All Posts By

BrahmaFeed

International

With Xi’s visit, Pokhara entrepreneurs hopeful business will grow

Businessmen in Pokhara say they are hopeful the number of Chinese tourists visiting the lake city will increase following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit.

Bikal Tulachan, chairman of the Western Regional Hotel Association in Pokhara, said that with the visit, he hopes Nepal-China relations will strengthen and Chinese investments will come in for the development of the tourism sector in Pokhara. “It is obvious that the number of Chinese tourists will increase more now, following Xi Jinping’s visit,” said Tulachan.

Tulachan’s assumptions are not baseless. According to the data of the Tourism Board, there has been a steady increase in the number of Chinese tourists coming to Nepal in recent years. In 2018, around 154,000 Chinese tourists arrived in Nepal. The number was 124,000 in 2014.

It is not just Nepali entrepreneurs who are hopeful. Chinese entrepreneurs, who have been running their businesses under an umbrella organisation called Overseas Chinese Association, are also quite optimistic.

According to Tulachan, Chinese entrepreneurs have invested around Rs 500 million in hotels and restaurants in Pokhara, and currently run 17 of them. Some of the entrepreneurs have also invested in the agriculture sector. He said, “It is necessary to invite the Chinese government’s investments in mega projects for the development of Pokhara. Many Chinese entrepreneurs come to Pokhara with interest in starting four- and five-star hotels.”

Chinese entrepreneur Zhan Jiang Song, chairman of the association, claimed that the tourism sector will be developed in Nepal following Xi Jinping’s Nepal visit. He said, “Chinese people will be more informed about Nepal and this will aid in increasing the number of Chinese tourists here.”

Liao Ji Bing, a Chinese national who has been operating a restaurant in Lakeside, said “Pokhara is a beautiful city with good weather. Chinese people are attracted to visit this friendly city.” He, however, added that in order to draw more Chinese tourists, the country’s roads (such as the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway and the Pokhara-Lumbini roadway) need to be upgraded.

Gandaki Province and Hainan Province of China have already established sister relations to co-operate bilaterally in education, tourism, trade, culture energy among other sectors. Pokhara City has also established sister relations with Kunming, of China, to promote cultural relations through connectivity, tourism, exchanges of high-level visits, and researches.

by Deepak Pariyar

Deepak Pariyar is the Kaski correspondent for Kantipur Publications.

International

Xi arrives, heralding the rise of an influential geopolitical actor in Nepal

The visit of the Chinese President might come with material benefits for Nepal but it is laden with geostrategic symbolism, analysts say.

Binod Ghimire

It was more than two decades ago that a Chinese president last crossed the Himalayas and landed in Kathmandu. But on Saturday, Xi Jinping did not cross the Himalayas, he flew over the Tarai plains—straight from Chennai, India, after the second informal summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While Xi’s visit, the first by a sitting Chinese president after 23 years, no doubt holds great significance for Nepal, analysts say it is up to Nepal to make the most out of China’s goodwill, which may come with strings attached.

As far as Beijing is concerned, it is clear about its foreign policy, how it wants to expand its influence in South Asia and beyond, and what measures it will take to broaden the reach and appeal of Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But in the past week, South Asia was on Xi’s mind.

Just before flying to Chennai on Friday, Xi welcomed Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan. In the aftermath of New Delhi’s August 5 decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomous status, Beijing and Islamabad appeared to be on the same page, much to India’s chagrin. The meeting between Xi and Modi too materialised after some level of uncertainty.

But in Kathmandu, despite no official communication from Beijing regarding Xi’s visit until just a few days earlier, preparations to welcome the Chinese president were underway a fortnight ago. China has been Nepal’s all-weather friend, but despite enjoying over six decades of diplomatic ties, high-level visits from the north have been sparse.

That’s one reason why Xi’s visit is a watershed moment in Nepal-China ties, say analysts. 

“Xi’s visit definitely takes China-Nepal relations to a new stage,” said Ajaya Bhadra Khanal, a political analyst who is also a columnist for the Post. “The visit is a positive response from China.”

Khanal, however, did not miss the symbolism of Xi’s arrival from across the plains.

Xi arrives, heralding the rise of an influential geopolitical actor in Nepal

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) in Kathmandu.  Angad Dhakal /TKPbookmark12

“Nepal wants China to look at Kathmandu without bringing in New Delhi, but Xi arrived straight from India. So doubts persist,” he said.

This long overdue visit from a friendly neighbour was not particularly due to China’s unwillingness to engage with Nepal on a high level, say foreign policy watchers. It was largely due to political instability in Nepal. The 2015 constitution and the 2017 elections have brought about a semblance of stability in Nepal, installing a strong government that is largely seen as much more open to engagement with China.

Political stability certainly paved the way for a visit, but Nepal’s concerns are more material.

Constantino Xavier, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings India, a think tank in New Delhi, said that Nepal seeks greater connectivity with China to reduce its reliance on India, whether on trade, energy security or digital connectivity.

“This also explains the strategic debate within the Nepali government, between those arguing for China’s BRI and a northward focus to Tibet, across the Himalayas, and those who have made a case for diversification by linking Nepal southwards, beyond India, to the Bay of Bengal region and the Indo-Pacific,” Xavier told the Post in an email interview.

Nepal has signed up for the BRI but India has cautiously refrained from taking part.

Unlike India, Nepal lacks the economic and geopolitical heft to abstain from a project as ambitious as the BRI. China is a global power and Xi one of the most powerful leaders in the world. China has engineered an economic boom in recent years, while the United States and Europe were licking their wounds after financial crises. With the West, particularly the US, wringing its hands regarding China’s rise, American President Donald Trump has launched a trade war against China.

But Beijing is not naive. It knows that the US move is not just about trade, say analysts. For China, this is a good moment to shore up its backyard.

“Economy and security are the two factors that China is concerned with,” said Khanal. “Taking neighbours along is a must for China, which has as an aspiration to expand its influence globally.”

According to Khanal, how Nepali politicians carry forward their foreign policy will also decide Nepal’s future course.

“Foreign policy must not become a tool for domestic politics,” he said. “But unfortunately, the Nepal Communist Party and its leaders are trying to benefit politically from their relations with China.”

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli won the 2017 elections on the back of nationalist posturing against India, which had just imposed a months-long economic blockade when Nepal was still reeling from devastating earthquakes. Oli played up ties with China as a counter-balance to Nepal’s unhealthy dependence on India, even signing a transit and transport agreement with the northern neighbour. India has not been particularly pleased with these developments, especially since it has long considered Nepal to be within its sphere of influence.

But India isn’t the only country watching Nepal in its pursuit of China. The US, which has long been wary of a rising China, has time and again cautioned Nepal against Chinese goodwill, sometimes bluntly. During their visits to Nepal, American officials have reminded Nepali leaders that any assistance from the north should be in Nepal’s interest, not China’s. Even though they have stopped short of mentioning the Belt and Road Initiative, their references to Sri Lanka and some African countries, which have fallen into what the West calls a “debt trap”, clearly demonstrate what they mean. The Chinese have been quick to counter such statements and they maintain that the Belt and Road Initiative is meant for shared benefits.

