Daily Editorial Analysis for 14th December 2020

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  5. Daily Editorial Analysis for 14th December 2020

Hazardous ideas for the Himalayas


Mains: G.S. I, II and III Geography, International Relations, Internal Security, Disaster Management and Environment & Ecology


  • China announced that it is planning to build a major hydropower project as a part of its 14th Five-year plan (2021-25), on the Yarlung Zangbo river.
  • The hydropower generation station is expected to provide 300 billion kWh of electricity annually.
  • Chinese authorities say the project will help the country realising it’s goal of reaching a carbon emission peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060.
  • As speculation about this news began floating around in Bhutan, not far from Arunachal Pradesh, Indian counterparts ere quick to reiterate their plans to dam the Himalayas on this side of the border.
  • India is reportedly considering a 10GW hydropower project in an eastern side.


  • China’s plans to build a hydropower dam across the Yarlung Zangbo River in Medog County in the Tibet Autonomous Region has evoked concern in India and Bangladesh, the lower riparian countries.
  • Indian officials are warning that China could use the dam to control the flow of the river’s water into northeast India, either shutting off water supply to create a scarcity or suddenly releasing it to trigger flash floods.
  • In Bangladesh, experts fear that China could be damming the water to divert it, causing water scarcity downstream.
  • The Yarlung Zangbo runs eastward through southern Tibet for around 1,600 kilometers and then swerves southward at the Great Bend to enter India.  In India, it flows through the states of Arunachal Pradesh, where it is known as Siang, and Assam, where it is called the Brahmaputra, before flowing into Bangladesh. After being joined by the Ganga in Bangladesh, it empties its waters into the Bay of Bengal.
  • The Indian government sees its north-eastern region, which comprises eight border states, as the country’s “future powerhouse.”
  • In this mad rush of making dams, both countries ignore how unviable such super dams projects are, as they are being planned in a geologically unstable area.
  • It is high time that India and China sat together to deliberate on the consequences of such misadventures in an area where massive earthquakes are bound to take place.
  • There are two hydropower projects in the works in Arunachal Pradesh on the tributaries of Brahmaputra; Kameng and Subansiri.
  • On the other side of the border, China has already completed 11 out of 55 projects that are planned for the Tibet region.
  • In executing these hydroelectric projects at a maddening pace, the two countries overestimate their economic potential and grossly underestimate the earthquake vulnerability of the region.
  • This high seismic zone coincide with areas of high population concentration in the Himalayan region where landslides and glacial lake outburst floods are common.
  • About 15% of the great earthquakes of the 20th century (magnitude>8) occurred in the Himalayan region. The northeast Himalayan bend has experienced several large earthquakes of magnitude 7 and above in the last 100 years.
  • The 1950 earthquake just south of McMahon Line was of 8.6 magnitude. It was the largest continental event ever recorded, and it devastated Tibet and Assam.
  • To take a more recent example, the 2015 Gorkha earthquake of magnitude 7.8 in central Nepal resulted in huge losses in the hydropower sector. Nepal lost about 20% of its hydropower capacity consequent to the earthquake. The cost of physical damage is calculated to be about $200 million.
  • Heavy siltation from giant landslides expected in the project sites and headwater region from future earthquakes will severely reduce the water holding capacity and life expectancy of such dams. Even without earthquakes, the steep slopes made of soft rocks are bound to slide due to deforestation and road-building.
  • Desilting of dams is not an economically viable proposition and is technologically challenging.
  • The Himalayan range is a transnational mountain chain and is the chief driver of the Asian climate. It is a source for numerous Asian river systems and glaciers which provide water for billions of people.

  • The ongoing low-level military confrontations between these two countries have led to demands for further infrastructure development on both sides, including all weather roads, much to affect regional biodiversity and the livelihoods of the indigenous population.
  • Prominent researchers and Himalayan ecologists have suggested to convert upper Himalayas into a nature reserve by an international agreement.
  • Rather than engaging in unsustainable dam building activities, India and China, would be well advised to disengage from military misadventures and seek ways of transforming this roof of the world into a natural reserve for the sake of humanity.


Explain the impact of dam building along the Himalayan region.

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