warned.
With an aim to reduce the non-cooperation cost and facilitate cooperation, the study identified three areas of consideration, i.e., shift in policy outlook and decision-making processes; development of institutional arrangements and promotion of benefit sharing.
It called for a major shift in policies to reduce negative externalities among the water, energy, food, and environment sectors and also underscored the need for the current institutional arrangements to be better developed to create a conducive atmosphere for cooperation.
“Furthermore, the riparian states need to shift their focus primarily from volumetric distribution of water to sharing of multiple benefits derived from multifaceted utilisation of freshwater resources that would create additional opportunities and foster an enabling environment for reinforced cooperation,” the report suggested.