The US has also included Nepal in its broad Indo-Pacific Strategy. Even though American officials have attempted to qualify that the strategy is not targeted at any particular country, many, including the Chinese, see it as an attempt to counter China.

An article in The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, on Wednesday said that Xi’s visit to India would improve China’s ties with the South Asian country and also “serve as a response to the Indo-Pacific Strategy intended to contain China”.

In this tussle between the great powers, Nepal is a footnote, but its geostrategic location gives its an edge that belies its small stature.

“Chinese support for infrastructure and foreign direct investment is what Nepal is looking forward to,” said Tanka Karki, a former Nepali ambassador to China. “At the same time, it is an opportunity to show Nepal is China’s trusted neighbour.”
Connectivity with China would not just benefit Nepal but also the region, which is in the shared interest of everyone, including China and India, who aim to take their bilateral trade over the $100 billion mark by the end of the year.

Railway connectivity to India via Nepal is certainly in China’s interest, analysts say.

“After the Wuhan normalisation, China has been insistently advocating trilateral connectivity or infrastructure projects with India, which Beijing calls the ‘India-China plus one’ model,” said Xavier. “Recognising Indian concerns about the BRI and its projects in PoK [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir], China has been testing India’s openness to develop a Himalayan economic and transportation corridor between India, Nepal and China.”

The cross-border railway is high on the Xi visit agenda. While there is euphoria among Nepalis regarding a rail link to China, a railway across the Himalayas, by their own admission, will be a test for China’s technological might.

While there are sections in Kathmandu that caution Nepal against falling into a debt trap over a train line, ruling party leaders have rejected the notion of a debt trap wholesale, saying it is an “imported notion”, created by westerners. The experience of many African countries, however, says otherwise. Even China itself is “recalibrating” its BRI in response to criticisms of creating indebtedness among poorer nations.

Nevertheless, around a dozen agreements related to connectivity, infrastructure and hydropower are expected to be signed during Xi’s 20-hour stay in Kathmandu. But more than the material, Xi’s presence in Kathmandu is laden with symbolism.

“More than a few projects Xi is expected to inaugurate or announce, his visit marks the rise of China as an influential political actor in Nepal,” said Xavier. “Beyond financing, China has been silently cultivating a new generation of Nepali politicians, journalists and scholars through public diplomacy and exchange programmes.”

Xi’s visit to Nepal follows a two-day symposium on “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” in Kathmandu, which was attended by leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), including Prime Minister Oli.

“The recent workshop conducted in Kathmandu for ruling party members indicates Beijing is using its sharp power to shape the politics and institutions of one of Asia’s least developed democracies,” said Xavier.

But amid all these maneuverings, what is important for Nepal is how it maintains its autonomy, say analysts. Nepali politicians should make prudent moves and exhibit deft diplomacy to make the most of its friendly nations.

“Nepal should be able to maintain its strategic autonomy,” said Khanal. “Relations must be transparent to ensure other friendly nations aren’t skeptical.”

With Xi’s arrival, however, the consensus is that the Oli administration has pulled off a coup by materialising a visit from the northern neighbour.

“In the contemporary world where China is expanding its role, Xi’s visit has huge diplomatic and strategic meaning with long-term implications,” said Ramesh Nath Pandey, a former foreign minister. “Traditional and ritualistic diplomacy has been replaced with direct and tactical diplomacy.”

According to Pandey, while deals on infrastructure and other support from the Chinese side matter, what’s more significant is how the one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister Oli and President Xi moves ahead.

“That meeting will pave the future course of the Nepal-China relationship,” said Pandey.

International

Nepal and China sign and exchange 20 agreements

Nepal and China signed 18 memorandums of understanding and two letters of exchange on Sunday on the concluding day of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s two-day state visit.

fficials from Nepal and China signed the agreements on various issues in the presence of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Xi on Sunday morning.

The instruments are related to the partnership between government bodies including the ministries of home; foreign affairs; physical infrastructure and transport; agriculture and livestock development and industry, commerce and supply.

Foreign ministers from Nepal and China as well as finance, home and foreign secretaries and secretaries at related ministries and the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yaunqi signed and exchanged the memorandums of understanding and letters of exchange.

The instruments are related to the partnership between government bodies including the ministries of home; foreign affairs; physical infrastructure and transport; agriculture and livestock development and industry, commerce and supply.

Foreign ministers from Nepal and China as well as finance, home and foreign secretaries and secretaries at related ministries and the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yaunqi signed and exchanged the memorandums of understanding and letters of exchange.

Kathmandu Post

International, Water

Bangladeshi oganisation raises to make bilateral agreements public

Left Democratic Alliance yesterday demanded that the government make public the bilateral documents it signed with India during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to the neighbouring country.

Reportedly, Bangladesh’s interests have been overlooked and India’s interests were given priority in the agreements, the alliance leaders said at a press conference in the capital’s Mukti Bhaban.

In protest, LDA will stage a rally at Jatiya Press Club on Sunday afternoon, they said.

On Saturday, Bangladesh and India signed seven bilateral documents, aiming to further strengthen the relations between the two countries, according to media reports.

The bilateral documents are: MoU for providing a coastal surveillance system; the standard operating procedure on the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports for movement of goods to and from India; MoU on withdrawal of 1.82 cusec water from the Feni river by India for a drinking water supply scheme in Sabroom town of Tripura; agreement on implementation of the lines of credit committed by India to Bangladesh; MoU between the University of Hyderabad and the University of Dhaka; MoU on cooperation in youth affairs and renewal of a cultural exchange programme.

The government has agreed to India’s use of Bangladesh’s sea ports but it did not disclose the agreement’s terms and conditions before the countrymen, said Communist Party of Bangladesh President Mujahidul Islam Selim.

Nothing has been said about whether there are any “protective measures” in the agreement, he said.

Selim also said the present government came to power through a “farcical election”. As a result, it agreed to whatever demands were made by India because its aim was to “survive” in power.

“This government has to step down if Bangladesh’s interests are to be upheld,” he added.

On the killing of Buet student Abrar Fahad, the left-leaning politician said such incidents would not have happened at a renowned educational institution if students there had the chance to practice and engage in ideology-based political activities.

Reading out a written statement, LDA central leader Abdus Sattar said countrymen are aggrieved and frustrated over PM’s consent to the withdrawal of water from the river Feni, as Bangladesh’s demand for logical distribution of water of common rivers, including the Teesta, still remains unresolved.

“This is similar to betraying the country and its citizens after sacrificing Bangladesh’s interest,” he said.

Saiful Haque, general secretary of Revolutionary Workers Party of Bangladesh, said Bangladesh as a sovereign country has failed diplomatically during PM’s recent visit to India and that the countrymen also rejected the government’s recent deals.

Withdrawal of Feni River Water: Experts see little impact here

India is going to draw around 51.54 litres of water per second from the Feni river once the deal between Bangladesh and India is implemented, but doubts remain as to how much impact it would have on Bangladesh.  

The Feni water-sharing agreement was signed in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi on October 6.

Some experts say the drawing of water will have little impact on the downstream of the Feni river. 

