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Artificial lakes in China could pose threat to Arunachal Pradesh, Assam

Three lakes were formed after an earthquake in the Tibet region. Experts say if the lakes join or burst, millions of people residing downstream along the banks of Siang and Brahmaputra could get affected.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2017 17:17 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Tibet China,Tibet,Artificial lakes in China
In this photo released by China's Xinhua news agency, rescuers look at a road blocked by fallen rocks in Tibet region on November 18, 2017. Experts said three artificial lakes created after the quake may pose threat to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.(AP)

Three artificial lakes formed in the Yarlung Tsangpo river in Tibet region of China following an earthquake last month could pose a threat to millions of people in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, experts have said.

The landslide-induced lakes, the sizes of which and the volume of water in them are yet to be ascertained, were formed after a 6.4 magnitude quake took place on November 17 at Nyingchi in southern China.

The Yarlung Tsangpo is known as Siang in Arunachal Pradesh and becomes the Brahmaputra after joining the Lohit. If the artificial lakes join or burst, millions of people residing along the banks of both Siang and Brahmaputra downstream could get affected.

There have been speculations about the cause of increased turbidity in both rivers since last month. The real cause of the muddy waters was known and the three lakes detected after satellite data of the area was released by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and some foreign agencies a few days ago.

“If there is a sudden breach in these lakes, there could be large-scale devastation. The Indian government should take the issue up with China and ensure such an eventuality doesn’t happen,” water expert Dulal Goswami told the Hindustan Times.

The fear is not entirely unfounded. In June 2000, at least 30 people were killed and there was a significant loss to property in Arunachal Pradesh after an artificial lake burst on the Yigong Tsangpo river.

While the formation of the three lakes is not good news for people of the region, some experts say there might not be an immediate cause of worry.

“Luckily, the incident happened during the lean season when there is less rainfall and the amount of water in the Yarlung Tsangpo is relatively less. So there no cause of much concern immediately,” said Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, a senior research fellow at Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati (IIT-G).

However, there’s a unanimity on the issue that there should be more clarity on part of the government agencies while disseminating news of such events so that there is no panic among the millions who could be affected.

“Organs of the government should speak clearly and urgently when such things happen. We had no clue about what was happening for over a month before it became clear about the lakes formed due to the quake,” said Goswami.

News reports about the increase in turbidity in Siang and Brahmaputra said it could be due to large-scale construction activity in China, possibly a tunnel to divert water from the Yarlung Tsangpo.

“This deliberate keeping away of data from the public due to geopolitical and others factors leading to all sorts of assumptions and fear is not good,” Rahman told HT.

Experts say efforts should be undertaken at the level of both Indian and Chinese governments to routinely monitor the water level in the lakes and ensure it is released in a phased manner before the onset on monsoon next year.

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 13:15 IST