Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bangladesh Governance Barometer 2008

Yesterday a report titled Governance Matters VIII was released which included new update of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI). A total of six dimensions of governance, namely: Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption, was measured in this report. The six governance indicators are measured in units ranging from about -2.5 to 2.5, with higher values corresponding to better governance outcomes.

The report covers 212 countries and territories. It aggregate indicators are based on hundreds of specific and disaggregated individual variables measuring various dimensions of governance, taken from 35 data sources provided by 33 different organizations. The data reflect the views on governance of public and private sectors and NGO experts, as well as thousands of citizen and firm survey respondents worldwide.

Bangladesh’s ranking in all six areas of governance for the year 2008 is as follows:

Voice and accountability 31

Political stability 10

Government effectiveness 23

Regulatory quality 21

Rule of law 27

For a comparative picture of Bangladesh governance situation from 2003 to 2008, visit here:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The way forward in Tipaimukh dam controversy

Can anyone confirm if the World Bank will be financing the construction of Tipaimukh Dam in India?

Meanwhile, please read an analytical piece by Zakir Kibria, titled The Case of Tipaimukh Dam in India and Concerns in Lower Riparian.

Abstract: The construction of Tipaimukh dam by India on the international Barak river has raises a number of questions in relation to successful implementation of World Commission on Dams (WCD) recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance (GPA) for large dams. The government of India had never officially informed the lower riparian state of Bangladesh about the construction of the dam although experts fear that the dam would have adverse environmental impact on Bangladesh that share the same river basin.

This paper investigates the international nature of the river basin and possible impact on the Bangladesh in the light of co-riparian rights and evaluates some of the principles of GPA and searches for mechanism for participation of local communities in the process.

The context:
The under construction Tipaimukh dam - a 390 meter long, 162.5 meter high earthen core rock filled dam on the international river Barak at downstream of the confluence of Barak and Tuivai rivers near Tipaimukh village in Manipur state of India and close to Bangladesh border is supposed to produce an estimated 1,500 MW electric power. The dam will permanently submerge an area of 275.50 sq. km. in the state of Manipur. A large number of people, mostly belonging to indigenous Zeliangrong and Hmar communities, will be displaced permanently[1]. Indigenous communities, civil society groups and NGOs in northeast India have been campaigning years on possible adverse environmental effect, displacement, and inadequate public consultations in the construction of the dam[2].

Recently the Government of Bangladesh has also protested the construction of Tipaimukh dam and claimed that it will have adverse environmental impact on downstream Bangladesh[3]. Civil society groups and NGOs in Bangladesh have also been campaigning against the downstream impact of Tipaimukh dam[4]. It raises a number of questions in relation to World Commission on Dams (WCD) recommendations[5]. The WCD recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance for large dams proposes procedural mechanism(s) to address grievances within a national system. But what if a dam poses serious risks to people and communities living downstream in another country? This paper seeks to investigate the WCD recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance for large dam from the perspective of downstream Bangladesh[6].

International Nature of Brahmaputra-Barak-Meghna basin:
Rivers have no boundary. Only we humans draw lines and divide ourselves. Four-fifth of Bangladesh is made up of the combined delta of Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna and Barak river system. Barak River is part of Brahmaputra-Barak-Meghna basin - one of the largest river basins in the world. The mighty river Brahmaputra originates in Tibet and comes down to northeast India and then enters Bangladesh and finally empties itself towards Bay of Bengal. The Barak River is part of the Brahmaputra-Barak-Meghna river basin and the second largest drainage system in northeast India. Barak River originates from Lai-Lyai village in Senapati district of Manipur.

The upper Barak catchment area extends almost entire north, northeastern, western and southwestern portion of the Manipur State. The middle course lies in the plain areas of Cachar region of Assam state, while the lower, the deltaic course is in Bangladesh, where it is known as Meghna. Two important rivers in northeastern part of Bangladesh -Surma and Kushyiara - are fed by the flow Barak River[7].