Yet, the deal regarding withdrawal of 1.82 cusec of water by India, to be used as drinking water for the people of Sabroom town in Tripura, triggered sharp criticism in Bangladesh.  

The condemnation comes due to India dillydallying on signing the Teesta deal for last eight years even after finalisation of the deal and suspicions regarding the nature of the deal. 

“I think withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs of water will have very little impact in the downstream. After a series of discussions, we have agreed to provide them the water for drinking purpose. There is no shortage of water during the monsoon and during the lean period, the river has a minimum flow of the water around 110 cusecs,” said KM Anwar Hossain, member, Joint Rivers Commission (JRC), Bangladesh.

He explained the quantity of water in one cusec water was equivalent to 28.32 litres of water flow per second. So, 1.82 cusec will be equivalent to 51.54 litres water per second. 

When asked when the water-sharing would start, Anwar said it would start soon as the MoU was already signed.  

While there is optimism on a government level, questions remain regarding how much water is to be withdrawn and how it would be monitored. 

Professor Saiful Islam of the Institute of Water and Flood management, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said the discharge of Feni river was around 750 cusecs during the monsoon, while it was over 100 cusecs in winter. 

“That means they are going to withdraw around two to three percent of water from the river during the lean period, which would not be a problem. 

“But if they withdraw more than 1.82 cusecs, it may affect Muhuri-Feni irrigation project based on the water from Feni river,” he said. 

Around 230.076 hectares land area is under the Muhuri-Feni irrigation project.

He, however, said it was necessary to sign deals on sharing of the water of all transboundary rivers. 

Locals living by the Feni river in Khagrachhari said India had been withdrawing water from the Feni river “unofficially”, by setting up small pumps at zero point. 

Regarding the deal, many said there was confusion whether it was to draw 1.82 cusec of water or more.  

“If they withdraw 1.82 cusec of water, it will not have much impact downstream. But, if they withdraw 1.82 cumec instead, it will be a disaster for us because 1.82 cumec is 35 times higher than 1.82 cusec. So, the government should make it clear about the signed MoU,” said M Inamul Haque, Chairman, Institute of Water & Environment. 

According to the joint statement of Hasina’s official visit to India, it is mentioned that 1.82 cusec of water will be withdrawn. A copy of the MoU, however, is yet to be made available on public domains.

In regards to monitoring, JRC member Anwar said, “Now India will invite Bangladesh to oversee the withdrawal activities jointly with them. They will set up water pumps to withdraw the water, while officials of Bangladesh and India will jointly monitor the activities,” he said. 

“The officials will monitor some issues like whether the withdrawal activities cause any harm to the river, so it does not cause any erosion on the river bank,” he said.

Source: The Star Daily

Defence, International

Indian Army’s Cheetah helicopter crashes in Bhutan, 2 pilots killed

At least two pilots lost their lives after an Indian Army Cheetah helicopter crashed in Bhutan on Friday. 

The Indian Army pilot who died in the crash was of Lieutenant colonel rank while the other was a Bhutanese Army pilot training with the Indian Army, news agency ANI said quoting sources in the Indian Army.

Bhutan: An Indian Army Cheetah helicopter crashed in Bhutan today, both pilots lost their lives. It was enroute from Khirmu(Arunanchal) to Yongfulla(Bhutan) on duty. The 2 pilots were-an Indian Army pilot of Lieutenant colonel rank&a Bhutanese Army pilot training with Indian Army

The pilots have been identified as – Lieutenant Colonel Rajneesh Parmar (Indian Army) and Captain Kalzang Wangdi (Royal Bhutan Army).

Below are some of the pictures of the wreckage of Cheetah helicopter that crashed in Bhutan today:

Indian Army spokesperson Col Aman Anand said that the chopper crashed at around 1 pm near Khentongmani, Yonphullla in Bhutan due to foggy weather. The chopper went out of the radio and visual contact soon after 1 pm. He added that a ground search and rescue operation was launched from Yongfulla and the wreckage was spotted. 

Indian Army Spokesperson, Col Aman Anand: An Indian Army Helicopter crashed at 1 pm near Yongphulla in Bhutan. Helicopter went out of radio and visual contact soon after 1 pm. It was enroute from Khirmu (Arunanchal Pradesh) to Yongfulla on duty. (file pic) 

“The chopper was on its way from Khirmu (Arunanchal) to Yongfulla on duty. Ground SAR was launched immediately from Yongfulla,” he added.

Climate Change, International, Nature

The world has a third pole – and it’s melting quickly

Gaia Vince

Many moons ago in Tibet, the Second Buddha transformed a fierce nyen (a malevolent mountain demon) into a neri (the holiest protective warrior god) called Khawa Karpo, who took up residence in the sacred mountain bearing his name. Khawa Karpo is the tallest of the Meili mountain range, piercing the sky at 6,740 metres (22,112ft) above sea level. Local Tibetan communities believe that conquering Khawa Karpo is an act of sacrilege and would cause the deity to abandon his mountain home. Nevertheless, there have been several failed attempts by outsiders – the best known by an international team of 17, all of whom died in an avalanche during their ascent on 3 January 1991. After much local petitioning, in 2001 Beijing passed a law banning mountaineering there.Advertisement

However, Khawa Karpo continues to be affronted more insidiously. Over the past two decades, the Mingyong glacier at the foot of the mountain has dramatically receded. Villagers blame disrespectful human behaviour, including an inadequacy of prayer, greater material greed and an increase in pollution from tourism. People have started to avoid eating garlic and onions, burning meat, breaking vows or fighting for fear of unleashing the wrath of the deity. Mingyong is one of the world’s fastest shrinking glaciers, but locals cannot believe it will die because their own existence is intertwined with it. Yet its disappearance is almost inevitable.

Khawa Karpo lies at the world’s “third pole”. This is how glaciologists refer to the Tibetan plateau, home to the vast Hindu Kush-Himalaya ice sheet, because it contains the largest amount of snow and ice after the Arctic and Antarctic – the Chinese glaciers alone account for an estimated 14.5% of the global total. However, quarter of its ice has been lost since 1970. This month, in a long-awaited special report on the cryosphere by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists will warn that up to two-thirds of the region’s remaining glaciers are on track to disappear by the end of the century. It is expected a third of the ice will be lost in that time even if the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming by 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is adhered to.

Whether we are Buddhists or not, our lives affect, and are affected by, these tropical glaciers that span eight countries. This frozen “water tower of Asia” is the source of 10 of the world’s largest rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yellow, Mekong and Indus, whose flows support at least 1.6 billion people directly – in drinking water, agriculture, hydropower and livelihoods – and many more indirectly, in buying a T-shirt made from cotton grown in China, for example, or rice from India.Advertisement

Joseph Shea, a glaciologist at the University of Northern British Columbia, calls the loss “depressing and fear-inducing. It changes the nature of the mountains in a very visible and profound way.”

Yet the fast-changing conditions at the third pole have not received the same attention as those at the north and south poles. The IPCC’s fourth assessment report in 2007 contained the erroneous prediction that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. This statement turned out to have been based on anecdote rather than scientific evidence and, perhaps out of embarrassment, the third pole has been given less attention in subsequent IPCC reports.

