The benefit sharing of the Meghna basin can drive the Indo-Bangla economic and political relations and bring prosperity to the region, say water management experts and stakeholders.
"As a part of the world's third largest freshwater river system, the Meghna river basin is significant for both Bangladesh and India as it supports the livelihoods of almost five crore people," Dr Devesh Walia, head of geology department at the North Eastern Hill University in India, said on the first day of a three-day virtual symposium titled "The Meghna Knowledge Forum (MKF) 2021" Tuesday.
But since the basin – that is almost twice the size of Bhutan or Switzerland – is a part of a huge transboundary drainage system and formed by three big rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna, it gets comparatively less attention and is less studied as well, he said.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Asia and its partners organised the symposium aiming at providing a learning exchange platform on transboundary rivers and inclusive water governance of the basin.
Devesh said the basin needs to get more consideration in terms of research, sustainable management, natural resources conservation, and strategic economic development.
The Meghna river basin is located in the north-eastern part of both India and Bangladesh and hosts a remarkably rich cultural and natural heritage. With a total area of 82,000 square km, 57% of the basin falls in Indian territory, and 43% in Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, the Meghna basin includes Sylhet, Chattogram and the Madhupur tract — the boundary between the Brahmaputra and Meghna basins.
"The opportunity-based approach is very important for the basin. The common understanding on food, water and energy can facilitate the transboundary cooperation between India and Bangladesh," said AK Mitra, former water resources secretary of Assam.
He emphasised the exchange of knowledge on river engineering and building mutual trust.
Dr Mashfiqus Salehin, water and flood management teacher at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said the integrated basin management between Bangladesh and India offers flood, irrigation, navigation management, and eco-tourism.
He suggested a joint environmental diagnosis to discover the more mutual benefits of the basin.
Sabyasachi Dutta, executive director of Asian Confluence, India East Asia Centre, said the lack of basin level institutions, wide approach, data and harmonised river basin policies are the gaps and barriers for joint exploration.
Geology Professor at the US Lock Haven University Md Khalequzzaman said, "We have to come out of the British colonial mindset and relevant data have to be shared among the partnering countries."
Member of the Parliament Saber Hossain Chowdhury told the programme that the nature-based solution and evidence-based policies can create a better future.
Chowdhury, who is also the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, mentioned about the 2011-agreement between Dhaka and Delhi that highlights common ecosystem cooperation.
The forum discussions were structured around three themes – geophysical and ecological diversity of the Meghna basin, cultural and socioeconomics of the Meghna basin, and inclusive governance of the Meghna basin.
In the inaugural session, Rajdeep Roy, member of parliament, India; Dindo Campilan, regional director, IUCN Asia; Ambassador Ahmad Tariq Karim, director, Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies at Independent University, Bangladesh; Vishwa Ranjan Sinha, Programme Officer, Water and Wetlands, South Asia, IUCN Asia Regional Office; Raquibul Amin, country representative, IUCN Bangladesh, also spoke among others.
The Business Standard is the media partner of the event.