Tag Archives: Water

Earth Day 2017: Are we doing enough for our Mother Earth?

This year’s theme is ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy’ which seeks to “empower everyone with the knowledge to inspire action in defense of environmental protection.” Decide your own contribution when you celebrate ‘Earth Day’ on April 22

Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) institutionalized an innovative system for the betterment of environment in 2016. It officially promoted and made available cow-dung cakes for cremation at one of the ghats. It is almost one year since the facility was adopted by the NMC and the number of families choosing to go green when bidding good bye to their dear ones is increasing day by day. Using cow-dung cakes has not just proved to be cost-effective but also saves trees from being cut.

The brain behind this was Vijay Limaye of the Eco-friendly Living Foundation (ELF), who has been propagating the concept through his NGO at various ghats. In about 10 months, when more than 300 persons were burnt using the eco-friendly materials such as cow-dung and/or briquettes made from agro-waste. The initiative has received a huge response from Nagpur residents and the facility is in the process of being replicated at other cremation sites in the city.

Far away from Nagpur, in drought-prone Marathwada, a bunch of Jain people, mostly from Mumbai, were striving hard to bring relief to the drought-stressed farming community across 60 villages. Samasta Mahajan, an organization of few individuals from the business community, poured in its heart to de-silt scores of lakes, deepen hundreds of ponds and help large number of farmers dig farm-ponds in their land. This was followed up by plantation of lakhs of indigenous varieties of trees such as banyan, neem, peepal, mango, tamarind, baheda and karanj etc. to alleviate the drought related problems faced by the farming community.

Our Mother Earth

Recognising and acknowledging that Mother Earth is a common expression for the planet earth in a number of countries and regions across the globe, which “reflects the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet we all inhabit”, the United Nations General Assembly decided to designate April 22 as the International Mother Earth Day in 2009. The United Nations believes that “the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change in conjunction with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development holds the power to transform our world.”

The theme for 2017 campaign – Environmental and Climate Literacy – is an apt step to club the two major plans of action agreed upon by world leaders. Top leaders from 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement wherein they all agree to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and given the extreme urgency of the situation, to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius. The changing climate has already started manifesting as there has been a steady rise in the number of climate related disasters.

Governments of the world, including the government of India, have announced to take several measures to combat disasters that are wrought on the humanity due to changes in the climatic conditions. India’s federal structure makes participation by the state governments necessary in all such endeavours. Maharashtra government too has charted out its Action Plan for combating Climate Change.

Rivers are important water resources and need to be conserved

For instance, among other sector-wise issues, the 300-plus page document mentions possible impact of climate change on water resources in the state – such as ‘projected increase in rainfall in the form of heavy precipitation events’ and ‘increase in surface run offs in certain catchments’. It then goes on to recommend ‘conservation and re-naturalisation of rivers and water bodies’, ‘enhancement of water storage and groundwater recharge’ and ‘improvement of water use efficiency’ and charts out a proper action plan for steps to be taken for mitigating this problem and also in adapting to the situations arising out of it.

Individual’s contribution

But more than what the governments are doing, it becomes imperative for each one of us to contribute in whichever way we can. (See box for what you can do?) Not just adults but even children/students need to be aware of what can be the consequences of the changes in climatic conditions, of its unprecedented threat to our Mother Earth. Awareness will come from education and empowerment through knowledge. Knowledge will inspire people to take adequate action. “Environmental and climate literacy is the engine not only for creating green voters and advancing environmental and climate laws but also for accelerating green technologies and jobs,” the United Nations has declared.

Each one of us is duty bound to first gain knowledge about causes that lead to rise in global temperature which in turn brings about disastrous climate changes. Next, we need to empower others with that knowledge so that each one of is aware of the pitfalls and can take a conscious decision to improve chances of a better world for our tomorrow.

“Ensuring adequate public participation is central to the design and implementation of any SAPCC,”, the Maharashtra state action plan to combat climate change states and declares: “Effective climate action on adaptation requires general public awareness and community involvement. There is potential for key roles to be played by women, the youth, NGOs and community leaders.”

Perfect opportunity for spreading ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy.’ Remember, you need to work to save yourselves, your future. Are you ready?

What can an individual do for his bit for Mother Earth?

