Skip to content Skip to navigation

China interventions on Yarlung Zangbo/Brahmaputra


Absence of exchange in summer time data continues to be a major concern in managing natural disasters in the Brahmaputra basin. In a media workshop on Climate Change effects in the Yarlung Zangbo/Brahmaputra Basin organised by the Third Pole Project and Internews Earth Journalism network in Kathmandu last week, Chinese scientist Dr Yang Yong said that a major disaster could have been averted ten years back had there been proper exchange of data in place. The scientist from the Hengduan Mountain Research Institute said that scientists from China predicted flash flood on the basis of rising of water level in Yigong Zangbo river (a large tributary of Tsangpo in the east of Tibet) and accordingly informed the Indian authorities of a possible disaster in April 2000. Indian authorities however ignored the warning. Some 300 m cubic meters of displaced debris, soil and snow dammed the Yigong Zangbo river. The impact caused disaster downstream. On June 10, 2000, the Yigong disaster caused havoc of flash flood in the river Siang in Arunachal Pradesh with an estimated property loss of a billion rupees, 30 deaths, 100 missing and about 50,000 rendered homeless in five Arunachal districts.


In Assam, Jonai in Dhemaji district was adversely affected.


The Yigong flood remained a watershed in Sino-Indian hydro diplomacy.


The Northeast region of India alongwith Bangladesh share a major water connectivity with China in the form of the river Brahmaputra known as Yarlung Zangbo/Tsangpo upstream and Jamuna when it leaves for the Bay of Bengal. The states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh which are on the immediate downstream stretch bear the brunt of the adverse impacts of interventions (natural or manmade) upstream. It may be mentioned here that China's reported move to divert the Brahmaputra westward to benefit its dry Xinjiang area remain a grave concern with people of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in India as well as neighbouring Bangladesh because it is assumed that the intervention besides affecting the low-water regime of the Brahmaputra will also have serious implications on the fragile as well as unique ecosystem in the downstrem region. There has been constant fear that drastic changes will occur in the socio-economic scenerio of the region as the diversion will impact the rich, diverse ethnic and cultural resources. Dr Yong, however, denied such interventions. He assured that the diversion at the Great Bend, which is still in its proposal state, will have no serious implications downstream. Even if the plan is carried out the downstream countries will not face water shortage. Dr Yong claimed that the water storage in the downstream part of the river is more than its upper stretch. The river is fed by glaciers which is merely 12 percent upstream while the source of water for the other 88 percent is from rain. It is notworthy to mention here that while India expressed possible cooperation opportunities with China in building dams last year (the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh wanted to bring Chinese experts to construct dams in India according to reports available in the Chinese media) the issue of the proposed Chinese projects on Brahmaputra/Tsangpo continues to be a formidable challenge in Assam. The Assam Government even constituted a committee sometime back to study the impacts of the Chinese projects. However, it is interesting to note that the Water Resources Department of Assam did not receive any vital scientific and technical data on the Chinese side of the river from the Government of India which are available with the Central Government as part of a protocol agreed upon by India and China in 2008. Without such data no assesment can be made of the impacts of such projects in the downstrem areas.


Crucial Issue:


Whether diversion or damming, projects on the river Brahmaputra/Yarlung Zangbo continue to be a crucial issue for the riparian countries of the Brahmaputra basin. While scientists from India have suggested time and again that the Government of India should engage China proactively in a serious dialouge over the issue of the intervention with the system of the Brahmaputra river, scientists from China and Bangladesh call for regional cooperation and firm policies and programme at home. Dr Yang Yong while stressing on a transparent mutual side communication of disaster information with effective alerting mechanism as well as earthquake and geological points study also called for a scientific foundation among the countries of the Brahmaputra basin to monitor the events and work closely.


The Chinese scientist's contradictions would definitely ease some of the growing apprehensions in the northeastern states of India. However, it lies largely with the policymakers in the Chinese side as to how they contradict the "diversion" and "damming" claims.


Author info

Mubina Akhtar's picture

Journalist, activist based in Guwahati. Email: newildflowers@gmail.com

Add new comment

Random Stories

Award of corruption in ONGC contract

3 Oct 2015 - 8:57am | SK Hasan
One after another scam seem to have rocked ONGC where a circle of officials and contractors have picked up the first buck. The things have gone to such an extent that a section of contractors have...

Bad roads: Saikia slams centre

9 Sep 2015 - 9:51pm | SK Hasan
Nazira MLA Debobrata Saikia has blamed it all on the Centre for the deplorable road condition in the constituency.Talking to Assam Times, Saikia said the Hindu nationalist party-led NDA government...

Rapists nabbed in Dibrugarh

11 Aug 2014 - 6:39am | AT News
Dibrugarh police have arrested three students on Sunday hours after they gangraped a teenaged girl bear a railway station.   Those arrested have been identified as Kalyan Dutta and Pranjit...

One Police constable dies of heatstroke,another hospitalized in Kokrajhar

21 Jul 2018 - 8:12am | AT Kokrajhar Bureau
KOKRAJHAR: The rising mercury which seems to give no immediate releive to the people of state is taking toll on the lives of people. An on-duty police constable died of heatstroke while another...

