Speakers at a dialogue have called on Bangladesh and India to boost cooperation in protecting and promoting the ecosystem services of the Meghna River basin for the benefit of 50 million people living in the region shared by the two countries.
The two neighbours should work together to the make the basin as one the most vibrant regions of South Asia, Planning Minister Abdul Mannan said."There is no alternative to cooperation and working together," he said while addressing the first ever knowledge forum on the Meghna River basin, the minister said, according to a release from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Saturday.
It is estimated that more than 50 million people in Bangladesh and India depend on the ecosystem services provided by the basin, including indigenous forest dependent communities such as the Khasia, Garo, and Jaintia; and the fishermen and farmers depending on the extensive wetlands (Haors) of Sylhet region in Bangladesh.
R. R. Sambharia, representing India’s Ministry of Jal Shakti and Senior Joint Commissioner, Ground Water and Flood Management, advised the IUCN to share the result of the forum with the Joint River Commission (JRC) of Bangladesh and India, and its dissemination to the relevant government departments at the state level.
To maintain the momentum created through the Meghna Knowledge Forum (MKF) 2021 and to attract international donor agencies to the Meghna River basin, IUCN will disseminate the forum outcomes at the bilateral and global platforms, such as IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille France planned in September 2021.
Malik Fida A Khan, Executive Director, Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services, said the article 6 of Framework Agreement for Cooperation between Bangladesh and India, mandates the two countries to work together for the preservation of ecosystem of the shared rivers.
"This provides an entry point for strengthening the discourse on the formation of Meghna River Basin Organization (RBO), which needs to ensure multi-level coordination for the sustainable management of the Meghna basin.”More than 100 participants from across the Meghna basin joined the three-day forum held recently, said IUCN on Saturday.
The three-day forum laid the foundation of a multi-stakeholder knowledge exchange platform for the inclusive management of the Meghna river basin.
Designed as a virtual event, the forum’s objective was to facilitate partnerships among different stakeholders and sectors to address knowledge gaps in the implementation of an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in the Meghna River basin.
Highlighting the significance of Barak-Meghna river system, Dr. Rajdeep Roy, Member of Parliament, India (Silchar, Assam) said, “Barak river is rich in biodiversity and more than 100 species of fish, including the Ganges Dolphin, listed as endangered species have been recorded from Barak river in India.”
The forum included 10 different thematic sessions and more than 40 speakers from diverse sectors, including from the Garo and Kashia indigenous communities.
The speakers shared their perspectives on the wide range of issues linked to culture, water governance, climate change and inland navigation.
“There are more than 276 shared river basins across the world, Meghna basin is one of them,” said Saber Hossain Chowdhury, MP and Chairperson of Parliamentary Standing Committee in Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bangladesh.
He reiterated that through MKF 2021, they hope to move from a situation of conflict to cooperation, as the forum dialogue is linked to creation and enhancement of the benefits from the Meghna basin through trans-boundary cooperation.
The forum also highlighted the need to strengthen the governance of the basin, and make it more inclusive and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the indigenous community.
“More than 70 community managed fish sanctuaries have been established across Meghalaya, and many of these are located in transboundary tributaries of the Meghna river basin, such as the Someshwari or Simsang river originating from Garo hills in India. The initiative led to increase in the fish population and improvement in water quality,” said Dr. P. Shakil Ahammed, Principal Secretary, (Water Resources, Fisheries, Food & Civil Supplies).
Shakil also emphasised the need to assess the downstream benefits to the people in Bangladesh from such initiatives, as this will help build trust between stakeholders from across the border.