Some simple and some not-so-simple steps for ordinary citizens

** Adopt sustainable lifestyle – e.g. reduce energy consumption as much as possible
** Build green buildings rather than opting for glass facades
** Cycle to your office or take public transport, discard your own polluting-fuel vehicle
** Make online bill payments, reduce paper usage
** Do not pollute the rivers and the mountains as citizens, as tourists
** Save every drop of water – in your kitchen, bathroom and in open/common areas
** Harvest rainwater falling on your roof top, in your garden, in your farmland
** Plant trees as often as you can and in as many numbers as you can
** Recycle things to reduce garbage/waste, turn waste into energy
** Shift to solar and/or other renewable energy

This write up was carried by Maharashtra Ahead, the official publication of DGPIR of Maharashtra Government in its April 2017 issue. The following images show how it appeared in the print edition.

Maharashtra Ahead April 2017 – Page 1-2

Indus Waters Treaty must change for environment, not to choke Pakistan’s lifeline

The pact must bring riparian nations China and Afghanistan on board amid changing climatic conditions.

Ten days after the dastardly terrorist attack at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, much water has flown down the Indus. The Indus Water Treaty 1960 (IWT) that governs the water-sharing arrangement between India and Pakistan has suddenly hogged all the limelight with scores of people demanding its abrogation to choke Pakistan thirsty.

Under this treaty, India and Pakistan share the waters – Pakistan uses almost 80 per cent of the water from the basin – of six rivers that flow through India towards Pakistan. Of these, India has complete rights over Sutlej, Beas and Ravi, while Pakistan uses Chenab, Jhelum and Indus.

On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was briefed about the options India can exercise vis-a-vis the IWT following which it was declared that India will be dramatically reconfiguring the usage of its share of the waters in an as-yet unexplored manner.

Apart from steps to increase/expedite its water storage infrastructure and carrying out “non-consumptive” use for its as-yet grossly under-utilised, under-exploited share as per the treaty, an inter-ministerial group will look into India’s rights on its share.

Without going into the technical details, grand as it may sound, and legally valid too, fact remains that the provisions for utilisation of our own water share are likely to take many years to materialise.The inter-ministerial group can do a better and faster job.

Time for a relook

To start with, the 1960 vintage treaty falls short on several counts. Shakil A Romshoo, professor and head of the department of Earth Sciences at Kashmir University,advocates a relook at the Indus Water Treaty from the climate change perspective and maintaining ecological flow – points which are not part of the original agreement. The treaty talks of distribution of water only between India and Pakistan, but nothing about maintaining environmental flows.

India happens to be the middle riparian state for the transboundary Indus river system. The Indus drainage basin stretches over 1.1 million sqkm area across Afghanistan (9 per cent), China (8 per cent), India (38 per cent) and Pakistan (46 per cent).

While India and Pakistan remain the largest stakeholders due to the size and volume of the waters and vis-à-vis their usage, Afghanistan (a small area due to Kabul river) and China – as Indus and Sutlej originate in Tibet – too are part of the basin. The river system in the basin includes: Ravi, Beas, Sutlej, Swat, Chitral, Gilgit, Hunza, Shigar, Shyok, Indus, Shingo, Astor, Jhelum, Chenab and Kabul.

The Indus Basin Knowledge Platform correctly unfolds the Indus basin scenario,: “The Indus Basin epitomises a grand challenge due to its high poverty rates, high groundwater extraction, increased environmental degradation and risk of floods and droughts due to climate change.”

Stating the direct impact of climate change on water, the intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already warned in its report that changes in precipitation in a warming world will not be uniform. The intensified hydrological cycles will see fewer rainy days, but more intense rainfall on those days.

This directly leads to floods, something similar to what Kashmir Valley witnessed in September 2014. Since 2010, Pakistan has had a number of alarming floods causing huge loss of life and damage to agriculture land/property.

Beyond the India-Pakistan binary

With such extreme climatic events predicted to occur in greater frequency, it makes more sense to take a holistic look at the entire basin. Going beyond the geo-political strategic conditions, it becomes imperative to look at the whole basin through changing climatic exigencies, which will mean the involvement of Afghanistan and China.

Glaciers in the Kashmir Himalayas and Karakoram ranges contribute to the majority of water flow in the basin while the contribution from China (Tibet) and Afghanistan is far less. But involving China becomes important also because of the gaping hole – a dark zone when it comes to knowledge about geographical and climatic conditions in the Tibet Autonomous Region from where both Indus and Sutlej originate, even though not many are aware about the exact developments taking place in the region.

The many stakeholders of Indus River System
The many stakeholders of Indus River System

China has managed to keep a lot of secrets there. In fact, there is lack of transparent mechanism on data sharing. Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network for Dams, River and People explains: “In June 2000, Siang area in Arunachal Pradesh experienced exponential rise in water level. Similarly, in August 2000, Sutlej river area in Himachal Pradesh experienced exponential rise in water level. In both cases, there was no record of heavy rainfall. So where did that water come from? China totally declined any hand in it.”

