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Lessons not yet learnt from collapse of Chinese and Indian dams in Himalayan Watershed

Written By mediavigil on Friday, October 20, 2023 | 8:35 AM

The world's high dams including the ones in the Himalayan region cannot resist extreme weather patterns. The fragility of the entire Himalayan watershed creates a compelling logic for a cumulative impact assessment of all infrastructure projects in the Indian and Chinese Himalayan region. China and India are river civilisations. Both are the largest hydropower producers in Asia and have become world leaders in dam construction, responsible for most new dams built since the 1990s. Neither China has drawn lessons from the collapse of the Shimantan and Banqiao dams on August 7, 1975, the world's biggest dam disaster nor India is likely to learn from the collapse of Chungthang dam at the midnight of October 4, 2023 in Sikkim.

Unmindful of the Sikkim dam collapse, R.K. Singh, Union Minister for Power and Renewable Energy has said that the glacier lake outburst (GLOF) that triggered a flood in Sikkim and destroyed the Chungthang dam will not slow India’s reliance on hydropower. The Chungthang dam, a key component of the 1,200 MW Sikkim Urja hydel power project, was destroyed along with several highways, villages, and towns in Sikkim. The quantity of water that gushed out following the lake outburst overwhelmed the dam’s spillways in 10 minutes. It rendered any attempt at opening its gates futile. The dam was not engineered to withstand flow from GLOF events. The collapse of the dam holds lessons for some 100 large Indian hydropower plants which account for around 12% in India's energy mix.

The fight to control the Himalayan watershed is quite old but the competition between the two countries to exploit the Himalayan water resources has imperiled Mother Earth's Himalayan ecosystem. The nationalist myopia and the technical ability of both these countries have emerged as a grave threat. 
Indian and Chinese scholars and leaders must join hands to study the implications of the ecocidal hydropower projects in order to reverse the outdated ideology which naturalizes "taming of nature" at any human and environmental cost. They must set an example for other countries in the Himalayan region by reviewing and reversing their policies and projects.  

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