There is also a dearth of research compared to the other poles, and what hydrological data exists has been jealously guarded by the Indian government and other interested parties. The Tibetan plateau is a vast and impractical place for glaciologists to work in and confounding factors make measurements hard to obtain. Scientists are forbidden by locals, for instance, to step out on to the Mingyong glacier, meaning they have had to use repeat photography to measure the ice retreat.

In the face of these problems, satellites have proved invaluable, allowing scientists to watch glacial shrinkage in real time. This summer, Columbia University researchers also used declassified spy-satellite images from the cold war to show that third pole ice loss has accelerated over this century and is now roughly double the melt rate of 1975 to 2000, when temperatures were on average 1C lower. Glaciers in the region are currently losing about half a vertical metre of ice per year because of anthropogenic global heating, the researchers concluded. Glacial melt here carries significant risk of death and injury – far more than in the sparsely populated Arctic and Antarctic – from glacial lake outbursts (when a lake forms and suddenly spills over its banks in a devastating flood) and landslides caused by destabilised rock. Whole villages have been washed away and these events are becoming increasingly regular, even if monitoring and rescue systems have improved. Satellite data shows that numbers and sizes of such risky lakes in the region are growing. Last October and November, on three separate occasions, debris blocked the flow of the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet, threatening India and Bangladesh downstream with flooding and causing thousands to be evacuated.

An artificial glacier in Ladakh, created by engineer and farmer Chewang Norphel.
 An artificial glacier in Ladakh, created by engineer and farmer Chewang Norphel. Photograph: Chewang Norphel

One reason for the rapid ice loss is that the Tibetan plateau, like the other two poles, is warming at a rate up to three times as fast as the global average, by 0.3C per decade. In the case of the third pole, this is because of its elevation, which means it absorbs energy from rising, warm, moisture-laden air. Even if average global temperatures stay below 1.5C, the region will experience more than 2C of warming; if emissions are not reduced, the rise will be 5C, according to report released earlier this year by more than 200 scientists for the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Winter snowfall is already decreasing and there are, on average, four fewer cold nights and seven more warm nights per year than 40 years ago. Models also indicate a strengthening of the south-east monsoon, with heavy and unpredictable downpours. “This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said ICIMOD’s chief scientist, Philippus Wester.

There is another culprit besides our CO2 emissions in this warming story, and it’s all too evident on the dirty surface of the Mingyong glacier: black carbon, or soot. A 2013 study found that black carbon is responsible for 1.1 watts per square metre of the Earth’s surface of extra energy being stored in the atmosphere (CO2 is responsible for an estimated 1.56 watts per square metre). Black carbon has multiple climate effects, changing clouds and monsoon circulation as well as accelerating ice melt. Air pollution from the Indo-Gangetic Plains – one of the world’s most polluted regions – deposits this black dust on glaciers, darkening their surface and hastening melt. While soot landing on dark rock has little effect on its temperature, snow and glaciers are particularly vulnerable because they are so white and reflective. As glaciers melt, the surrounding rock crumbles in landslides, covering the ice with dark material that speeds melt in a runaway cycle. The Everest base camp, for instance, at 5,300 metres, is now rubble and debris as the Khumbu glacier has retreated to the icefall.

The immense upland of the third pole is one of the most ecologically diverse and vulnerable regions on Earth. People have only attempted to conquer these mountains in the last century, yet in that time humans have subdued the glaciers and changed the face of this wilderness with pollution and other activities. Researchers are now beginning to understand the scale of human effects on the region – some have experienced it directly: many of the 300 IPCC cryosphere report authors meeting in the Nepalese capital in July were forced to take shelter or divert to other airports because of a freak monsoon.

But aAside from such inconveniences, what do these changes mean for the 240 million people living in the mountains? Well, in many areas, it has been welcomed. Warmer, more pleasant winters have made life easier. The higher temperatures have boosted agriculture – people can grow a greater variety of crops and benefit from more than one harvest per year, and that improves livelihoods. This may be responsible for the so-called Karakoram anomaly, in which a few glaciers in the Pakistani Karakoram range are advancing in opposition to the general trend. Climatologists believe that the sudden and massive growth of irrigated agriculture in the local area, coupled with unusual topographical features, has produced an increase in snowfall on the glaciers which currently more than compensates for their melting.Advertisement

Elsewhere, any increase in precipitation is not enough to counter the rate of ice melt and places that are wholly reliant on meltwater for irrigation are feeling the effects soonest. “Springs have dried drastically in the past 10 years without meltwater and because infrastructure has cut off discharge,” says Aditi Mukherji, one of the authors of the IPCC report.

A man tends a vegetable plot in the Karakoram range.
 A man tends a vegetable plot in the Karakoram range. Photograph: Luis Dafos/Getty Images

Known as high-altitude deserts, places such as Ladakh in north-eastern India and parts of Tibet have already lost many of their lower-altitude glaciers and with them their seasonal irrigation flows, which is affecting agriculture and electricity production from hydroelectric dams. In some places, communities are trying to geoengineer artificial glaciers that divert runoff from higher glaciers towards shaded, protected locations where it can freeze over winter to provide meltwater for irrigation in the spring.

Only a few of the major Asian rivers are heavily reliant on glacial runoff – the Yangtze and Yellow rivers are showing reduced water levels because of diminished meltwater and the Indus (40% glacier-fed) and Yarkand (60% glacier-fed) are particularly vulnerable. So although mountain communities are suffering from glacial disappearance, those downstream are currently less affected because rainfall makes a much larger contribution to rivers such as the Ganges and Mekong as they descend into populated basins. Upstream-downstream conflict over extractions, dam-building and diversions has so far largely been averted through water-sharing treaties between nations, but as the climate becomes less predictable and scarcity increases, the risk of unrest within – let alone between – nations grows.

Towards the end of this century, pre-monsoon water-flow levels in all these rivers will drastically reduce without glacier buffers, affecting agricultural output as well as hydropower generation, and these stresses will be compounded by an increase in the number and severity of devastating flash floods. “The impact on local water resources will be huge, especially in the Indus Valley. We expect to see migration out of dry, high-altitude areas first but populations across the region will be affected,” says Shea, also an author on the ICIMOD report.

As the third pole’s vast frozen reserves of fresh water make their way down to the oceans, they are contributing to sea-level rise that is already making life difficult in the heavily populated low-lying deltas and bays of Asia, from Bangladesh to Vietnam. What is more, they are releasing dangerous pollutants. Glaciers are time capsules, built snowflake by snowflake from the skies of the past and, as they melt, they deliver back into circulation the constituents of that archived air. Dangerous pesticides such as DDT (widely used for three decades before being banned in 1972) and perfluoroalkyl acids are now being washed downstream in meltwater and accumulating in sediments and in the food chain.

Ultimately the future of this vast region, its people, ice sheets and arteries depends – just as Khawa Karpo’s devotees believe – on us: on reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. As Mukherji says, many of the glaciers that haven’t yet melted have effectively “disappeared because in the dense air pollution, you can no longer see them”.