He points us to a medium-scale dam on Indus, which China built without informing the downstream users, near Demchok in Ladakh. As per a report in the April 2010 issue of Journal of Defence Studies, the dam was located by Alice Alibinia, a British journalist and author of Empires of the Indus , while tracking the source of the Indus in Tibet.

China has huge economic interests in the region due to the Northern Route of the proposed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) falling in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

What the CPEC means for two riparian countries. Photo credit: The Express Tribune
What the CPEC means for two riparian countries. Photo credit: The Express Tribune

So, on one hand, the actual portion of Indus (both the river and the basin) is very less in Tibet, on the other, China indirectly gets a say in the much larger area – including the Ladakh ranges of Aksai Chin occupied by China and the PoK portion of Karakoram.

Remember, the Indus – starting in Tibet – after passing through Ladakh travels through Gilgit and Baltistan in PoK, and then flows through the Pakistani plains before finally draining into the sea near Thattha in Pakistan. China also conducts a lot of military activity in the Ngari area of the Tibet Autonomous Region, where it has also been promoting large-scale tourism in the Kailash Mansarovar region, an area that lies directly northeast of Himachal Pradesh and where Sutlej too originates.

Given the geo-political situation in the region, bringing China and Afghanistan on board sounds a far-fetched idea for many. The reasons are obvious. An expert at a recent dialogue on the Indus basin described the four countries of the river system as a “Matrix of Paired Opposites”. Hostile: Afghanistan-Pakistan, India-Pakistan; Friendly: China-Pakistan, India-Afghanistan; Neutral: Afghanistan-China. Of these, India and China are convergent on global issues, but divergent on regional issues.

It may indeed seem a far-fetched idea at this juncture – and China has not shown any interest in any kind of data sharing, and refused as yet any bilateral treaty with India vis-à-vis the rivers shared by the two countries. But considering the fast-changing climatic conditions, a collective data set (including data about precipitation – snowfall/rainfall, melting of snow, soil erosion, dams and storages on rivers and other spatial and temporal weather aspects) for the much-needed water balance in the region is missing. Work is in progress at many levels, but the efforts are isolated and scattered.

The Indus Water Treaty does not have an exit clause, but there are provisions for making changes that are mutually agreeable. While Pakistan may not agree to change the provisions as it gains a massive 80 per cent share of the water as per the treaty, Indus is the country’s lifeline – it will have to sooner or later take into consideration the changing climatic conditions and hence a need for a comprehensive arrangement.

Perhaps, India – as a middle riparian country – can act as a bridge between the upper and lower riparian countries.

This story was first published by DailyO portal of the India Today group on September 28, 2016. It can be read here

More people should use this zero sewage discharge toilet

The three-decade old ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’ doesn’t pollute or need a septic tank or a sewage network. In fact, its output is a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide!

Daryapur 1

Toilets need a septic tank or a connection to a sewage network, enough water to clean and flush, and regular maintenance to ensure proper functioning–except if it’s the ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’. It looks just like a conventional toilet but needs none of these. Designed by someone with no formal degree in science, it even uses much lesser water when compared to the ones with a flush tank.

55 year old Sanjay Joshi, originally a small land holding farmer of Daryapur town in Amravati district, Maharashtra, developed this unique toilet which uses a bacterial culture to eliminate the need to dispose or treat human waste. In fact, its only output is a colourless, odourless nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as a pesticide!

The man behind the game-changing idea

Joshi had an inherent interest in science but poverty prevented him from pursuing a degree and he had to abandon his studies midway. But his sense of curiosity would not let him sit still.

“I once saw a mistry (mason) building a septic tank and asked him about the two chambers. He was unaware and said that he was just doing a job. That made me think about the actual process of making toilets”, Joshi says. How many years will it work? How much can its capacity be? Will it stink? Will it need scavenging, especially manual scavenging? He read a lot of scientific material–in the 1980s pre-Internet, pre-Google days. In fact, at one point of time, it became difficult for him to find a bride as no father would agree to marry his daughter to a person who sold toilets for a living.

After some time, he finally zeroed in on the successful formulation of the bacteria.

The ‘Gramkranti Eco-Bio Toilet’ is born

The innovative toilet has a conventional toilet seat with a small size tank (2 x 2.25 x 2.25 cuft). The tank design is configured to attain highly efficient in-situ decomposition of excreta with the help of a patented bacterial culture. What remains as an output is a reusable liquid–basically a micro-nutrient–that can be used as fertilizer/pesticide spray.

