Water Futures in South Asia – Time for closer cooperation

The Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna (GBM), the three major rivers in South Asia, along with their tributaries drain an area of about 1.75 million square kilometers and have direct impact on around 620 million people.  Today more than ever, cooperation is needed to meet the water-related needs of the growing population in the basin for food production, energy, industrial and domestic uses and sustain it’s ecology. Thus water cooperation between Bangladesh and India  can be nurtured through dialogue and people-to-people contact between these two neighbouring countries.

Inaugural Session in Guwahati, Assam

Twenty young scholars and professionals from India and Bangladesh discussed these issues and urged all the concerned to listen to the voice of the people when it is a question of trans-boundary water resources management during an Indo-Bangladesh Dialogue titled “Water Futures: A Dialogue for Young Scholars and Professionals”. Jointly organized by Jamia Millia Islamia, India and University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and supported by IUCN’s project Ecosystems for Life: A Bangladesh-India Initiative the course was designed for young professionals, environmentalists, scholars, journalists, creative artists, researchers from water resources and environmental disciplines, young government officials and young policy makers from Bangladesh and India. Ten participants from each country attended the programme which began in Guwahati, India and ended up in Dhaka from 14 November 2013 to 26 November 2013. The course was interactive, including films, music, games, lectures, discussions and field visit to the banks of river Brahmaputra in India and Jamuna in Bangladesh, with intense interactions with communities living along the trans-boundary rivers.

Working days were divided into four sessions, including lectures and discussions. The overall objective of the dialogue was to provide opportunities to emerging practitioners to learn cross-country and cross-sectoral strategic, managerial and technical initiatives for sustainable water management, including food and environmental security. The dialogue is the first ever of its kind in the region. Centre for North East Studies (C-NES), Guwahati provided technical support to organize the dialogue in India.

‘When we talk about water resource management, we are talking about  the sustainable development of all societies and all in society'. It is about saving children from diseases. It is about allowing girls to go to schools instead of walking kilometers to fetch water. It is about providing women and men with access to sanitation, wherever they live. Fundamentally, it is about peace, on the basis of dialogue between countries and across the region’, said Professor Sanjoy Hazarika, Director, Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research of Jamia Millia Islamia and the Coordinator of the Water Futures Dialogue for India side.

Participants of the dialogue were placed in smaller groups and prepared joint papers on the modules of the programme. After successful completion of the course, all participants were given course completion certificates issued by University of Dhaka, Jamia Millia Islamia and IUCN. It has been a very useful exercise to strengthen communication between groups using an emerging concept, the Water Futures, as the topic. While inter-generational partnerships take time to develop, the dialogue provided a valuable platform to increase the awareness of the importance of involving youth in the different aspects of water management, acting as a bridge between the two countries of understanding each other’s water issues.

‘Water cooperation is about fighting against poverty and hunger and protecting the environment’, said Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, Department of International Relations of Dhaka University who was also the Coordinator of the Water Futures Dialogue from Bangladesh side.  ‘When it comes to water, science tells us one thing and social science tells us something else. So as long as the water is concerned, we should consider both science and social science’.

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