The Brahmaputra sub-basin—spread over Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and India and part of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin—has historically been abundant. Yet the populations who live in the region have not benefited from the natural wealth of the sub-basin; the levels of poverty are high. Traditional development theory makes a direct correlation between scarcity of natural resources and poverty. In the case of the Brahmaputra sub-basin, however, the paradox is clear: “ample water, ample poverty”. The situation is not expected to improve in the future, and the governance of the Brahmaputra will continue to be a huge challenge. This report examines the tenets of Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM), where ecology and ecological economics of water are defined as important cornerstones. This report challenges the notions of “surplus” and “deficit” river basins—concepts that are used often in current literature on India’s water resources—and highlights the lack of an ecosystem perspective in the country’s river basin management. This absence creates an important void in India’s policymaking and practice and is true in the case of the management of the Brahmaputra sub-basin.
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