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[BANGALORE] A centralised knowledge platform for the Brahmaputra river being given shape by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is designed to help water-related investments in a river basin that touches the lives of 1.3 billion people in Bangladesh, China and India.

Conceived by the World Bank, the idea is to help water-related investments in the complex Brahmaputra basin. Along with the Ganges and the Meghna, the Brahmaputra forms a massive river system that supports 40 per cent of the world’s poor, according to the researchers drawn from the University of Massachusetts and the Bank.

The Brahmaputra’s potential for development in agriculture and hydropower has not been realised because of the “lack of an authoritative, reliable, and comprehensive network of basin-wide information on climate, streamflow, natural hazards, and economic factors,” say the researchers in a study to be published in December in Environmental Science and Policy.

Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin-small
Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin Credit: FAOENLARGE ICON Click on the image above to enlarge

Map of the Ganges (yellow), Brahmaputra (violet), and Meghna (green) drainage basins Credit: pfly / FlickrENLARGE ICON Click on the image above to enlarge

As they attempt to develop their water resources, the people of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Northeastern India, face a number of challenges, including endemic poverty; floods; droughts; groundwater over-abstraction; political unrest and the broader development ambitions of the member nations, according to the researchers.

“The objective of the study is to build a knowledge platform for the basin that compiles the publicly available data, develops hydrologic and water resources models of the basin, and begins the establishment of a knowledge network of the scientists and water managers working in the basin,” says Patrick Ray, research assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, and member of the team building the platform.

The Brahmaputra is fed by both melting snow in the Himalayas and the monsoons and is prone to extreme floods, droughts, and medium intensity earthquakes. Since both these feeders are expected to be affected by changing climate, modelling is at the core of the platform. “We model climate change first, and then translate those changes into changes in stream flow, and then into changes in water system performance, agriculture production, hydropower production, flood risk etc,” Ray explains.

Muhammad Mizanur Rahaman, faculty member at the civil engineering department, University of Asia Pacific, Dhaka, says that while a centralised knowledge system would be useful when it comes to water sharing, the system seems to be tilted towards India and China. “This may hinder participation from other countries,” he says.

>Link to abstract in Environment Science and Policy

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.