“The work is done by this culture. To put it simply, this bacterial culture eats the human excreta, and the colourless, odourless water that we get is that bacteria’s excreta”, Joshi says. Also, unlike output from a urinal or open sewage, this by-product prevents flies and mosquito larva from breeding. Those who don’t want to use it as pesticide can either sell it or simply drain it away in conventional drains. A toilet seat from the market is added to the specifically built tank which has the trade secret culture inside after which the unit is ready for sale.

A winning duo

Joshi’s friend Ravindra Ganorkar, a large-scale land holding farmer and a social worker from the same village, joined him a few years ago. The duo experimented with the make of the toilet tank and the look in general. It is thanks to their research that the output liquid is being used as a pesticide. Joshi is the brain behind the concept while Ganorkar helps in the logistics and management.

The first such toilet was installed almost 30 years ago. Earlier it was pretty difficult to convince people to use such a toilet. All it needed was one person from a village to start using it. Within months, Joshi would get orders for more toilets from the same village. Over the last three decades, Joshi has installed almost 12,000 such toilets across Amravati district and neighbouring areas. Publicity has been through word-of-mouth till date, which Joshi and Ganorkar now plan to change.

Inspired by the Central Government’s Swachch Bharat Mission, the duo has decided to go big and expand. This toilet has been installed at about 50 government schools in Daryapur tehsil. The first toilet was sold for Rs 840. Today it costs Rs 6,000 for one unit with the tank and seat. Convincing people 30 years ago was an uphill task but by now, scores of people in the area know about his product, so getting orders is easier. “My only dream is to make open defecation free India a reality”, says Joshi.

Besides this, Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialisation, Wardha, has certified that the tank used is hygienic and suitable for low-cost latrine usage. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur has examined the tank output and certified that it is safe for human health. Panjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth, Akola has certified that the output liquid has sufficient NPK contents and micro-nutrients to be used as organic pesticide.

Happy and satisfied users

Rajani and Rajesh Vasantrao Deshmukh from a nearby village Yevada, needed something compact for their small house. The couple, which has a four member family, installed this toilet about six years ago and since then has entertained guests during two marriages and one death. Another resident of the same village Kiran Jayantrao Deshmukh went in for this toilet about five years ago when she decided to re-construct her old house. “With the new house, I neither wanted a septic tank toilet which would need more space, nor a paver-block toilet which would need manual scavenging”, Kiran said as she proudly showed the combined toilet-bathroom in her compact courtyard.

Savita and her husband Uddhav Sadashivrao Hirulkar from the same village, installed one unit 19 years ago. Their kitchen and pooja ghar is about 5 feet away from the toilet beyond a half-wall/half-grill partition. “There is no smell whatsoever even though we cook our food close by. The best part is that there is no need of manual scavenging”, says Savita. Vouching for the efficiency of this toilet, Uddhav says, “We are a large family with regular flow of relatives and friends coming over. I got three of my daughters married from this home and we always had some 30-40 guests at a time. This toilet has worked perfectly all those times”.

Savings, savings and more savings

The advantages are innumerable. The use of the output liquid as pesticide spray, both before sowing and mid-crop cycle, reduces use of chemical fertilizers by 25%, the duo claim. When the toilet seat is fixed on the tank, there is no P-trap (it is a u-shaped or s-shaped plumbing arrangement that prevents odorous gas from drains/sewers from rising up through the toilet, sink or drains into homes). “Because we have done away with the P-trap and introduced a sloping smooth tile instead, very less water is needed. As against 12-16 litres of water needed during one flush in modern toilets, this uses just 5-6 litres of water,” Joshi adds. The team has provided a pipe for gas escape instead.

Open Defecation Free villages under Swachch Bharat Mission

Satish Shankarrao Sakhare, sarpanch of Maholi (Dhande) Grampanchayat has stepped in to bridge the gap. Among the 3,000 people of Maholi, there are about 350 households that do not have a toilet. A model of the Gramkranti Eco Bio toilet unit with a fabricated room-roof cover has been kept right outside the Grampanchayat building for prospective users to see. “We have decided to make our village ‘Open Defecation Free’ by December 2015. We will install the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet in all these houses. The government has already sanctioned Rs 12,000 per dwelling”, Sakhare says.

