Sikkim standoff: India does not need hydrological data from China to predict floods, say experts

Even though China has threatened not to share hydrological data with India unless it withdraws troops from Doka La, experts say that India can predict floods without receiving information from its frowning neighbour.

Professor Nayan Sharma, a Hydrology expert in IIT Roorkee’s Water Resouce Development and Management Department told Firstpost that with use of information provided by Global Precipitation Measurement data provided by satellites, India still can keep a tab of rainfall in Tibet where many of the rivers including Brahmaputra and Sutlej originate.

He also said that the possible discharge of these rivers can also be calculated from this data.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

"Data about the discharge of the two rivers provided by China would be more accurate, but by feeding information of rainfall collected by satellites into digital hydrological models of the rivers in Tibet, we can arrive at approximate discharge data. This data should be enough to predict floods," he said.

Speaking with Firstpost, Nayan said that there are nine satellites orbiting the earth at a distance of 400 Kilometres from the Earth. These man-made satellites provide real time rainfall data free of cost and present a chance for India to develop a model around without relying on data from China.

"We can always depend on these data to predict floods in real time, which is anyway not much in the Tibet," Nayan said, adding that Tibet gets just 400 to 600 millimetres of annual rainfall as compared to 1,500 to 3,000 millimeters of annual rainfall received in Assam.

"About 18 percent of Brahmaputra’s water is contributed by glacial melt in Tibet. Most of its water is contributed by rainfall in the Indian territory," he added.

Significantly, Nayan also said that the digital model based on satellite data is low-cost and would take nearly two months to complete. Once complete, the model, says Nayan, would be able to provide approximate data on the discharge of river water in half an hour's time.

In 2002, India and China signed a treaty that binds China to provide India with hydrological data of Sutlej and Brahmaputra rivers, during monsoon. The treaty was last revived in 2013 and it expires in 2018. As per the treaty, during the flood season, China has to share this data on a daily basis.

After the two countries engaged in a stand-off in Doka La, China recently issued a statement that it would not share any hydrological data until India pull its troops out of the disputed area.

The announcement has caused much discomfort in India because it is seen as China’s water war aimed at impairing India’s flood warning mechanism.

BJP minister hints at China's hand in Assam floods

The Chinese government's reluctance to share water discharge data with India has also raised suspicions in the BJP-led Assam government with Himanta Biswa Sarma, a minister with Assam government, terming it a "mystery" and hinting at a Chinese hand in the recent Assam floods.

“China’s reluctance to share hydrological data itself is a serious issue. It raises doubt that it might have done something," he said while addressing a press meet on Wednesday.

Himanta said that the third wave of floods that inundated the state was not because of rains in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, but because of unknown reasons.

Assam faced three waves of floods this year. The last one was from 1 August which ravaged across 29 districts of the state affecting 25 lakh people and leading to the death of 76 persons.

"Prior to the third wave of floods, there was no unnaturally heavy rainfall in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. From where did the flood come is still a question," the minister said hinting that it might have been caused by a release of water from the dams in China.

Himanta also referred to news articles which state that release of water from the dams built on the rivers originating in China can cause a heavy flood in Assam, Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Assam minister for health and education also said that data on water discharge from rivers that flow into India from China is crucial for early warnings to get ready with relief camps and evacuation in case of a flood-like situation.

“If needed, the Government of India should move United Nations, because as a riparian state India has the right to this data. Moreover, the treaty signed between India and China binds China to provide this data," Sarma said urging the Centre on Wednesday to keep impressing upon China to provide hydrological data about river Brahmaputra.

“Earlier we received this hydrological data and were not surprised when there were floods. When Tibet got heavy rainfall, we used to get ready to face the floods. For it takes three days for the rainfall water to reach Assam,” Himanta said.

Chinese hand in Assam flood is doubtful

Profesor Nayan, however, refuted the claims that a release in water from Chinese could have resulted into floods in Assam. "China has till now completed construction of only one dam on river Brahmaputra. That dam is nearly 400 kilometres away from Assam. It is doubtful whether any release of water from that dam can cause such a havoc in Assam," he said.

Prior to Himanta's remarks, the Ministry of External Affairs had announced that China will not be releasing hydrological data to India during the monsoon.

However, this may not have any bearing on the recent floods in Assam. RP Das, secretary of the Water Resource Department told Firstpost that his department had never received such data provided by China. "The Water Resource Department never received any such data provided by China. We have been dependent on the data provided by Assam State Disaster Management Authority for flood alert," he said.

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Updated Date: Aug 24, 2017 22:37:09 IST

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