Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Chinese dam projects on Brahmaputra and impact on downstream countries


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Construction of dams Brahmaputra river by China

Scarcity of water in India and China

  • As India and China continue to grow demographically as well as economically amid increased consumption among its citizenry, both nations face water constraints.
  • China, which is home to close to 20 per cent of the world’s population, has only 7 per cent of its water resources.
  • Severe pollution of its surface and groundwater caused by rapid industrialisation is a source of concern for Chinese planners.
  • China’s southern regions are water-rich in comparison to the water-stressed northern part.
  • The southern region is a major food producer and has significant industrial capacity as a consequence of more people living there.
  • India is severely water-stressed as well.
  • Similar to China, India has 17 per cent of the world’s population and 4 per cent of water.
  • As in China, an equally ambitious north-south river-linking project has been proposed in India.

Impact on downstream states

  • The construction of several dams along the Yarlung (Brahmaputra) river on the Chinese side has been a repeated cause for concern for Indian officials and the local people.
  • China has an ambitious plan to link its south and north through canals, aqueducts and linking of major rivers to ensure water security.
  • In pursuit of these goals, China, being an upper riparian state in Asia, has been blocking rivers like the Mekong and its tributaries, affecting Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
  • It has caused immense damage to the environment and altered river flows in the region.
  • China sees these projects as a continuation of their historic tributary system as the smaller states have no means of effectively resisting or even significant leverage in negotiations.

Challenges for India

  • There are now multiple operational dams in the Yarlung Tsangpo basin with more dams commissioned and under construction. These constructions present a unique challenge for Indian planners.
  • 1) Dams will eventually lead to degradation of the entire basin:
  • Silt carried by the river would get blocked by dams leading to a fall in the quality of soil and eventual reduction in agricultural productivity.
  • 2) The Brahmaputra basin is one of the world’s most ecologically sensitive zones.
  • It is identified as one of the world’s 34 biological hotspots.
  • This region sees several species of flora and fauna that are endemic to only this part of the world.
  • The river itself is home to the Gangetic river dolphin, which is listed as critically endangered.
  • 3) The location of the dams in the Himalayas pose a risk.
  • Seismologists consider the Himalayas as most vulnerable to earthquakes and seismic activity.
  • The sheer size of the infrastructure projects undertaken by China, and increasingly by India, poses a significant threat to the populations living downstream.
  • Close to a million people live in the Brahmaputra basin in India and tens of millions further downstream in Bangladesh.
  • 4) Damming Brahmaputra would result in water security in an era of unprecedented shifting climate patterns.
  • This security extends beyond water, as there is the potential to significantly change the flow rate during times of standoffs and high tensions.

Way forward

  • Both sides must cease new constructions on the river and commit to potentially less destructive solutions.
  • Building a decentralised network of check dams, rain-capturing lakes and using traditional means of water capture have shown effective results in restoring the ecological balance while supporting the populations of the regions in a sustainable manner.


There are alternate solutions to solving the water crisis.  It is in the interest of all stakeholders to neutralise this ticking water bomb.

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