Rising Sun, Troubled Waters
Water grabbing and the Sino-Indian challenges over the Yarlung Tsangpo - Brahmaputra
Beneath the stunning Himalayan mountains at the Chinese-Indian border, in what in British colonial times used to be the North-East Frontier Tract, some of the greatest tensions of the continent unfolds. Here the challenges are many: competitions over water resources, dams with a strong environmental impact, mining and drilling projects, a water diversion plan to channel water to thirstier Chinese regions, a major Tibetan temple located on a disputed border, separatist movements of ethnic groups divided into different states, conflicting cultural beliefs as well as an increasing migration inflow from Bangladesh met by the resistance of a population which massively voted for Modi’s Hindu-nationalist BJP party. One of the most geographically peaceful areas in the world, identified by romantic writers as the mythical Shangri-La, is on the verge of explosion. India's tribal Northeast is one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world, inhabited by people speaking over hundred different languages and dialects, historically isolated from the rest of India. This remote, landlocked area was neglected for decades by the central government, and poor infrastructure and services still persist. When the Dalai Lama crossed Tawang district in his journey of exile in 1959, there were no roads connecting the major villages of the border state of Arunachal Pradesh, also known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.For decades, India’s central government failed to look after the Northeastern people’s needs. In these neglected areas, different separatist movements tried to obtain independence from the capital New Delhi.
In the last decade, Chinese government saw the possibility of capitalising from this political instability, to extend its influence over the border not only of Tawang Tibetan district, but also of the precious waters of the world’s largest transboundary river: the Yarlung Tsangpo - Brahmaputra river, which flows all over Arunachal Pradesh and the state of Assam. China and India are among the thirstiest countries in the world: China is home to 1,35 billion people, 18% of the world’s population, yet only has 6.7% of the world's water resources. India is home to 1,25 billion people - 17% of the world’s population - and has just 4.3% of the world's water. The Tsangpo has been seen as the waters that could save Chinese rush to world economic primacy, through dam hydroelectric projects, the first of those, the Zangmu dam, was completed in 2010. Other projects are undergoing in Gyatsa, Zhongda, Jiexu and Langzhen. In the Indian medias, the news last year that China is building a tunnel to channel Brahmaputra water to Xinjiang has sparked outrage.
These projects have alarmed India over the possibility of seeing the river’s flow altered and being victim of ‘water grabbing’. India responded with great investments on defence and the development of its own dams. In 2014, China voted against the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, refusing to comply with the evolving international laws which applied to other countries on water sharing issues. China is refusing to cooperate and to share water-flow datas. The resulting dam race is deepening the region instability and could lead to an environmental disaster at the feet of the world’s third-largest ice-pack, in one of the most populated and culturally rich areas of the world, where environmental, social and ethnic issue are all interrelated.