China helps India, provides sat pics of flood-hit Assam

China helps India, provides sat pics of flood-hit Assam

Delhi says Beijing shared satellite data under a UN mechanism, others too did so

China's Ambassador to India Sun Weidong

China of late deployed three of its advanced earth-observation satellites to take pictures of flood-hit north-eastern region of India.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) assigned its three satellites – Gaofen-1, Gaofen-2 and Gaofen-3 – to take pictures of flood-hit areas of Assam in north-eastern India. The CNSA shared the pictures with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – in order to help New Delhi in planning and carrying out operations to rescue and provide relief to marooned and displaced people.

China's satellites took pictures of Dhubri, Dhemaji and Morigaon districts of Assam in north-eastern India on July 19, 20 and 24.

New Delhi clarified that not only the CNSA, but the space agencies of United States, France, Russia and a few other nations too shared with the ISRO satellite data to support rescue and relief operations in areas inundated by monsoon deluge – through a multilateral mechanism.

China, however, played up the CNSA sharing satellite imagery with the ISRO – ostensibly to highlight it as one of its Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) with India as both sides started preparation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second “informal summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Beijing's new envoy to New Delhi, Sun Weidong, took to Twitter on Friday to state that China had shared with India satellite data on the flood-hit regions.

“Following #ISRO's (Indian Space Research Organization's) request for international disaster relief support, #China has provided #India with satellite data on #India's flood-hit regions to assist its flood relief efforts. Hope all gets well soon,” Sun tweeted on Friday. The CNSA also issued a press-release in Beijing, highlighting its sharing of satellite imagery with the ISRO.

India acknowledged that the CNSA had indeed provided the ISRO's National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) with satellite data on flood-hit areas.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), however, added in its statement issued in New Delhi that not only the CNSA, but the space agencies of seven other nations too had done so.

Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the MEA, clarified that the CNSA and the space agencies of seven other nations shared satellite data with the NRSC through International Charter Space and Major Disasters, which was set up under the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response or the UN-SPIDER.

The NRSC represents the ISRO as a member of the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, which is a worldwide collaboration among space agencies to share “satellite-derived information and products” to support disaster response efforts.

The charter can be activated by the NRSC or any of the member space agencies of the 32 other nations in case of a major natural disaster.

The NRSC activated the charter on July 17 as about 2.5 million people in Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were affected by the flood and at least 55 were purportedly killed by then.

Beijing and New Delhi had bilateral arrangements requiring China to share with India hydrological data on cross-border rivers between May 15 and October 15 every year.

China, however, had not shared with India any data on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers during the stipulated period in 2017 – when the bilateral relations had hit a new low over military stand-off between the two nations at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan.

The hydrological data received from China helps India to prepare for the rise in water level of Brahmaputra and Sutlej during the monsoon season and assess the possibility of a flood or flood-like situation and its extent.

The overflowing Brahmaputra had in 2017 caused four waves of flood that wreaked havoc in Assam, killing over 160 people and displacing a large number of people in 29 districts of the State. Over 10000 acres of agricultural land in Punjab had also been inundated by waters of Sutlej that year.

New Delhi and Beijing, however, had a series of engagements in 2018, including at the level of Prime Minister and Chinese President. The “informal summit” between Modi and Xi at Wuhan in central China in April 2018 led to a thaw. They again met in June 2018 at Qingdao in China on the sideline of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's summit and inked a Memorandum of Understanding, requiring China to provide India hydrological data in flood season from May 15 to October 15 every year as well as in non-flood season if water level exceeds mutually agreed level.

Beijing then in October 2018 alerted New Delhi after a landslide in Tibet Autonomous Region of China blocked the flow of Yarlung Tsangpo – the headwater of Brahmaputra river of India