Impact of Tipaimukh dam on downstream co-riparian Bangladesh
The construction of Tipaimukh dam will have serious adverse impact on the downstream part of the Barak river basin, which is in northeastern part of Bangladesh, and known as Surma-Kushyiara-Meghna river basin. Institute of Water Modelling (IWM), an autonomous research institute in Bangladesh has recently conducted a study on the impact of Tipaimukh dam on Bangladesh[8]. The study predicts that, the dam, once operational, will change the hydrological pattern of the Barak River. According to the report, the overall nature of impact can be summarized in six broad categories, like hydrological impact, impact on flooding pattern and on river-floodplain-wetland ecosystem, impact on morphology, impact on water quality, dam-beak and general.

Impacts on Hydrology
The IWM study estimate that once the Tipaimukh dam is fully functional, average annual monsoon inflow from the Barak River at Amalshid point to the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna River system would be reduced around 10% for month June, 23% for month July, 16% for month August and 15% for month September. Water level would fall by more than 1 meter on average during the month July at Amalshid station on the Kushiyara River, while this would be around 0.25 meter, 0.15 meter and 0.1 meter at Fenchuganj, Sherpur and Markuli station, respectively. On the other hand, at Kanairghat and Sylhet station on the Surma River, average water level would drop by 0.75 meter and 0.25 meter, respectively in the same month.

During relatively drier monsoon year, dam would have more impact on the availability of monsoon water in the Barak-Surma-Kushiyara River than the average annual monsoon year. Like for the month July, August and September, flow would be reduced as much as 27%, 16% and 14%, respectively, 4%, 2% and 2% higher than the volume reduction found for average monsoon year.

Impact on Inundation Pattern and River-Floodplain-Wetland Ecosystem
Sylhet and Moulvibazar district in northeastern part of Bangladesh will be effected more due to the Tipaimukh Dam operation regarding their natural monsoon-flooding pattern. For Sylhet district, total inundated area would be reduced by 30,123 ha. (26%) during post-dam scenario than it actually happens in pre-dam average monsoon season. For Moulvibazar district, this would be around 5,220 ha. (11%). 71% of the Upper Surma-Kushiyara Project area would no longer be flooded during average monsoon season for post-dam condition. The Kushyiara River would cut its connection with its right bank floodplain for around 65 km. reach. As a result the river at this part will become 'reservoir river'; rather than a most valuable 'floodplain river'.

The Kushiyara-Bardal haor (wetland) on the left bank of the Kushiyara River would become completely dry during average monsoon year dry due to Tipaimukh dam operation. The Kawardighi haor (wetland) would also lose around 2,979 ha. (26 %) of its usual inundated land during average monsoon year. Impact on Damrir haor and Hakaluki haor would be relatively less in comparison to other haors of the Sylhet and Moulvibazar district. The above impacts on the river-floodplain-wetland would destroy the natural integrity of the ecosystem involved within these physical system, thereby, the consequences of that will be the loss of riverine habitat and species, lack of enrichment of land with the nutrient full silt leading to the ultimate decline in the natural productivity of the two most abundant resources of Bangladesh - land and water.

Impact on Morphology
The erosion just downstream of the Tipaimukh Dam would be excessively high and this erosion would continue as long as hundred kilometers downstream or more. This excessive erosion in the first 100 or 150 km. of Barak River downstream of the dam would increase the overall deposition in the lower Barak River, thereby, in the Surma- Kushiyara River system. Low flow during late monsoon and post-monsoon will accelerate this deposition in the region.

The probable deposition during late monsoon and post-monsoon season will raise the overall bed level of the rivers, and for an extreme case it would block the mouth of certain tributaries originating from the Kushiyara River. Bed level would rise and that will induce the average monsoon flood to become a moderate to sever flood in the floodplain of the Surma-Kushiyara. There would be possibility of increasing erosion in the upper Kushiyara River, and this will cause more deposition in the downstream of Kushiyara River and in Kalni River.

Dam Break and Its Consequences
The communities living in the downstream of any dam remains in a constant threat of catastrophe being occurred by dam-bursts and dam induced other floods. The apprehension like this is intensified further when the very seismic characteristics, its activities as well as the instability of the Tipaimukh Dam site and the region as a whole is taken into the consideration. The claimed Reservoir Induced Siesmicity (RIS) is another important feature of any large dam project that should be considered in the analysis of safety ground of Tipaimukh Dam Project[9].
Construction of Tipaimukh dam is violation of co-riparian rights.

