China builds hydroelectric dam on Brahmaputra in Tibet, India fears flash floods

China has announced that it has completed a major hydropower dam on the Brahmaputra, called Yarlung Zangbo, in Tibet. The dam is bound to enhance fears in India and Bangladesh about flash floods and related risks like landslides involving lives of millions of people downstream.

India has repeatedly expressed concern about the dangers of damming the Brahmaputra, one of the strongest Himalayan rivers, in upstream areas in Tibet. China has routinely responded saying its plans were restricted to run-off-the-river dams focussed on generating electricity, which posed little danger.

Indian officials have so far been satisfied by Beijing’s explanations, not realizing China was actually building a massive project that would affect the river’s flow into Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of the northeastern region of India, sources said.

Announcing that Tibet’s largest hydropower station had become partly operational on Sunday, Beijing said it would be useful in “harnessing the rich water resources of the Yarlung Zangbo river to empower the development of the electricity-strapped region”.

The first section of the $1.5 billion Zangmu Hydropower Station, which is over 3,300m above sea level on the “roof of the world”, went into operation Sunday afternoon. Five other sections are due for completion no later than next year, it said.

The Chinese government on Sunday described it as a “huge project, which straddles the middle reaches of the roaring Yarlung Zangbo river, (which) will have power capacity of 510,000kW after its four-year construction.” The official media said the project is designed to generate 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

Official statistics showed that Tibet’s per capita electricity consumption in 2013 was slightly over 1,000 kilowatt-hours, less than one third of the average in China, Xinhua news agency said.

Zangmu is one of the five projects planned on the Brahmaputra to generate a total of 2,000MW of hydro power. Environmentalists opposed to the project have asked why China wants to unsettle fragile ecology in the Tibetan region which is little need for additional electricity because of low industrialization.

India recently said it will commission extensive studies to study the impact of dam building and behavioral changes in the Brahmaputra. But experts ask if such delayed studies would be useful in the face of Chinese plans to build four more dams on the river.

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