The report firt published in The Guardian

International

India to soon set up apex water authority for northeast region

To evolve a consolidated strategy for management of its north-east region’ water resources, India will shortly set up a North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA), according to government officials. The authority is being set up on the recommendations of a high level committee headed by NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar, in the backdrop of China’s ambitious $62 billion south-north water diversion scheme.

NEWMA will be the apex authority for developing all projects related to hydropower, agriculture, bio-diversity conservation, flood control, inland water transport, forestry, fishery and eco-tourism in the region. It will also help spearhead India’s efforts to establish prior user rights on waters from the rivers that originate in China.

The committee was set up in October 2017 with the aim of helping India’s flood-ravaged north-east. Its mandate was to facilitate optimising benefits of appropriate water management and NITI Aayog, the federal policy think tank headed the efforts. This assumes significance as India has been pushing to establish prior user rights on rivers that originate in China in an effort to fast-track projects in the northeast. Also, Japan has joined hands with India to aggressively develop infrastructure projects in the region with an India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of North East been set up.

“The committee’s report has been finalised and its is on that basis that a structured approach is being considered. The main purpose is to take care of power generation, irrigation, flood control, soil erosion among all other measures,” said a senior Indian government official requesting anonymity.

“The report has been submitted some months back. We are going ahead with constituting the NEWMA. The vice chairman of Niti Aayog chaired this. Niti Aayog has been at the forefront of this,” said a second Indian government official who also did not want to be named.

With one of the focus areas being hydropower, the strategy will also help establish first-user rights to the waters of the Brahmaputra. The total hydropower generation potential of India’s North-Eastern states, and Bhutan, is about 58,000MW. Of this Arunachal Pradesh alone accounts for 50,328MW, the highest in India.

Queries emailed to NITI Aayog vice-chairman Kumar and a Niti Aayog spokesperson on Thursday morning wasn’t immediately answered.

To have all states on board to work in tandem for implementing a concerted strategy, the chief secretaries of all the eight states of the region were included in the committee. The committee also comprises secretaries from the ministries of development of north-eastern region (DoNER), power, water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, National Disaster Management Authority, departments of border management and space.

Developing hydropower projects has been a recurring theme of India’s strategic play in the border areas, specifically with China and Pakistan in mind. A case in point being the 330 MW Kishanganga hydro power project in Jammu and Kashmir that was commissioned last May on the river Kishanganga, a tributary of Jhelum. While Pakistan had challenged the project under the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in India’s favour in 2013.

India is now also looking at expediting strategically important hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir to fully utilize its share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty. State run NHPC Ltd plans to construct these hydropower projects in the context of China developing the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The committee’s terms of reference against the backdrop of floods that have brought life to a standstill in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur also included identification of gaps in the existing mechanisms and arrangements for water resource management, and suggesting policy interventions.

Mint reported on 30 August that 103 private hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh with a total capacity of 35 gigawatts (GW) still to take off despite the government’s Act East policy. This comes against the backdrop of growing concerns on the delay in India’s plans to generate power from rivers originating from neighbouring China. A delay in building hydropower projects on rivers originating in China will affect India’s strategy of establishing its prior-use claim over the waters, according to international law.

China on its part is going ahead on its south-north water diversion scheme of the rivers that feed downstream into the Brahmaputra, known in China as the Yarlung Tsangpo. Of the 2,880km of the Brahmaputra’s length, 1,625km is in Tibet, 918km in India, and 337km in Bangladesh. Of the eight river basins in Arunachal Pradesh, Subansiri, Lohit and Siang are of strategic importance, as they are closer to the border with China.

Utpal Bhaskar, the livemint

Defence, Water

Unravelling the Mystery of Brahmaputra River Issue

From DEFENCE AVIATION POST

Brahmaputra River Issue

On 07 September 2012, our former President Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam made a prophetic statement while speaking at St Thomas College, Pala saying, “Future wars will be over water”. While referring to this, one is not talking about the present Cauvery Water Crisis between Karnataka and Tamilnadu. There has been a lot of discomfort in the Indian strategic circles that China may choke the water of Brahmaputra, known as Yarlong Zangbo in China, either by constructing dams on it or by diverting her waters, thereby affecting the availability of water for the middle riparian state of India and the lower riparian state of Bangladesh. China has not signed a water sharing treaty with any country and that increases the uncertainties about her behaviour over water.

All strategists studying China know about her penchant for building her asymmetric capabilities. Colonel Qiao Liang and Colonel Wang Xiangsui, two Chinese Colonels who wrote a book titled ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ in which they described all types of asymmetric capabilities that China may use against her adversaries. They mention that modern technology can be employed to influence the natural state of rivers under the subject of Ecological Warfare. Such writings by Chinese themselves have added to the concerns about China’s intentions with respect to the dams that she is building on Brahmaputra.

For long, there has been an uneasy expectation that China will divert the waters of Brahmaputra from the Great Bend (that is created by the Yarlong Zangbo going around the massive Namcha Barwa Feature), to get water to the parched Northern parts of China (Refer Map1).

Northern parts of China map_1
Map 1.

More worrying than China’s construction of Hydro power dams on the Brahmaputra is the proposed northward diversion of its waters at the Great Bend. If this diversion takes place, it may result in a significant drop in the river’s water level as it enters India. Should that happen, then it will have a serious impact on agriculture and fishing in the downstream areas as the salinity of water will increase. Some analysts predict the extreme view that “water wars” could break out between India and China while a few others reject such predictions of a Sino-Indian war over the Brahmaputra.

However, Jiao Yong, the then Chinese Vice Minister for Water Resources is on record saying that, “The Yarlung Zangbo river flows across China’s Qinghai Tibet Plateau. Many Chinese citizens have been calling for greater usage of this river. However, considering the technical difficulties, actual need of diversion, possible impact on the environment and state-to-state relations, the Chinese government has no plans to conduct any diversification project in this river”. He said this in response to a query during a press conference in Beijing on 13 October 2011.

Many a time the Brahmaputra water diversion project is also confused with the three water diversion projects that China is undertaking (Refer Map 2).

Map 2
Map 2.

All these are part of the river linking projects that China thought of during Mao Zedong’s regime in the 1950s. The $62 billion South-North Water Transfer Project aims to divert 44.8 billion cubic meters of water per year from the Yangtze River in Southern China to the Yellow River Basin in arid Northern China. The Eastern and Central Diversions are already functioning. The project suffers from cost over runs and environmental problems.

The problem of water issues gets compounded if it is taken in conjunction with the number of dams that China is constructing on the Yarlung Zangbo river. There have been divergent views on the dams on Brahmaputra. As per Romesh Bhattacharji, a former Indian bureaucrat “India has nothing to be worried about”. The Zangmu hydropower station is a run-of-the-river project and Brahmaputra’s waters will continue to flow to India as before. He also says, “Brahmaputra gets most of its waters after entering India.” Dr Jabin Jacob, Assistant Director of Institute of China Studies echoes his view. He says, “Brahmaputra gets most of its waters after entering India.” It is the Brahmaputra’s tributaries in India and the heavy rainfall here that provides roughly 70 percent of the water volume of the Brahmaputra River. However, some analysts warn that even though the Brahmaputra gathers the bulk of its volume in India, 30 percent of the river’s flow is a large enough component to have adverse effects and even as low as a 10 percent diversion could have serious consequences for downstream areas.

