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Press Release || Meghna Conversation webinar demonstrates the cultural and economic diversity of the Meghna River Basin

 

IUCN and Asian Confluence jointly hosted a webinar on “Celebrating the Meghna River- A Shared Heritage,” the first of three webinars in the Meghna Conversations series. The series aims to raise awareness of the cultural, social and ecological values of the Meghna River and the need for cooperation among stakeholders to conserve the basin.

The Meghna River Basin is shared by Bangladesh and India and supports one of the largest Hilsa fisheries in the world, providing a source of protein for millions of people living in the basin. Mr. Vishwa Ranjan, Programme Officer, Water and Wetlands, South Asia, IUCN, explained the regulating and supporting services provided by the Meghna River Basin, “Most of forest cover of the basin is located in India, and these are important for the climate regulation across the basin. The basin also includes more than 1,000 wetlands located in the Haor region of Bangladesh and the Barak Valley of India, which serve as buffers against flooding and also provide habitat for thousands of migratory waterfowl, annually.”


Succeeding presenters discussed the importance of the basin and the ecosystems services it provides within the context of ecology, culture and other social dimensions.


The basin has high cultural significance, with number of indigenous communities including Jaintia and Khasis living in basin. “The ancient Jaintia kingdom used to span both sides of the border and was replete with monuments, cultures, folklore and art forms. The ancient Jadukata River festival is one example of the cultural value of the rivers for the people and celebrated till today,” shared Mr. Sabyasachi Dutta, Executive Director, Asian Confluence.


Despite these important values, the basin faces a range of threats. A recent study, supported by IUCN, has shown that there are large socio-economic disparities throughout the region. Dr. Saudamini Das, Professor at the Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi noted, “Indigenous communities living in the Meghna River Basin are poor and depend on the forests for their socio-economic well-being. Development of innovative Payment of Ecosystem Services (PES) mechanisms will help in ensuring the economic security of forest dependent communities and protection of watersheds for the long-term water security in the basin.”


Mr. F.W. Blah, Chief Forest Officer of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, Meghalaya discussed the impact of mining and shifting cultivation on the forests. Destructive mining has stopped in the Meghna River Basin because of the ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal of India. However, deforestation, forest fragmentation and soil degradation continue to threaten the ecosystem. Mr. Blah explained that the role of Jaintia Hills Autonomous Council, which is the elected governance body of the Jaintia people. “The Council plays an essential role in the functioning of the community, promoting the unique culture of the region, organising traditional celebrations and protecting the land tenure system,” said Mr. Blah. There is a need to support the Council to ensure the sustainability of activities that are permitted within the district, minimising environmental impacts in the basin.”


Panelists and participants also discussed benefit sharing as an opportunity in the transboundary context. Dr. A.K. Enamul Haque, Director for the Asian Center for Development, Dhaka highlighted the potential for bilateral benefit sharing in the Meghna River Basin.


“In the last 40 years, most transboundary water discussions between Bangladesh and India focused on the sharing of volumes of water, with particular focus in the Ganges River. Now that Bangladesh has revived the water transportation treaty, there has been a shift from water sharing to the use of the river for common benefits on both sides, such as developing transportation networks between the two countries,” shared Dr. Haque.


Thus, promoting bilateral agreements on the use of the river and its resources will benefit millions of people residing in both upstream and downstream communities was underscored.


Dr. Vivek Saxena, IUCN Country Representative, India emphasized on the need for transboundary cooperation to conserve the ecosystem of the Meghna River Basin. He said, “A recent article published in the journal Nature, Mapping the Worlds Free Flowing River, identifies the Meghna River as one of the last remaining long free-flowing rivers in Asia. In contrast, the Brahmaputra River is listed as a non-free flowing river, with good connectivity status; similarly, the Ganges is also categorized as a non-free flowing river, but with very limited connectivity.” The webinar highlighted the need to strengthen collaboration within the Basin to maintain this status.


The webinar series is part of the BRIDGE GBM project, facilitated by IUCN, and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) through the Oxfam Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) programme, aims to build the water governance capacity of a network of CSOs in the GBM River Basin. Its focus is to strengthen CSO engagement in transboundary water management issues.

 

 

For more information on the Meghna Conversation Series, visit the IUCN Website

 

The webinar video is available on IUCN Asia Facebook Page