Experts at a webinar have emphasised the need to enhance transboundary collaboration to ensure food security and reduce disaster risks in the Meghna Basin building on the 2011 Framework Agreement for Cooperation between Bangladesh and India.
IUCN and Asian Confluence co-hosted the webinar on “Food Security and Disaster Risk Reduction in the Meghna - Building Community Resilience,” the second of three webinars in the Meghna Conversations series.
Kabir Bin Anwar, Senior Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, Government of Bangladesh opened the webinar with an introduction to the basin, and underscored the importance of Haors, a type of wetland ecosystem, for food security in Bangladesh.
The Meghna Basin hosts more than 300 wetlands that support fisheries for local communities, said the Bangladesh Country Office of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Friday.
It is also an important source of rice production with a production of ten lakhs tonnes per year.
“To keep the rivers alive, we need to determine the environmental flow and maintain it throughout the year; this will support local livelihoods and also address the issue of decreasing biodiversity,” Anwar said.
He stressed the importance of listening to academics, environmentalists and basin communities, suggesting an international conference on transboundary cooperation on the Meghna, hosted by Bangladesh.
The webinar presented the land use change analysis of the Meghna Basin, conducted by the North-Eastern Hill University, India and the Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services, Bangladesh.
The results of the analysis highlighted that in India, 82% of the basin area is forest, which is essential for fostering biodiversity and maintaining basin hydrology.
In Bangladesh, cropland is the most dominant land use type; with only 3% of the area remaining as forest.
These changes can significantly affect ecosystem services and local livelihoods.
The results of the study can be used to inform basin-level policy, and support both governments in future development plans.
Dr. Hamidul Huq, Professor and Director, Institute of Development, Studies and Sustainability, United International University, Bangladesh, echoed the need for research and data sharing within the basin.
He emphasised that “flash floods are the main threat to food security in the basin. An early warning system is a critical demand from the basin, Bangladesh cannot develop this alone, and it requires data sharing and cooperation between Bangladesh and India.”
He also stressed the importance of the regular flood pulse and fish migration in maintaining the ecology of the Haors and fisheries, ensuring food security.
“We need to manage the floods, not stop them,” he added, “engineering can’t be the only solution for management”.
The forests in the state of Meghalaya (India) act as a natural infrastructure for water provision and management in the basin, and limit the erosion of the watershed, which can lead to excess siltation in the Haor regions of Bangladesh.
H.C. Chaudhary, Indian Forest Services, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Meghalaya, India shared, “The shortening of the jhum (shifting) cultivation cycle, a land use type dominant in Meghalaya, has contributed to the degradation of the forest and compromised the food security of the indigenous forest-dependent communities.”
Chaudhary informed, “The government has established the Meghalaya Livelihoods and Access to Markets project, and a ten-year project to restore degraded forests and expand the livelihoods opportunity for local communities. Such initiatives in Indian side of basin will also help in reducing downstream siltation and flash floods in the Haor Region.”
Javed Bin Karim, Programme Coordinator, 2030 World Bank Water Resource Group highlighted the need for strengthening the institutional arrangement for water governance in the Meghna Basin.
“There are many agencies working in the basin on water management issues, but there is not enough cooperation and joint planning,” he said. “A multi-sectoral basin management project can help maximise the ecosystem benefits for local communities.”
Sabyasachi Dutta, Director, Asian Confluence stressed the need to move away from the idea that the upstream areas have the upper hand and the downstream areas always suffer.
"In the spirit of benefit-sharing, the upstream has as much to gain as the downstream,” he said.
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.