New Delhi hosted the Brahmaputra River Symposium 2017 on the 25th and 26th of September 2017 by convening experts across different sectors, from the basin (Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, and India) as well as international river basins (Mekong, Murray-Darling, Nile, Rhine, and Yangtze). Structured around the theme ‘Knowledge Beyond Boundaries’, the symposium stressed on knowledge sharing, collective efforts to identify knowledge gaps and ways to strengthen the science-policy interface. Representatives from Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of Government of India were also present at the symposium.
In the opening remarks, Gautam Biswas, Director of IIT Guwahati said, “We are struggling with sustainable management of the river. Such platforms like Brahmaputra River Symposium will lead to an exchange of experiences, addressing the knowledge gaps and development challenges in the basin”.
Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary to the Government of India in his special remarks said, “A river cannot be divided, cut and quartered, it is an integrated ecosystem. If each country tries to maximize its own benefits from the river, in the end all will lose”. Addressing the participants, Anamika Barua from IIT Guwahati said that building trust is important across sectors, within countries and across. Barua also highlighted on key challenges in the basin noting on 3 ‘I’s-Information, Investment, and Institution.
Perspectives from riparian were also shared. National Environment Commission from Bhutan stressed that water availability is high but accessibility is low in the country. Ainun Nishat from Bangladesh said, “Common basin management for common rivers between Bangladesh and India, and strengthening institutions like Joint River Commission is crucial”. China has emphasised on in-depth studies assessing flood and drought and identifying the vulnerabilities, trends and mechanisms over the years noted by Daming He from Yunnan University. A.K. Mitra former Secretary of Water Resources, Government of Assam said, “Brahmaputra is a complex river and flood/flash floods and erosion are a major challenge for Assam. It is important to understand the river morphology and implement an integrated water management approach”.
Best practices from the Mekong, Murray-darling, Rhine, Yangtze Basins were presented by experts from these regions. In Mekong, data collection and scientific knowledge building has been most successful of bridging cooperation among the basin countries. Civil Society Organisations played a crucial role in improved management of Rhine River. Other international experts on Transboundary Rivers provided valuable inputs. Margreet Zwarteveen from IHE-Delft said, “It is crucial to address justice and injustice in transboundary water governance and not just about men & women’. ‘The spiritual needs of the people and its water resources need to be include in transboundary dialogues’, said Aaron Wolf from Oregon University, USA”.
Over two days, symposium participants mapped the knowledge landscape by identifying the current challenges and opportunities across the Brahmaputra basin on impacts of floods, erosion, wetlands, gender and social inequity in access to resources, vulnerabilities associated with migration in emergence and re-emergences of riverine islands called chars.
Issues of social equity and gender in water management and governance were discussed. The meeting is an important step towards improving multi-sector and multi-disciplinary dialogues, strengthening institutions and knowledge sharing on Brahmaputra basin.
Key action points identified were consolidating knowledge base, multi-stakeholder involvement with emphasis on engaging media, CSOs and communities, flood early warning systems, open access community database, joint research studies, gender mainstreaming, among others. It was emphasised in the concluding remarks to reach a common ground on an agreed agenda among the stakeholders through a science-policy interface and dialogues at regular interval.