India and Bangladesh share many rivers and water resources. The rivers that flow across the northern parts of India are mostly international rivers or their tributaries. In the North Eastern region, the Brahmaputra River and the Barak River are both international rivers. The joys and sorrows that these two rivers mean for the peoples of Bangladesh and northeastern India are shared. This issue has been well recognized and many efforts are in place to address this unhappy state of affairs. International water treaties have been made and even a Joint Rivers Commission was set up to examine and settle disputes[10]. The Tipaimukh Dam project was entirely developed and approved without once informing the government of Bangladesh or involving its people in any meaningful exercise to assess the downstream impacts of the dam. This is clearly a gross violation of co-riparian rights of Bangladesh. The unilateral construction of Tipaimukh dam on an international river is also violation of UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International watercourses[11].

Tipaimukh dam and WCD recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance
Gaining public acceptance (GPA) of key decisions is essential for equitable and sustainable water and energy resources development. GPA has been recommended by WCD as the first strategic priority. Recognition of rights and assessment of risk to identify stakeholders, full access to information, negotiated agreements as the basis of demonstrable public acceptance of key decisions and guidance on projects affecting citizens of diverse social, ethnic, cultural and economic background by their free prior and informed consent are the underlying policy principles.

The first Dams and Development Forum meeting acknowledged the need to have transparency in decision-making. The opportunity for all stakeholder groups to participate, fully and actively, in decision-making process should be enabled. In this process, the definition of stakeholders, establishment of norms for consultations and involvement of all stakeholders and means of dispute resolution is necessary[12]. This whole process has an implicit assumption that all these happen within a national system. What if a dam is built on an international river and the impacts are also downstream in another independent state, like the case of Tipaimukh dam?
The first known official investigation on the possibility of Tipaimukh dams conducted in 1977-78 by NEC, CWC and report was ready in 1984[13].

Till now, the Government of India has never officially informed the Government of Bangladesh or the people and communities living downstream about the construction on Tipaimukh dam. The Tipaimukh Dam project was entirely developed and approved without once informing the Government of Bangladesh or involving its people in any meaningful exercise to assess the downstream impacts of the dam. This is clearly a gross violation of co-riparian rights of Bangladesh. The experience of Tipaimukh dam raises a number of questions, which has to be answered if we are to develop mechanism(s) and policies for gaining public acceptance of large dams.

The way forward?
Any meaningful and effective policy and mechanism for GPA have to redefine the category of stakeholder to incorporate the idea that dams in one country could have impact in another country and stakeholders could be international. Access to information is essential for GPA and international stakeholder should be informed in all stages of construction of dams. Informed participation of international stakeholders, not only governments, but also, communities and citizens to be adversely affected should be made part of GPA mechanism. How do we ensure that is a question that still remains to be answered.

One international mechanism that we can use is the UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. But, only 17 states ratified it, and no country with riparian advantages is among those 17 signatories. 35 countries have to ratify an international convention in order for it to be effective. So the UN convention is still not an obligatory convention.

In the case of riparian tension and conflict over large dams on international rivers in South Asia, including India and Bangladesh, the failure of existing bilateral and regional system is evident[14]. We need to go further if we are to ensure sustainable development and meaningful peoples' participation in development. May be we need to develop an international clearinghouse of information and dispute resolution on dams, probably UNEP and take a lead in this.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Those 786 people of Bangladesh!

William Gomes, an independent human rights activist, freelance journalist and a political analyst says a total of 786 people is currently busy for creating a scenario like 1975 in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a flourishing country with a large Muslim population. Recently, Bangladesh has been called different things, due to its growing Islamic extremism. Different governments have played a mixed role in fighting Islamic extremism. Presently, the Awami League government, which won the parliamentary elections with a large majority, has given the highest priority to fighting Islamic extremism.

Local and international media is covering the activities of the government against Islamic extremist groups. The government is trying to prove that Islamic extremism is going to be uprooted soon.

But the reality is very different. The Islamic extremists are growing and gathering more strength as the government initiates operations to uproot extremism. The reality is that the Islamic extremists are better equipped and strategically stronger than ever.

