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India and the Farakka Dam, Washington Post: March 1997, pg. 25

Defying international law and disregarding the rights of the lower riparian country, India built a dam in 1975 on the Ganges River just 11 miles from the border of Bangladesh. The dam diverted Ganges water into India’s Hugli River, causing tremendous hardship to Bangladesh. As Washington Post staff writer Kenneth Cooper recently observed: “India’s Farraka dam added a man-made disaster to the natural ones that routinely beset Bangladesh.” But now India’s Prime Minister Dev Gowda and Bangladesh Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina finally have signed a 30-year treaty by which India agrees to release Ganges waters to Bangladesh during the dry season, when agricultural crops have to be cultivated.

Ever since India diverted the waters to its side of the border the Bangladesh side has been devastated. According to independent observers, the dam has put a serious strain on many aspects of Bangladeshi daily life, from rice paddies and paper mills to river ferries and water wells. One researcher estimates that the water diversion causes annual losses of more than $4 billion in “one of the world’s poorest countries.”

The Washington Post report noted that “some villagers have to dig wells as deep as 200 feet to obtain drinking water.” Silt has been the main problem throughout the entire Ganges River delta on both sides of the border. However, the arbitrary building of the Farraka dam has caused untold misery to thousands of people who depend on Ganges waters. Over the past 25 to 30 years, the dam also has ruined the region’s ecology. Experts estimate that it will take 50 to 60 years to repair environmental damage, and that will require great effort and extensive international assistance.

While the India-Bangladesh agreement is most welcome and can provide much-needed relief, the people of Bangladesh still are nervous because India will continue to control water flows, and previous Indian governments have displayed remarkable insensitivity to the concerns of their much smaller neighbors. In a Dec. 23, 1996 editorial, The Washington Post noted: “India’s international notices in recent months have centered on its obstinate refusal to accept the terms of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and its heavy-handed tactics in the Himalayan state of Kashmir.” The Post added, however, that India “deserves encouragement and applause when it tempers its nationalism.”
Mirror of Washingtonpost report