In October 2015, the Zangmu Hydroelectric Project was commissioned on the Yarlung Zangbo, which flows into India as the Siang River and then becomes the Brahmaputra. Zangmu is located approximately 250 Kms West of the Great Bend. Three more hydroelectric projects, Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha are being constructed on the Yarlung Zangbo (Refer Map3).

map 3 - Yarlung Zangbo
Map 3.

China’s Xinhua reported on 30 September 2016 that China has blocked the Xiabuqu river, a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo, at Xigatse in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to build the Lalho hydroelectric project. (Refer Map4) This project started in June 2014 and is expected to finish in 2019. Therefore, blocking of the this river for the project is not related to the present crisis with Pakistan. On 08 October 2016, China’s Foreign Ministry assured India that this dam will have no impact on down stream flows as it can hold only 0.02% of the rivers average run off. It further said that India is monitoring the volumes of the river and is provided the hydrological data from 15 May to 15 October every year.

map 4 - Hydrological data
Map 4.

The jury is still out on whether China will divert the Brahmaputra’s water to her parched North. Even when China was constructing the Three Gorges Dam and the Qinghai – Tibet Railway doubts were being raised about the technical problems that these projects would face. Not only did she overcome the technical problems but she also finished these projects one year ahead of time. Therefore, prudence demands that we plan that China may sometime in future go for diversion of water from Brahmaputra. Water and land issues are greatly influenced by emotions. Since China is an upper riparian state, we should make constant efforts to convince China that the negative results of the water diversion projects will far outweigh the advantages. As far as the run of the river projects are concerned, since they will not materially affect the flow of water on the Brahmaputra, one need not be very vociferous about them. It goes without saying that the areas of Great Bend and the areas where the dams are coming up need to be constantly monitored. The dam on the Xiabuqu River for the Lalho Hydro Electric Project is located on a tributary that drains into Yarlung Zangbo. How much it will affect the flow of water in Brahmaputra needs to studied and should it be significant, our concerns should be discussed with China. It should be understood that the Lalho Project is in China’s territory and she has no treaty obligation with us. Reasoning with China may or may not work. But it seems to be the better choice available with India because the other path of confrontation and conflict will not be fruitful to India till at least the middle of the next decade.

As a repartee, in a bid to exploit the enormous hydropower potential of the Brahmaputra, India is also planning the construction of a number of mega dams and micro hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh. (Refer Map 5)

map_5
Map 5.

In India also, the Interlinking of River (ILR) programme is of national importance and has been taken up on high Priority. Hon’ble Minister for Water Resources, RD & GR is monitoring the progress of ILR on weekly basis. The mission of this programme is to ensure greater equity in the distribution of water by enhancing the availability of water in drought prone and rain fed area. The National Perspective Plan (NPP) prepared by Ministry of Water Resources, has already identified 14 links under Himalayan Rivers Component and 16 links under Peninsular Rivers Component for inter basin transfer of water based on field surveys and investigation and detailed studies. Out of these, Feasibility Reports of 14 links under Peninsular Component and 2 links (Indian portion) under Himalayan Component have been prepared.

It is easily seen that countries like India and China carry out such projects based on the necessity. We need to see China’s handling of the Brahmaputra issue also in that light. There are lurking shadows in the Brahmaputra River Issue but India should be confident of herself in handling them with China.

Human Right

UN mission accuses accountability for Myanmar ‘genocide’

ANI

A special U.N. fact-finding mission has urged that Myanmar be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against its Muslim Rohingya minority.

The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said in a report Monday wrapping up two years of documentation of human rights violations by security forces that counterinsurgency operations against Rohngya in 2017 included “genocidal acts.”

It said the operations killed thousands of people and caused more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

The mission said the threat of genocide continues for an estimated 600,000 Rohingya still inside Myanmar living in “deplorable” conditions and facing persecution. The situation makes the repatriation of Rohingya refugees impossible, it said.

“The threat of genocide continues for the remaining Rohingya,” mission head Marzuki Darusman said in a statement.

The report summarized and updated six others previously issued by the mission that detailed accounts of arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, forced displacement and unlawful destruction of property.

It is to be presented Tuesday in Geneva to the Human Rights Council, which established the mission in 2017.

Muslim Rohingya face heavy discrimination in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, where they are regarded as having illegally immigrated from Bangladesh, even though many families have lived in Myanmar for generations. Most are denied citizenship and basic civil rights.

The homes of many were destroyed during the counterinsurgency operation and there is little sign that refugees will not face the same discrimination if they return.

A plan to repatriate an initial group last month collapsed when no one wanted to be taken back.

The U.N. mission has focused on the Rohingya in Rakhine state but also covered actions by Myanmar’s military — known as the Tatmadaw — toward other minorities in Rakhine, Chin, Shan, Kachin and Karen states.

It said those groups also experienced “marginalization, discrimination and brutality” at the military’s hands.

“Shedding light on the grave human rights violations that occurred and still are occurring in Myanmar is very important but not sufficient,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer who was one of the mission’s three international experts.

“Accountability is important not only to victims but also to uphold the rule of law. It is also important to prevent repetition of the Tatmadaw’s past conduct and prevent future violations,” he said in a statement.

According to the mission, it has a confidential list of more than 100 people suspected of involvement in genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, in addition to six generals whom it already named a year ago.

Citing the problem of military impunity under Myanmar’s justice system, the report called for accountability to be upheld by an international judicial process.

This could include having the U.N. Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, establishing an ad-hoc tribunal on Myanmar, such as was held for crimes in the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda, or invoking the 1948 Genocide Convention — which Myanmar has ratified — to ask the International Court of Justice to rule on compensation and reparations for the Rohingya.

With its work concluded, the mission has handed over the information it collected to another specially established U.N. group, the new Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.

The new group’s mandate is to “build on this evidence and conduct its own investigations to support prosecutions in national, regional and international courts of perpetrators of atrocities in Myanmar.”

Myanmar’s government and military have consistently denied violating human rights and said its operations in Rakhine were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

Environment, Research, Science

Indian bull frog: the Andamans’ new colonisers

A narrow road bifurcates the hyper-green paddy fields of Webi village in Middle Andaman, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A clear stream flows around the Webi, home to the Karen community, brought to these shores from Myanmar 93 years ago.

At dusk, as fading sunlight paints the surrounding hills in silhouette, the calls of cicadas, crickets and frogs rise in crescendo. In the cacophonic stillness, a centipede winds its way across the empty weathered road. And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone, swallowed whole by a recent migrant to the island — the Indian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus).

Barely 10 cm long, this particular specimen is small. But the larger ones weigh at least half a kilo. The golden stripe on their backs and the glitter around their throats shine in the diffused light of a mobile phone. Less than two feet from the centipede-eater sits another frog. Next to that, one more, and another, and another… scores of frogs in varied sizes, basking in the warmth of the asphalt. Every now and then, one of them leaps toward the murky waters of the paddy fields. There is nothing frog-like about the deep, guttural croaks of these prolific breeders. Rather, they sound more like a bull with a sore throat.