Other Contents by Author

OFT, in the stilly night,Ere slumber's chain has bound me, Fond Memory brings the lightOf other days around me:The smiles, the tearsOf boyhood's years… (The Light of Other Days- Thomas Moore) As I sit down to reminisce my days in school when it completes a monumental journey of fifty years of existence—these lines come back to me bringing along a collage of pictures of different hues strewn across time. I had the privilege to have studied in a Montessori School that in course of time metamorphosed into a full fledged high school and earned the rare recognition of being the first provincialised English medium school in Assam. Kushal Konwar Balya Bhawan, as the school is presently...
Forest guards shot dead a charging adult male rhino in the Agaratoli Range of Kaziranga National Park on September 20. Earlier this year on February 14, a forest guard Gautam Barua, had to meet a terrible fate when he was on duty in the Bagori range of the National Park. He was killed by a charging rhino. In other words, the protector became the victim. Another guard, Podu Rajbongshi survived a similar attack in the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park in the last week of January. The year 2016 also saw similar incidents. Francis Horo, working with the forest department, died in an attack by wild buffalo on January 16 in the Bagori range of Kaziranga National Park while Sariful Islam, a forest...
The recent wave of flood in Assam left a trail of devastation affecting a total population of 33, 45,442 people and taking a toll of more than 150 lives. However, unofficial sources claim the death of more than 200 people in the recent deluge. Incessant rains since the first week of July coupled by dam-induced flood claimed 84 lives. The second bout of flood proved a disaster to the state; humans, animals including wildlife being washed away; millions of people displaced; thousands of hectares of standing crops destructed. Embankments were breached in 26 places in 15 districts. The Assam State Disaster Management Authority put the number of flood-hit people taking shelter in 923 relief...
The shrieking crescendo calls of the Koel and the flowering of ‘Kopou’ are harbingers of spring signaling the dawn of a new year in the Brahmaputra valley. The season sees the ubiquitous orchids with bright and heavy blossoms, varying in colors, bejewel the wilderness of the Northeast. ‘Kopou Phul’ is the most sought after orchid in Assam during New Year festivities in April. Assamese women adorn the pink flowers with deep pink spot as ornamentation on their head during celebration of ‘Rongali Bihu’. Found in North East as well as South India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Java and Philippines--‘Kopou Phul’ or ‘Seeta Pushpa’ in Sanskrit, Ryncostylists retusa is...
“Brahmaputra on one way sacred, one way trouble maker,” this was the observation made by the 14thDalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in Dibrugarh during his recent tour of Assam. During an interaction programme with students of the Dibrugarh University in the University auditorium on April 3, the Tibetan spiritual leader said that due to global warming there are more glacial melt in the Himalayan ranges. “In today’s world we face increasing natural disasters, including earthquakes, due to the effects of climate change. Yesterday in Guwahati I attended the Namami Brahmaputra Festival celebrating the sacredness of that great river, but we know it also has a tendency to flood.” “Because of global warming...
The Northeast forms a complex geomorphology with vast flood plains, valleys, hills and ridges of varying elevations, beels (wetlands) and swamp areas with presence of large number of avifaunal diversity. The mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries serve as the winter visiting ground to many migratory birds. From the marshes of Kaziranga to the forests of Eaglenest in western Arunachal and further up to the alpine areas of Arunachal -- one come across more than 750 species of birds that includes most of the winter visitors. Assam, along with the other six northeastern states, shares a common migration route for many of the avifauna that flies over Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh...
The Northeast forms a complex geomorphology with vast flood plains, valleys, hills and ridges of varying elevations, beels (wetlands) and swamp areas with presence of large number of avifaunal diversity. The mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries serve as the winter visiting ground to many migratory birds. From the marshes of Kaziranga to the forests of Eaglenest in western Arunachal and further up to the alpine areas of Arunachal -- one come across more than 750 species of birds that includes most of the winter visitors. Assam, along with the other six northeastern states, shares a common migration route for many of the avifauna that flies over Bhutan, Tibet, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh...
An ideal habitat for the breeding of rhinos, Kaziranga has seen a rise in the number of the species. The animal shrugged off its ‘endangered’ tag as soon as its population crossed the 2000 mark. This fuelled an overweening strategy--the much hyped Indian Rhino Vision -- that targeted 3,000 rhinos by the year 2020 in the rhino-bearing sanctuaries of Assam. However, with the number of this pre-historic pachyderm crossing the 2,500 mark, a host of challenges also came to the fore, poaching being only one of the concerns. Kaziranga has been plagued by other challenges like-- shrinking of the habitat, encroachment of the corridors around the Park, siltation of the water bodies and a complete...
The Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve suffered huge loss as flood waters of river Beki inundated 60 per cent of the Park since the last four days. Floodwaters entered the Park breaching the embankment at Panchmile under the Bansbari Range and submerged large areas of National Park on Wednesday night. The release of waters from the Kurichu dam by Bhutan has been attributed to the untimely disaster. “The waters have receded now but have left a trail of devastation. The flood breached the embankment at three sites making the Park all the more vulnerable, besides damaging most of the roads making movement almost impossible,” Dharanidhar Boro, deputy director of the Park said. “The bridge at...
At the prestigious India Today PSU Awards 2014, the Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) was awarded the ‘Most Eco-Friendly Public Sector Unit (PSU) in the Miniratna category. It was stated that the award assumes a great deal of significance since the selection process included all the 229 PSUs nationwide in the fray and is, therefore, a befitting recognition of the innovative, sincere and dedicated efforts of the company towards preservation and conservation of the ecology and the environment.A year later NRL was once again in news—this time for sending rare and Scheduled I species to death throes! The anti-conservation strategy and gross violation of environmental norms by the company drew...