There are 786 high profile people in important positions of power that are closely linked with different Islamic extremist groups. Among these 786, there are 200 high-ranking government officials, including 76 individuals from the different intelligence agencies of the Bangladesh government, 20 powerful parliamentarians, and 7 high profile media personalities in different news media to fight the intellectual battle and propagate news and views in favor of the Islamic extremist groups.

The government failed to trace these 786 people and their national and international links. These 786 are working to create a scenario like what happened in Bangladesh in 1975, with the assassination of the “father of the nation” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As Rahman was assassinated, so will Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina if the government fails to fight these 786. Through the masses, the liberation in 1971 came about, and through the assignation of Sheikh Hasina will we be able to triumph over the tragedy of 1975.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ahmadinejad to win 'revolution' battle

Courtesy of Startfor:

Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.

Revolutions fail when no one joins the initial segment, meaning the initial demonstrators are the ones who find themselves socially isolated. When the demonstrations do not spread to other cities, the demonstrations either peter out or the regime brings in the security and military forces — who remain loyal to the regime and frequently personally hostile to the demonstrators — and use force to suppress the rising to the extent necessary. This is what happened in Tiananmen Square in China: The students who rose up were not joined by others. Military forces who were not only loyal to the regime but hostile to the students were brought in, and the students were crushed.

A Question of Support
This is also what happened in Iran this week. The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators — who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents — failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people demonstrating. Amid the breathless reporting on the demonstrations, reporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones. The media thus did not recognize these as the signs of a failing revolution.

Later, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke Friday and called out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, they failed to understand that the troops — definitely not drawn from what we might call the “Twittering classes,” would remain loyal to the regime for ideological and social reasons. The troops had about as much sympathy for the demonstrators as a small-town boy from Alabama might have for a Harvard postdoc. Failing to understand the social tensions in Iran, the reporters deluded themselves into thinking they were witnessing a general uprising. But this was not St. Petersburg in 1917 or Bucharest in 1989 — it was Tiananmen Square.

In the global discussion last week outside Iran, there was a great deal of confusion about basic facts. For example, it is said that the urban-rural distinction in Iran is not critical any longer because according to the United Nations, 68 percent of Iranians are urbanized. This is an important point because it implies Iran is homogeneous and the demonstrators representative of the country. The problem is the Iranian definition of urban — and this is quite common around the world — includes very small communities (some with only a few thousand people) as “urban.” But the social difference between someone living in a town with 10,000 people and someone living in Tehran is the difference between someone living in Bastrop, Texas and someone living in New York. We can assure you that that difference is not only vast, but that most of the good people of Bastrop and the fine people of New York would probably not see the world the same way. The failure to understand the dramatic diversity of Iranian society led observers to assume that students at Iran’s elite university somehow spoke for the rest of the country.

Tehran proper has about 8 million inhabitants; its suburbs bring it to about 13 million people out of Iran’s total population of 70.5 million. Tehran accounts for about 20 percent of Iran, but as we know, the cab driver and the construction worker are not socially linked to students at elite universities. There are six cities with populations between 1 million and 2.4 million people and 11 with populations of about 500,000. Including Tehran proper, 15.5 million people live in cities with more than 1 million and 19.7 million in cities greater than 500,000. Iran has 80 cities with more than 100,000. But given that Waco, Texas, has more than 100,000 people, inferences of social similarities between cities with 100,000 and 5 million are tenuous. And with metro Oklahoma City having more than a million people, it becomes plain that urbanization has many faces.

Winning the Election With or Without Fraud
We continue to believe two things: that vote fraud occurred, and that Ahmadinejad likely would have won without it. Very little direct evidence has emerged to establish vote fraud, but several things seem suspect.

For example, the speed of the vote count has been taken as a sign of fraud, as it should have been impossible to count votes that fast. The polls originally were to have closed at 7 p.m. local time, but voting hours were extended until 10 p.m. because of the number of voters in line. By 11:45 p.m. about 20 percent of the vote had been counted. By 5:20 a.m. the next day, with almost all votes counted, the election commission declared Ahmadinejad the winner. The vote count thus took about seven hours. (Remember there were no senators, congressmen, city council members or school board members being counted — just the presidential race.) Intriguingly, this is about the same time in took in 2005, though reformists that claimed fraud back then did not stress the counting time in their allegations.

