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Water availability is the fundamental element to human life, economy and political power of any nation. Abuse of water resources has been radically augmented in the past few decades which resulted in escalating the economical and sociological development of the nation. As per the world economic forum report, the water crisis is the fifth global crisis in terms of impact on society. It’s estimated that over 2.1 billion lack access to water and over 2.3 billion lack access to improved sanitation. The famous quote “water, water everywhere nor a drop to drink” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge emanates the image of the water crisis of South Asia. In South Asia, over 1.4 billion people are deprived of access to clean water which is the highest in Asia. For instance, as per the NITI Aayog report, 21 Indian cities are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020 which ultimately affects the economy and food security of India. The Rationale for the current predicament is on humanity.

There are several reasons for the water shortage. Inefficient usage of water for agriculture is certainly on the top of the list. Farmers in South Asia especially India and Bangladesh use traditional methods of irrigation which causes water losses due to drainage, evaporation and extravagant usage of groundwater. Second, Dumping of Sewage, drainage water, chemical effluents into the water bodies pollutes the water and in turn, affects the accessibility of drinkable water and loss in marine life. Lack of proper intervention by the government aggravates the issue. Third, the construction sector, especially in the urban areas, tends to disregard the water bodies as they put pressure on the recharging ability of the groundwater. Fourth, inefficient water management and distribution of water is another problem to surmount. This includes the languid approach of government on wastewater issues, lack of awareness about the importance of water and inefficiency in implementing the policies into action.

Over the years, the water crisis expanded from a local dilemma to an international dilemma and this led to the emergence of water governance. According to Global Water partnership, “water governance refers to the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources and the delivery of water services, at different levels of society “.In short, it discusses who gets what water, who has the right to water and allied services and benefits.

Impact of Climate Change

South Asia is one of the world’s most vulnerable region to climate change. It is the central spot for water-related disasters which accounts for around 40% of natural disasters worldwide. The erratic monsoon season has intensified the water scarcity. On the one side, it causes flooding due to heavy rainfall and on the other side, it creates drought due to scarce rainfall. Densely populated regions get affected in both of the cases as it creates a wide displacement of people. South Asian countries are primarily depending on 3 rivers – Ganga, Brahmaputra and Indus. Almost 90% of the water usage of people come from these rivers. There exist wide disparities in per capita water resources as India and Pakistan are on the lower with Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. Poor water quality is one of the central impediments due to climate change. For instance, In the Ganga pathogenic contamination in water is mounting due to the higher temperature and increasing hydrologic extremes. The water quality in the upper stream (upper parts of the river basin) is high due to the lower population.

On the other hand, water quality in the downstream is severely affected due to the higher population along effluents from agricultural drainage and effluents from cities & industries dumped into water bodies. This leads to a rise in salinity levels in the water. Among the three rivers, Indus suffers most from salinity as around 60% of its areas are dealing with the same. The rise in temperature affects water resources in multiple ways. It is expected that the average annual temperature is expected to increase by 2o C in South Asia by the middle of the 21st century and will increase to 3oC by the late 21st century. This leads to the Himalayas losing one-third of its glaciers by 2100. Glacier melting in the Himalayas is also induced by carbon emissions from India and China. This augments the risk of flash floods and landslides especially in the mountainous regions (northern India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Northern Pakistan) and erosion & downstream siltation (particularly in semiarid areas of northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) along with diminishing groundwater recharge and water storing capacity.

Population growth is mounting up the demand for food production. The rising temperature leads to a decline in the water level of surface water reservoirs and slower groundwater recharge. Crop yield will also be squat in warm areas due to extreme heat. The rise in sea-level combined with cyclones will affect the coastal region (especially India, Srilanka, Bangladesh). Arid and semiarid areas (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Northwest India) will be drastically hit by drought. This will have a spillover effect on the whole economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, India is expected to lose almost 2% of its GDP by 2050 due to climate change. Water for the domestic purpose also poses a great concern as usage of contaminated water can lead to the spread of water-borne diseases such as chorea, typhoid, hepatitis A etc.

Role of Integrated Water Resource Management

Integrated water resource management (IWRM) is a type of water governance. It was adopted at the Dublin conference on water and Rio de Janeiro summit on sustainable development in 1992. According to global water partnership, integrated water resource management is defined as “a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystem”. It primarily focuses on three core principles - economic development, social equity and environmental sustainability. There are primarily two approaches on IWRM – human system (Integrating different group of people who use different water resources) and natural system (Integrating different water resources). Its approach on a country varies upon several factors such as geography, history, population, culture, etc.

IWRM took almost two decades to take root in South Asia while facilitating the local practices and ideas into the mainstream. This was through an initiative called the South Asian Water Initiative (SAWI) undertaken in 2013. As per World Bank, ”SAWI is a multi-dollar trust fund that aims to enhance the regional cooperation in the management of the main rivers (Ganga, Brahmaputra and Indus) of South Asia to deliver sustainable, fair & inclusive development and climate resilience. The SAWI funded by the World Bank, along with governments of Norway, United Kingdom and Australia, was supposed to run for 5 years (2013-17) but it got extended by 1 year to December 2018. Funds is been allocated to primarily six areas- Indus(social and poverty assessment, knowledge of hydrological knowledge base dam design& operational issues),groundwater management, Climate change, Hydropower development in (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan & Afghanistan), non-monetary value of water with a focus on  gender and Inland navigation in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.

After comprehending the annual reports, it’s safe to articulate that the program proffered mixed results. Development of hydropower plants in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan &Afghanistan is going as planned. But the program lags behind in groundwater management and fight against climate change. Rules are not been followed due to the lack of government intervention. For instance, chemical effluents should be treated before dumping into the water but this is not followed by many companies in India which leads to contamination of water. Private participation has been minimal except for some exceptions. Governments possess monopoly control over this area. Political tensions among the countries (between India& Pakistan and Pakistan &Afghanistan) have been instrumental in distorting the regional cooperation on water resource management. In 2015, the international community committed itself to surmount poverty by 2030. The foremost element to end poverty is ensuring water security. Water security can only be done through cooperation among nations which helps in easing the tensions and more accessibility of information.

Thereby, devoid of water governance with a rapidly changing climate can intensify the existing water crisis. It is high time that nations remodel their existing policies and work together for a better future. This is a problem can be resolved through proper dialogue between the nations.



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Image Credit: Urban Update






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Written By Sandeep Shajan

i"m doing my post graduation in politics& international relations

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