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What future for the River Mahanadi?

The River Mahanadi in eastern India is in a pitiful state. It can no longer fulfil its hydrological, ecological or social functions, since there is simply not enough water for all of them.

A polluted river

 The intensive use of chemical products for farming and the lack of wastewater treatment lead to very heavy pollution. Therefore, fewer and fewer families succeed in feeding themselves from traditional fishing activities, since the number and variety of fishes has declined drastically. The fishermen consider that the problems began with the construction of the Hirakud dam, and that the situation has progressively worsened.



A shrinking resource more difficult to share

Hirakud dam was built on the River Mahanadi in 1957 to prevent flooding in the State of  Odisha, and supply water for electricity, drinking water, and irrigation for thousands of farmers. The results show that none of these goals has been achieved: the floods on the Odisha side have not been fully brought under control. The State of Odisha was confronted with severe floods in 1961, 1982, 1994 and 2001.

Nearly half the reservoir’s capacity has been reduced by silt deposits over the last 60 years. The supply of water for irrigation has constantly decreased with the accumulation of silt. In addition to the farmers, industrial companies are also big consumers of water. The two states crossed by the river, Odisha (downstream) and Chhattisgarh (upstream), are rich in coal, with power plants and numerous coal deposits located along the river basin.

Furthermore, climate change is reducing the total quantity of water available for different uses. A recent study carried out by the researchers of the IIT of Bombay showed that the discharge of the River Mahanadi has fallen by more than 10%, notably due lower rainfall.

Cooperation between states is necessary

According to Ranjan Panda, a researcher and environmental activist, the situation could improve if cooperation between the governments of Odisha and Chhattisgarh was better with respect to sharing the water. However, the current situation is conflictual: the region of Chhattisgarh blocks the water with six dams upstream, and does not comply with its obligations to distribute water to the State of Odisha.

In March 2019, after receiving a provisional request submitted by the State of Odisha, the court asked the two governments to hold a new series of negotiations to solve their dispute over sharing the water resources of the river amicably. A new hearing will be held on 13 July 2019, when the court will announce its decision.

For Ranjan Panda, this cooperation should go further than simply sharing the resource; the aim should be to work to restore part of the damaged ecosystem. For this activist, the most important step consists of a countrywide reduction of coal to produce energy. Indeed, coal mining and projects to build coal-fired power plants participate in the destruction of soil and the river. India’s commitments in the Paris agreement on the climate includes the production of 40% of the country’s electricity from renewable sources from now to 2030.

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