The counting mechanism is simple: Iran has 47,000 voting stations, plus 14,000 roaming stations that travel from tiny village to tiny village, staying there for a short time before moving on. That creates 61,000 ballot boxes designed to receive roughly the same number of votes. That would mean that each station would have been counting about 500 ballots, or about 70 votes per hour. With counting beginning at 10 p.m., concluding seven hours later does not necessarily indicate fraud or anything else. The Iranian presidential election system is designed for simplicity: one race to count in one time zone, and all counting beginning at the same time in all regions, we would expect the numbers to come in a somewhat linear fashion as rural and urban voting patterns would balance each other out — explaining why voting percentages didn’t change much during the night.
It has been pointed out that some of the candidates didn’t even carry their own provinces or districts. We remember that Al Gore didn’t carry Tennessee in 2000. We also remember Ralph Nader, who also didn’t carry his home precinct in part because people didn’t want to spend their vote on someone unlikely to win — an effect probably felt by the two smaller candidates in the Iranian election.

That Mousavi didn’t carry his own province is more interesting. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett writing in Politico make some interesting points on this. As an ethnic Azeri, it was assumed that Mousavi would carry his Azeri-named and -dominated home province. But they also point out that Ahmadinejad also speaks Azeri, and made multiple campaign appearances in the district. They also point out that Khamenei is Azeri. In sum, winning that district was by no means certain for Mousavi, so losing it does not automatically signal fraud. It raised suspicions, but by no means was a smoking gun.

We do not doubt that fraud occurred during Iranian election. For example, 99.4 percent of potential voters voted in Mazandaran province, a mostly secular area home to the shah’s family. Ahmadinejad carried the province by a 2.2 to 1 ratio. That is one heck of a turnout and level of support for a province that lost everything when the mullahs took over 30 years ago. But even if you take all of the suspect cases and added them together, it would not have changed the outcome. The fact is that Ahmadinejad’s vote in 2009 was extremely close to his victory percentage in 2005. And while the Western media portrayed Ahmadinejad’s performance in the presidential debates ahead of the election as dismal, embarrassing and indicative of an imminent electoral defeat, many Iranians who viewed those debates — including some of the most hardcore Mousavi supporters — acknowledge that Ahmadinejad outperformed his opponents by a landslide.

Mousavi persuasively detailed his fraud claims Sunday, and they have yet to be rebutted. But if his claims of the extent of fraud were true, the protests should have spread rapidly by social segment and geography to the millions of people who even the central government asserts voted for him. Certainly, Mousavi supporters believed they would win the election based in part on highly flawed polls, and when they didn’t, they assumed they were robbed and took to the streets.

But critically, the protesters were not joined by any of the millions whose votes the protesters alleged were stolen. In a complete hijacking of the election by some 13 million votes by an extremely unpopular candidate, we would have expected to see the core of Mousavi’s supporters joined by others who had been disenfranchised. On last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the demonstrations were at their height, the millions of Mousavi voters should have made their appearance. They didn’t. We might assume that the security apparatus intimidated some, but surely more than just the Tehran professional and student classes posses civic courage. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

Tensions Among the Political Elite
All of this not to say there are not tremendous tensions within the Iranian political elite. That no revolution broke out does not mean there isn’t a crisis in the political elite, particularly among the clerics. But that crisis does not cut the way Western common sense would have it. Many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues.

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.

The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime.

Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution. The two main factions used the third smaller faction in various ways, however. Ahmadinejad used it to make his case that the clerics who supported them, like Rafsanjani, would risk the revolution and play into the hands of the Americans and British to protect their own wealth. Meanwhile, Rafsanjani argued behind the scenes that the unrest was the tip of the iceberg, and that Ahmadinejad had to be replaced. Khamenei, an astute politician, examined the data and supported Ahmadinejad.

Now, as we saw after Tiananmen Square, we will see a reshuffling among the elite. Those who backed Mousavi will be on the defensive. By contrast, those who supported Ahmadinejad are in a powerful position. There is a massive crisis in the elite, but this crisis has nothing to do with liberalization: It has to do with power and prerogatives among the elite. Having been forced by the election and Khamenei to live with Ahmadinejad, some will make deals while some will fight — but Ahmadinejad is well-positioned to win this battle.