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Two-day workshop on 'Water Conflicts in the North East: Issues, Cases and Way Forward', 10-11 December 2010, Guwahati

The Forum in collaboration with Aaranyak, Guwahati is organizing a two-day National Workshop on “Water Conflicts in the North East: Issues, Cases and Way Forward” to be held at Guwahati on 10-11 December 2010.

The North East has been witnessing different types of water related conflicts and some of them have been in the news. The hydropower potential of the region has attracted national and international attention with the result that more than 168 hydropower projects with large dams are being planned and implemented. There is widespread concern over the observed and probable social and environmental impacts of these in the region. Protests against the detrimental downstream impacts of the large dams have assumed the proportions of a mass movement in Assam. Large dams have also emerged as a major political issue in the state of Assam in the last six months with all the major political parties raising the issue and taking positions with the obvious motive of making electoral gains.

Floods, river bank erosion (and sand casting), deterioration of drinking water quality because of increasing contamination of ground water with fluoride and arsenic and the resultant health hazards are serious concerns of the region. Transboundary issues like building of dams by China and alleged attempts of China to divert the Brahmaputra River within China are now topics of hot debate in the region. The upstream-downstream linkages within the region and the contiguous Himalayan areas are also contributing to the conflict scenario. Landslide dams getting breached or diffused in Bhutan or Tibet have caused catastrophic floods in downstream areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Unwarranted release of water to rivers from dams both in Bhutan and within the region has caused devastating flash floods. Lack of coordination between countries sharing the river basins (mainly the Brahmaputra and the Barak river basins) is a major obstacle in resolving these problems. Exchange of meteorological and hydrological data and information among the riparian countries from upstream to downstream is inadequate and in some cases non-existent resulting in bottlenecks that hinder effective flood forecasting and dissemination of food warning. The conflicts over water are not limited to these issues and examples – these are rather indicative of many other observed or potential conflict situations centering on water in the region. There is also a sense of `isolation’ as the issues thrown up by these conflicts do not seem to enter into the `national’ water discourse – a lack of understanding of and sensitivity to these issues in the rest of India.

It is in this context the Forum has recently embarked on a new initiative to document selected water related conflicts in the North East. About 20 major cases of conflicts of different types have been identified for documentation. This initiative is being anchored by Aaranyak, a premier environmental organization of the region. We thought that it is important the first drafts of these case studies be presented by the authors and put to a wider debate and discussion in the workshop so that critical feedback could be given to the authors. Apart from the case study presentations, the workshop would also have two or three general presentations on burning issues in the water sector, water conflicts and possible approaches and strategies to engage with them by people who have done substantial work on water issues in the region.

We are organising this workshop with the following objectives:

1) To provide critical feedback to the case study writers
2) To develop an understanding of the broader issues underpinning the water conflicts in the region
3) To explore the possibility of initiating a network of concerned individuals and organizations to have a long-term engagement with some of the important issues that would emerge from the workshop