“It wasn’t here even five years ago. Now they’ve taken over the village,” says Nau Thaw Raytoo, a mother of four, who lives in a concrete-bamboo house with her children, their wives, and her six grandchildren. Her broken Hindi shifts to fluent, high-pitched Karen when instructing raucous kids.

The bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives. Picture shows Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.

The bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives. Picture shows Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.   | Photo Credit: K. Murali KumarMORE-INGround Zero

The Indian bull frog, a recent arrival from the mainland, is steadily occupying the islands’ ecosystem and threatening the local economy. Mohit M. Rao reports on the bizarre man-frog conflict brewing in the islands

Barely 10 cm long, this particular specimen is small. But the larger ones weigh at least half a kilo. The golden stripe on their backs and the glitter around their throats shine in the diffused light of a mobile phone. Less than two feet from the centipede-eater sits another frog. Next to that, one more, and another, and another… scores of frogs in varied sizes, basking in the warmth of the asphalt. Every now and then, one of them leaps toward the murky waters of the paddy fields. There is nothing frog-like about the deep, guttural croaks of these prolific breeders. Rather, they sound more like a bull with a sore throat.

“It wasn’t here even five years ago. Now they’ve taken over the village,” says Nau Thaw Raytoo, a mother of four, who lives in a concrete-bamboo house with her children, their wives, and her six grandchildren. Her broken Hindi shifts to fluent, high-pitched Karen when instructing raucous kids.

Webi is just among the scores of villages in the islands where the amphibian has arrived in hordes. An unusual man-frog conflict is brewing. The voracious animal gulps down anything that would fit in its jaws: centipedes, leeches, native frogs, lizards, small snakes, and even chicks and ducklings, which are an important source of food for the islanders.

“I’ve seen them eat chicks, swallowing the head whole,” says Raytoo, adding that of the 15 chicks hatched in the family’s chicken coop this year, only three have survived. Balakishore, whose father is Ranchi (an overarching term for Jharkhand tribals who were settled here to clear the forests decades ago) and mother is Karen, has lost 50 ducklings to the frogs. When grown, each duck would have fetched at least ₹300 in the local market.

In the villages carved out of the virgin Andaman forests, the amphibian invader has evoked both surprise (“where did they come from?”) — and anxiety (“when will they go away?”). The bullfrog, found widely in mainland India and protected under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Act 1972, is making the most of a free run that it’s enjoying in the erstwhile penal colony.

In the Andaman Islands, it can rain eight months of the year. The first rains in May are the signal for the bullfrogs to come out of the streams and agricultural ponds that have become their shelters. They breed by the hundreds, with each female able to lay between 3,500 and 20,000 eggs. Not all survive, but enough live to breed again, ensuring that the horde extends their range. With an average life span of seven years, and time to sexual maturity of 10-12 months, their population can dramatically shoot up in a very short time, which is precisely what happened once they landed in the islands.

“This is an invasion,” says Nitya Mohanty, a doctoral student at the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). His research, done with the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team, has been on invasive species — first on the chitals (spotted deer) that have established their herds in the Andamans, and now on the bullfrog invasion.

So far, the bullfrog has been found in six out of the eight major inhabited islands. In 2017, it was even found in Little Andaman, which is separated from the Greater Andaman Islands by more than 55 km of sea. “This kind of incursion into remote islands is not naturally possible in such a short time,” says Mohanty.

The frog has acquired many names in the course of its journey through multi-cultural settlements of the island: shona beng (‘Golden frog’, for the prominent golden stripe) among the Bengali settlers; haramendak (‘Green frog’, for its olive-green skin) in Ranchi villages, where you could hear Oraon, Sadri or Munda being spoken; and dey-phala (‘Green frog”) in villages where the 2,500-odd Karen community stays. Whatever the name or language, the narrative of economic loss and ecological threat is a constant.

How they spread

Mohanty’s team sought to define the contours of this “invasion” through interviews with locals. As early as 2001, the bullfrog had already established breeding populations in one village. By 2009, it had spread to seven villages. Since then, at least 53 villages have reported the bullfrog in worrying densities.

Like most contemporary tales in the archipelago, the bullfrog story may also have to do with the earthquake and the tsunami that devastated large parts of Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2004. Following the decline of natural fish stock, the local administration encouraged integrated farming, with aquaculture in agricultural ponds. There are now over 2,500 such ponds in the islands, most of them filled with stocks of exotic, fast-growing fish imported from the mainland.

The fishling stocks (mostly from Kolkata) released into some of these ponds were contaminated with bullfrog eggs and tadpoles. All fingers point at the local fisheries department, which has, however, dismissed these claims and accused private traders of having brought the invader to the islands.

Most villagers believe that the bullfrog’s first hop into the islands was in Diglipur, in the northern tip of the Andamans, where its prolific spread first became a talking point. By 2011, it was spotted at Mayabunder in Middle Andaman, and by 2013, it was found in Wandoor, near the southern tip of the Andamans, around 300 km from Diglipur. While many were accidental releases, in some areas, it had been released by villagers as a fast-breeding cheap food.

Researchers Harikrishnan Surendran and Karthikeyan Vasudevan had been working in Wandoor since 2008, and were the first to report the presence of the bullfrog as an invasive in a scientific journal. “[The spread] is not surprising at all, given the high reproductive output of Indian bullfrogs and their association with agricultural areas… it was only a matter of time before they got introduced to other islands,” says Surendran.

Nearly two years ago, while engaged in construction and repairs at a resort near Wandoor in South Andaman, M. Alazhagan, 35, saw a multitude of frogs thronging the swimming pool. Some, he says, had turned yellow, with blue globules on their throat — males decked up for the breeding season. He approached one, and it froze. He decided to take a selfie: him grinning in the foreground, with the frog posing meditatively in the background. “It looked so strange! So much bigger than the frogs we were used to seeing and so colourful,” he recalls.

But fascination soon gave way to frustration. In North Wandoor village, located at the edge of the Lohabarrack Salt Water Crocodile Sanctuary, it isn’t the crocs that villagers keep an eye on.

The tsunami had created salty channels in the area and rendered large tracts infertile. So, many had turned to creating agricultural ponds — to rear fish and also because they would serve as sources of freshwater when the rains filled it up. Shushil Mondal found that his pond had been taken over by frogs. “Earlier I could get 20 kg of fish whenever I spread the net. Now, I get only shona beng. There is no fish left now. It has eaten everything,” he says.

The frogs pose a threat particularly to the livelihoods of landless labourers, such as Parimal Das and his family of eight. They had migrated to the Andamans from Kolkata nearly 20 years ago, and are now nomads, leasing land wherever it is available to grow vegetables. Agriculture in a rain-heavy, saline-rich soil is difficult, and free-range chickens are an important and steady source of income, with each fetching up to ₹600. “I’ve lost six chicks this year already. We had to build a murghi ghar [wooden makeshift cage on stilts] to lock the chickens at night, but even then the frogs manage to squeeze through,” he says.

