Call edition 2012

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Ecopolitical problems in the Ganges basin

Ad THOEN student laureate
ad_thoen@hotmail.com

°1979 Belgium
Licence in geography, social and economic geography, Universiteit Gent, Belgium, 2001

Ecopolitieke problemen in het stroomgebied van de Ganges

A low-intensity conflict has been dragging on between India and Bangladesh in the Ganges basin. In 1976, India started work on the construction of the Farakka Dam on the Ganges in order to divert water to the port of Calcutta and hence ensure its permanent navigability. However, this has had the effect of reducing the quantity of water reaching Bangladesh. Moreover, there are claims of increasing pollution, adding further fuel to the conflict.
For his dissertation, Ad Thoen undertook fieldwork in Bangladesh and India and an extensive study of the literature on the water issue. He draws connections between three aspects: water quantity (socio-economic water distribution), water quality (the ecological aspect) and the bilateral policy of India and Bangladesh (the political aspect). The study therefore takes an interdisciplinary approach to the problem and looks for connections between the three aspects.
Ensuring a sufficient supply of unpolluted river water is a matter of vital importance not just for India and Bangladesh, but for all population groups and for the socio-economic development of all countries in the world. All over the world, we see the phenomenon of river basin boundaries failing to coincide with national boundaries, and there is a growing consciousness that the management of river basins can rarely be organised at national level. International attention to the issue of cross-border rivers has therefore increased in recent years, but has not yet resulted in any internationally accepted legislation or regulations for resolving conflicts in such river basins.
Ad Thoen’s research offers an insight into the complex conflict situation in which India and Bangladesh are involved. The author has built up a detailed picture of the situation by collecting a large quantity of original material in situ, making a thorough analysis of the issue possible. The work therefore provides a good insight into the mechanisms that operate in this specific water conflict. The work may thus make a contribution to the avoidance and resolution of international conflicts in border-straddling river basins.

report compiled by Dr. D. Devuyst, Visiting Professor at the Department of Human Ecology and Environmental Coordinator, Vrije Unversiteit Brussel, Belgium