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China’s First Downstream Dam On Brahmaputra

China’s First Downstream Dam On Brahmaputra

Why in news?

  • A draft of China’s new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), has given the green light for the first dams to be built on the lower reaches of Yarlung Zangbo river, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet, before it flows into India.

About the project

  • This will be the first time the downstream sections of the river will be tapped.
  • The State-owned hydropower company POWERCHINA had signed “a strategic cooperation agreement” with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government to “implement hydropower exploitation in the downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River” as part of the new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).
  • China in 2015 operationalised its first hydropower project at Zangmu in Tibet, while three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu and Jiacha are being developed, all on the upper and middle reaches of the river.
  • The location of the upcoming project has not been mentioned.
  • The Great Bend of the Brahmaputra and the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Medog county could be a potential spot for the project. Here, the river falls spectacularly over a 2,000 metre-drop and turns sharply to flow across the border into the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The ability of the proposed dam to generate hydropower could be three times that of Central China’s Three Gorges Dam, having the largest installed hydropower capacity in the world.

Importance of the Project for China

  • The 60 million kWh hydropower exploitation could provide 300 billion kWh of clean, renewable and zero-carbon electricity annually.
  • The project will play a significant role in realising China’s goal of reaching a carbon emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality till 2060.

Key concerns for India

  • The Chinese activities on the Brahmaputra river may affect India’s quality of water, ecological balance and flood management.
  • Apart from this, India and China do not have any water-sharing agreement so far.

Challenges for India | China’s First Downstream Dam On Brahmaputra 

  • The Brahmaputra basin is one of the world’s most ecologically sensitive zones. It is identified as one of the world’s 34 biological hotspots. This region sees several species of flora and fauna that are endemic to only this part of the world. The river itself is home to the Gangetic river dolphin, which is listed as critically endangered.
  • Dams will eventually lead to degradation of the entire basin: Silt carried by the river would get blocked by dams leading to a fall in the quality of soil and eventual reduction in agricultural productivity.
  • The location of the dams in the Himalayas pose a risk. Seismologists consider the Himalayas as most vulnerable to earthquakes and seismic activity. The sheer size of the infrastructure projects undertaken by China, and increasingly by India, poses a significant threat to the populations living downstream. Close to a million people live in the Brahmaputra basin in India and tens of millions further downstream in Bangladesh.
  • Damming Brahmaputra would result in water security in an era of unprecedented shifting climate patterns. This security extends beyond water, as there is the potential to significantly change the flow rate during times of standoffs and high tensions.

Way forward

  • Both sides must cease new constructions on the river and commit to potentially less destructive solutions.
  • Building a decentralised network of check dams, rain-capturing lakes and using traditional means of water capture have shown effective results in restoring the ecological balance while supporting the populations of the regions in a sustainable manner.


  • It originates under the name of Siang or Dihang, from the Chemayungdung glacier of the Kailash range near the Mansarovar lake.
  • It enters India west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Tributaries: Dibang, Lohit, Siang, Burhi Dihing, Tista, and Dhansari.
  • It is a perennial river.
  • It has several peculiar characteristics due to its geography and prevailing climatic conditions.
  • It is flooded twice annually.
  • One flood is caused by the melting of the Himalayan snow in summer and the other due to the monsoon flows.
  • The frequency of these floods has increased.
  • These floods are devastating due to climate change and its impact on high and low flows.
  • These pose a concern for the population and food security in the lower riparian states of India and Bangladesh.
  • The river is in itself dynamic as frequent landslides and geological activity force it to change course very often.



Mussoorie Times

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