On the other side of the Greater Andaman islands, the Andaman Trunk Road snakes its way through dense forests. Trees form a seemingly impenetrable canopy, creepers drape branches in a gown of broad leaves, and undergrowth form layers upon layers above the damp soil. Amidst the shades of green, the Andaman Crape Myrtle, a deciduous tree, bursts in bouquets of small lilac flowers.

Five kilometres of these forests separate Gannatabla village — a settlement of Jharkhand tribals — from the nearest village in North Andaman. The village is a clump of 50 houses and a series of rectangular paddy fields. There is no pond here where fish is cultured. The bullfrog, however, lurks in these fields and drinking water wells.

Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.

“We don’t know how it has come here. Three years ago, we spotted it in the streams that come through the forests when we went fishing for kala macchi (black fish). Now the fish is hardly seen but the frog is everywhere,” says 29-year-old Johnson Kirketa, suggesting that the bullfrog had crossed the forests through channels and streams.

Colonisers among the natives

Bullfrogs are found all over mainland India, but it is in the unique ecosystem of the islands that it becomes a major threat. Unlike the mainland, resources on the islands are scarce for big animals, while natural calamities are more frequent. The wildlife here has evolved in a miniature setting: there are no large herbivores (the largest is the Andaman wild pig) or large carnivores.

“Islands have fewer species, but their nature make them irreplaceable. They are found no where else in the world… This makes the entire food web in the islands very different from that of the mainland,” says Vasudevan, senior principal scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

The Zoological Survey of India has found that out of the 9,130 marine and terrestrial species discovered so far in the islands, 1,032 species (or 11.30%) are endemic (found only in the Andamans). In the constraints of land, this endemicity increases to nearly 25%, or 816 out of the 3,271 land species. These creatures had evolved to cope with natural disaster, but have little capacity to withstand rapid, human-induced impacts. “There is not much room for redundancy and refuges in these islands,” says Vasudevan.

But the bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives, with alien species introduced in waves by the British, Japanese, and ‘mainland’ Indians having gradually colonised many parts of the island territory. These include the elephant(introduced for logging and later abandoned), chital, hog deer, and barking deer (all three for game meat).

In 2013, using satellite imagery, Rauf Ali from the Puducherry-based Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning found that forests with elephants and chitals had suffered significant degradation (Interview Island) compared to places where they were absent (Little Andaman). It’s a one-two punch: elephants knock down trees and strip barks, while chitals prevent regeneration of forests by grazing on seedlings.

The Indian bullfrog

Invasives have come in all forms to the Andamans. The Japanese introduced the Giant African Snail, one of the 100 worst invasive species as described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the 1940s during their three-year occupation. It has now established itself as a major agricultural pest. Meanwhile, about 90% of the fish being bred in ponds are carps and other exotic fish which have even established natural breeding sites outside human-created ponds. Similarly, the islands are home to at least 592 introduced alien plant species, some indirectly pushing endemic plants to the fringe.

Away from the obvious economic impact, it is in the sounds of the night that one can perhaps gauge the ecological impact of the invasive bullfrog. Across infested villages, residents say sightings of native species of frogs have reduced. Full grown natives pale in size to even a young bullfrog. Water snakes, a common accompaniment for the paddy farmer, and centipedes are in decline.

But even more worrying signs were found in the gut of the frog. For months, Mohanty and his associates captured and “stomach flushed” contents out of 798 individuals belonging to two native species and the invasive bullfrog. From the gut of the bullfrog came out native frogs, the endemic Andaman blind snake, the endemic emerald gecko, skinks and others. “Adult bullfrogs pose a threat to small endemic vertebrates [from frogs to birds]. Within frog species, it can have a two-pronged impact on the Limnonectes genus of frogs. Bullfrogs not only eat the native frogs, even their diets overlap, indicating a possibility of competition,” he says.

It isn’t just their size that works to their advantage. It’s their appetite for meat, even at the tadpole stage. Bullfrog tadpoles are highly carnivorous, preying on other tadpoles (even native tadpoles) heavily.

Controlling invasives

In a few villages, the explosion in population from May onward sees a feast of bullfrogs: skin fried to a crisp, their legs boiled or fried. Here, a kilo (roughly three medium-sized frogs) is sold for ₹60 — the cheapest source of protein in the market. In other places, it is anger that has humans killing the frog. “Whenever I find it on the road, I beat it with a stick. If it jumps, I’ll jump into the paddy field and chase it. One dead frog means one lesser mother laying thousands of eggs,” says a villager in North Andaman, whose name has been withheld as killing bullfrogs is a criminal act under wildlife laws. In Wandoor, a family claims to have killed nearly 50 frogs in July.

However, these are mere dents in a burgeoning population. “It is difficult…I don’t see a way to stop it. The government should think of something. Else, in five years, poora basti bhar jayega  [the village will be filled with frogs],” says Krishna Singh at Mohanpur village in North Andaman. He claims to have lost 30 chicks to the frog.

Murmurs of the conflict have started, with the issue being raised by local political representatives. “It really is a big menace. But we have to see how the population stabilises,” says S. Dam Roy, Principal Scientist at the Central Island Agricultural Research Institute, Port Blair, which operates the local agriculture helpline.

Stung by the inflow of invasives, and with the fear that more could come, it was in the serene, undulating plantations that form the CIARI headquarters that a plan was hatched five years ago to start a ₹40-crore bio-security laboratory for quarantine and research. The plan did not materialise.

Globally, invasive species, particularly in islands, are becoming the focus of numerous organisations. The Convention on Biological Diversity has said that invasives have contributed to 40% of all animal extinctions since the 17th century. The IUCN has formulated guidelines for managing invasives specifically in islands, largely involving data collection, community engagement, policy measures and management plans.

Far away from the concerns of scientific papers and environmentalists, in the government offices at Port Blair, there is little panic about invasives. “They are just animals, and nature will find a way to live in harmony,” says Tarun Coomar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who also holds the post of Environment Secretary in the relatively small administration governing the islands.

This confidence is not reflected among the villagers. While many are resigned to the invasion, some suggest commercial harvest for export to South-East Asia, for history has shown that animal populations crash when they have an economic value attached to them.

But for now, it is an unchecked invasion. “Bullfrogs have reached little Andaman, the next frontier is Nicobar. There are other islands they are yet to invade, and we must do everything to stop that. Signs at jetties about the adverse economic impact of bullfrogs and the need to check contamination of fish stocks could be useful,” says Mohanty.

For millenia, the islands, now a Union Territory, were largely disconnected, literally and figuratively, from the mainland. In more ways than one, the landscape here resembles those in Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia than mainland India.

In ethos too, the disconnect remains. In government offices, officials caution outsiders (whose annual numbers touch 6.5 lakh, as compared to 3.9 lakh residents) to take it slow in the islands: “Ye mainland nahiyeh Andaman hai  [This is not the mainland, this is Andaman].” But it may not stay that way for long. As the croaks of the bullfrog reverberate through the islands, their clamour assumes the urgency of a clarion call — to act before it is too late.

Mohit M Rao