Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Water Options for India in a Changing Climate

SANDRP new report on
Water Options for India in a Changing Climate

On the eve of the World Water Day 2012, the South Asia Network on Dams,
Rivers & People (SANDRP) is happy to publish its new report: Water
Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate. The report highlights
that for the poorest sections, also most vulnerable in the climate
change context, the water, food, livelihood and energy security, closely
linked with the environment security, is already getting severely
affected in the changing climate. It is well known that water is the
medium through which climate change impacts are most dominant. South
Asia is considered possibly the most vulnerable region in terms of
number of people that would be affected by climate change impacts, and
within South Asia, India has the largest vulnerable population. The
importance of understanding the Water Sector Options in such a situation
cannot be underestimated. The report highlights the options for coping
and mitigating climate change challenges in water sector in India.

This report tries to capture the relevant issues for Indian Water Sector
in the context of changing climate. The 93+ix page report divided in 12
chapters (including on Rainfall, Himalayan Glaciers, Groundwater,
Rivers, Floodplains, Wetlands and water bodies, Big Water
Infrastructure, Agriculture, Urban water options and Positive local
water adaptation cases). It includes a case study each on Organic
Farming (by Shripad Dharmadhikary) and on Forest-Agriculture settings in
Western Ghats (by Dr Latha Anantha and S Unnikrishnan).

The report concludes that Climate change offers a unique opportunity to
revisit our water resources development and management Plans, policies
and practices. It also provides an opportunity to learn lessons from
past approaches to development and management in a credible way. The
purpose for a revamped water management strategy in changing climate
could be that of equitable, sustainable, participatory, decentralised,
democratic and transparent approach to water management; an approach
based on sound knowledge and data to make decisions. Further, this
approach would need to include a protection strategy for the rivers,
forests, wetlands, water bodies, biodiversity, critical ecological
habitats and groundwater reserves, as well as demand side management
measures, along with a definition of the clear linkages between these
domains. In water scarce situations, all demands cannot be sacrosanct,
and there is a need to prioritise the just use of water with right based
approach that includes right to drinking water, livelihoods and health.
The final chapter gives a list of recommendations in this context.

The opportunities provided by climate change are still within reach.
India, with the world's largest water infrastructure also has the
biggest performance deficit in terms of what that infrastructure can
deliver and what it is delivering now. Groundwater is India's water
lifeline and opportunity beckons to make it sustainable, in the changing
climate when demands and losses would go up. Our foodgrains requirements
and water for the same would go up, but there are huge opportunities
like increasing soil moisture holding capacity, taking up chauka systems
in grazing lands, organic farming, System of Rice Intensification, also
applicable to other crops on the one hand and water saving crops like
millets on the other. Glaciers are melting, the IPCC glacier-gate
notwithstanding, but we have the options of creating large number of
local storages and also using underground aquifer storage space. Urban
water demands are going up and will put greater pressures in future, but
we also have the slew of hardly explored options including local water
harvesting, protection of local water systems, achieving proper sewage
treatment and recycling, participatory governance, among others.

Some of the sections of Indian population that are most vulnerable to
the impact of climate change in the context of water and agriculture
include: farmers dependent on rainfed agriculture, coastal populations,
communities from Himalayas, Eastern & Western Ghats, Fisher-folks,
Adivasis, Dalits, Rural populations, Urban Poor and Women. Any climate
action needs to begin with identifying and listing such sections and
than proceeding to prepare plans in a participatory way that would
reduce their vulnerabilities through mitigation and adaptation. India's
National Action Plan for Climate Change, or the National Agriculture and
Water Missions do not take this first crucial step and hence have
remained directionless, ineffective and have not inspired much confidence.

Are we using these options and opportunities? If we go by the contents
of the National Action Plan for Climate Change, National Water Mission,
National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, National Mission for
Himalayan Ecosystems and also the 12th Plan documents, including the
direction of 12th Plan indicated in the Union Budget for 2012-13, the
answer is, unfortunately, in the negative. But we hope better sense
prevails and the existing opportunities and options also highlighted in
this report would be given heed to.

The World celebrates March 22 as the World Water Day, following the
recommendation of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development (UNCED). As the World prepares for the Rio + 20 conference
in Brazil later this year, the theme of the World Water Day 2012 is
Water and Food security (see: In reality, there is a
close nexus between water, food, energy and environment security. The
Bonn meeting organised in Nov 2011 (see:, floated the theme that
there is a nexus between water, food and energy security. This was
welcome, but it forgot to add the crucial fourth leg of this nexus,
namely ENVIRONMENT SECURITY, without which none of the other three
pillars are secure. The India Water Week 2012, to be held during April
10-14, 2012 with theme (Water, Energy and Food Security Call for
Solutions, see: almost identical to that
of Bonn conference, also needs to remember not to forget the fourth leg
of this nexus. Truly democratic governance holds the key to address
these issues.

The soft copy of the report is available at:,
the executive summary of the report is available at:
The Hard copy of the report can be ordered by writing to

Himanshu Thakkar (
Ph: 27484655/ 9968242798

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