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Ray Works on “Knowledge Platform” For Brahmaputra River in South Asia

Research Assistant Professor Patrick Ray is part of a team of researchers in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department building a knowledge base about the Brahmaputra River in South Asia that will help scientists and water managers in the region. The project is aimed at alleviating poverty, improving hydroelectric and agricultural potential, and improving the overall lives of more than one billion people living near the river basin. Read related article at SciDev.net »

The CEE researchers will publish an article about this extensive project in the December 2015 issue of Environmental Science and Policy. The journal article was written by first author Ray, Yi-Chen E. Yang, Sungwook Wi, and Casey Brown, all of the UMass CEE department, and Abedalrazq Khalil and Vansa Chatikavanij of the World Bank, 1818 H Street, NW Washington, DC.

Some 1,800 miles long, the Brahmaputra flows from the Himalayas in Tibet southward through India into the Bay of Bengal. Along with the Ganges and the Meghna, the Brahmaputra forms a massive river system that supports 40 per cent of the world’s poor.

As the researchers explained, “The objective of the study is to build a knowledge platform for the basin that compiles the publicly available data, develops hydrologic and water resources models of the basin, and begins the establishment of a knowledge network of the scientists and water managers working in the basin.”

According to the abstract of the article to be published in Environmental Science and Policy, the Brahmaputra River is the largest (by annual discharge) of the three in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) system and by itself carries more flow than all but four rivers in the world. It is the primary water source for more than 130 million people, many of whom exist in chronic poverty.

“The potential in the Brahmaputra River basin for poverty-reducing development of agriculture and hydropower is great,” the researchers wrote. “However, progress in these sectors and others has been hindered by significant natural and anthropogenic challenges…The people of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Bhutan, Northeast India, and Bangladesh face a number of challenges, including: endemic poverty; floods; droughts; groundwater over-abstraction; political unrest; and the broader development ambitions of the member nations….”

The researchers said that climate change and difficult decisions regarding hydropower development have recently added to the above challenges.

As the abstract observed, “A critical compounding factor in the Brahmaputra basin is the lack of an authoritative, reliable, and comprehensive network of basin-wide information on climate, streamflow, natural hazards, and economic factors, such as agricultural production, prices, and trade.”

The Environmental Science and Policy article will provide a “snapshot” of the river basin’s demographic and hydroclimatic characteristics of greatest concern to water system planners aiming at poverty reduction through sustainable development.

“We propose that the basin’s hydro-climatological, economic, and political complexities are such that a basin-wide water system knowledge platform is needed to organize quantitative thinking on potential water-related investments in the basin,” the researchers concluded.

Ray has also received two recent research grants. One comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources, a $76,500 award to study “Climate Change Adaptation Framework and Pilots.” The other is a $225,000 grant from the World Bank titled “Including Climate Uncertainty in Water Resources Planning and Project Design: Pilot Studies in the Koshi River Basin, Nepal; and Mwache River Basin, Mombasa Kenya.”

In addition, as Ray said, “I have served as a private consultant on water-related projects for the World Bank (2013-2015), the World Food Program (Yemen, 2012), the United Nations Development Program (Jordan, 2011), and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (Jordan, 2010).”