Thursday, 28 October, 2021

Barak-Meghna River Basin

Integrated policy approach needed for its management

Speakers at a webinar on Thursday said integrated policy approach needed for the management of the Barak-Meghna River Basin.

IUCN and Asian Confluence jointly organised the webinar titled “Bringing People and Institutions Together for a Living Meghna River,” the final installment of the Meghna Conversations series, said a press release on Saturday.

The webinar panel shared their views on implementing governance instruments to build trust and cooperation between the two countries -India and Bangladesh to benefit all stakeholders in the Meghna Basin.

Addressing the programme, Mahbooba Panna, Joint Secretary of Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, highlighted the role of the Meghna in supporting the hilsa fishery in Bangladesh, the source of livelihoods for millions and important for the food security throughout Bangladesh.

“In 2012, Bangladesh was not able to meet their demand for the hilsha fish. However, the implementation of ban during breeding season and conservation projects implemented with community engagement has led to a rebound in hilsa population, and earlier this year, the country began again to export hilsa,” she said.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, said, “River governance should be guided by an approach centered on conserving the ecosystems rather than the current anthropocentric approach.”

“Bangladesh and India Joint River Commission has mainly representation from the engineering sector, there is a need to revise the composition to include a broader range of experts from other sectors such as from the civil society,” she said.

Meghalayais the source of many transboundary tributaries of the Barak-Meghna river system, such as the Umngot and the Myntdu, flowing from Jaintia hills into Bangladesh. “Although the Indian state of Meghalaya receives the highest rainfall in the world, more than 50 percent of villages are experiencing water scarcity during the dry season. Recognising the interconnectedness of water and the need to strengthen community engagement in integrated water resource management, the state government created the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority,” said Sampath Kumar, Chief Executive Officer of Meghalaya River Basin Development Authority, Shillong, India. The webinar presented a comparative review of natural resource management policies in Bangladesh and India, in the Barak-Meghna Basin, facilitated by IUCN and Indian Environment Law Organization (IELO), Delhi.  “The Meghna Basin has more than 60 different policy instruments for the management of natural resources, including water, biodiversity, fisheries and forests,” said Shawahiq Siddiqui, Partner, (IELO), (Delhi) and Supreme Court Lawyer.

In terms of development of water policies and institutions, the state of Meghalaya is the most evolved among all the northeastern states of India. Meghalayahas created Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA) with a mandate to facilitate inter-agency cooperation for management of water resources.

Dr Alejandro Iza, Director of Environmental Law Centre, IUCN Bonn, further underscored the importance of expanding political will to achieve conservation outcomes. Sharing experiences from the shared river basin from South America, he mentioned that often, central governments are unwilling to engage in transboundary cooperation. To achieve this in the context of Meghna Basin between India in Bangladesh, there is an opportunity to engage non-traditional partners, such as local authorities and municipalities. He suggested that, “changes can be enacted when you enhance the technical capacities of people, including the ability to engage meaningfully in a dialogue. There is a need to promote inclusive participation and engagement of stakeholders. People are essential to the solution.”

The webinar series is part of the BRIDGE GBM project, facilitated by IUCN, and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through the Oxfam Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) programme, aims to build the water governance capacity of a network of CSOs in the GBM River Basin. Its focus is to strengthen CSO engagement in transboundary water management issues.