China has undertaken an ambitious water diversion project involving the Brahmaputra, which has the potential to become another point of tension between China, India and Bangladesh.
Chinese engineers are testing techniques that could be used to build a 1,000km tunnel—the world’s longest—to carry water from Tibet to Xinjiang, a barren region in northwest China, according to a report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
The project would divert water from the Yarlung Tsangpo River in southern Tibet, which turns into the Brahmaputra once it enters India, to the Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang.
Any project that diverts water from upstream Brahmaputra is likely to rile up both New Delhi and Dhaka, as the river is a major water resource for both northeastern India and Bangladesh. India has, in the past, raised objections to Chinese dams being built on the Yarlung Tsangpo.
“There are currently no water treaties between India, China, and Bangladesh,” said Lobsang Yangtso, a research associate at the non-profit coalition, International Tibet Network, whose research has focused on Chinese environmental policies in Tibet.
“India will certainly have to take a strong stand as far as this project goes, as it can be disastrous for India and Bangladesh.”
“The proposed tunnel, which would drop down from the world’s highest plateau in multiple sections connected by waterfalls, would “turn Xinjiang into California’,” the SCMP reported, quoting an anonymous geotechnical engineer.
Xinjiang, China’s largest administrative division, comprises vast swathes of uninhabitable deserts and dry grasslands.
The feasibility of the proposed Tibet-Xinjiang project is being tested along a 600km tunnel in China’s Yunnan region.
“The water diversion project in central Yunnan is a demonstration project,” Zhang Chuanqing, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics, told the SCMP.
“Fault zones are our biggest headache,” Zhang explained. “If we can secure a solution, it will help us get rid of the main engineering obstacles to getting water from Tibet to Xinjiang.”
But Lobsang warned that the Tibet Plateau has been witnessing climate change, with water crises in many parts of the Himalayan region.
“The region is also earthquake-prone and it could lead to a huge natural disaster,” she added.