The government has identified 11 of the 115 villages in Daryapur tehsil under the Swachch Bharat Mission. Joshi-Ganorkar duo sells the tank-and-seat installation for about Rs 6000 plus transportation cost. The user needs to build a room over it. Certain experiments – as one model installed in front of Maholi Panchayat office – have been estimated to cost Rs 17,000. But despite the seemingly prohibitive cost for small land owners, their toilet has found takers. “There is lot of willingness to use a toilet,” Joshi adds.

But it is not only the Panchayat office bearers who have taken it upon themselves to contribute towards Open Defecation Free villages, but also other individuals. Pramod Joshi, a restaurant owner, and his family members are inspired citizens. When Pramod’s grandmother died about three months ago this year, it had rained heavily. “The route towards the smashaan (funeral place) went from near the godhari (designated open defecation place of the village). Pouring rain had already made the area muddy, slippery and the stretch near the godhari was stinking afresh after the rains. “I felt too bad that day. I thought, a person has to undergo this painful open defecation while alive but even when dead, he/she is not free from this trouble. There and then, I decided to help people build toilets and make my village Open Defecation Free”, Pramod says.

He had already known about the Gramkranti Eco Bio Toilet. Soon he paid for several units of these toilets. His family members too were inspired and started contributing. Till now, the family has helped build 50-odd toilets in the three months since. “There are about 500 houses in our village (population 10,000 approximately). We have decided to make our village Open Defecation Free by my grandmother’s barsi (first death anniversary),” he added.

Main advantages:

No solid waste output
Only colourless, odourless liquid output
Needs barely 5-6 litre of water
No need of sewer network
No need of septic tank, soak pit etc
Prevents water contamination in any form
Saves infrastructure cost for sewage network and treatment cost
Output liquid can be used as pesticide spray
Hygienic conditions prevents diseases
Can be used as public toilet catering to 250 people/day
Can be used in all terrains

This story first appeared on www.indiawaterportal.org on Nov 13, 2015. It can be read here

The three wonders of the ancient world solving modern water problems

In Peru, Kenya and India, NGOs are helping communities overcome water scarcity using wisdom from the past

 

Chand Baoli at Abhaneri in Rajasthan (Pic by Sagar Kulkarni)
Chand Baoli at Abhaneri in Rajasthan (Pic by Sagar Kulkarni)

Across large swaths of the Thar desert in western India, traditional techniques for harvesting the little amount of rain that falls has helped people survive the powerful effects of the sun for centuries.

The most beautiful of these are step wells – known as baolis in Hindi – large, stone structures built to provide water for drinking and agriculture. Baolis have existed for at least 1,000 years and were constructed in towns and alongside serais (travellers’ inns), across the desert and into Delhi.

Baolis exist in all shapes and sizes and are essentially reservoirs built into the earth. Groundwater is pulled up from a circular well at the bottom and rainwater is collected from above. A set of steps – on one or more sides of the structure – lead down to the water level, which fluctuates depending on the amount of rain. More recently, electric pumps have been installed in many baolis to help retrieve the water.

“Step wells are etched into people’s collective memory so deeply, they are now part of their DNA, passed on from one generation to another,” says Farhad Contractor of the Sambhaav Trust, an ecological conservation group.

Today, many baolis have fallen prey to rapid urbanisation and neglect. In Delhi only around 15 survive but local groups are fighting to protect and preserve them. While 700mm of rain falls on Delhi every year, half of the city has been declared a dark zone – where the groundwater level has depleted so much that the rate of recharge is less than the rate of withdrawal – by the groundwater authority. Rainwater harvesting, therefore, is key to a secure water supply for India’s second-biggest city.

One such baoli restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) was built in the 14th century in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, a medieval village in Delhi named after Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. In 2008, parts of the baoli walls collapsed due to sewage water seeping into the structure and the local residents using it as a rubbish dump. The pool was drained and the rubbish, garbage and sludge that had accumulated over the past 700 years was removed to reach the foundation of the baoli some 80 feet below ground level. While the water in the baoli is still not potable, it can be used for cleaning and agriculture.

Experts say the baoli model can be replicated anywhere in the world with similar climatic conditions and physiological features. Contractor has been invited to Morocco where he is working on a project to build baolis and smaller wells, known as beris in Hindi.

Agrasen Ki Baoli in Delhi has gone dry since last few years as its catchment has been concretised.
Agrasen Ki Baoli in Delhi has gone dry since last few years as its catchment has been concretised.

But large baolis need large catchment areas, and in Delhi space is an issue. While the majority of the physical structures of baolis are protected – some by being sited inside historic monuments – urban development in Delhi has had a greater impact on their water levels; storm drains divert rain away from baoli catchment areas.

Diwan Singh, an activist with non-profit Natural Heritage First, says that even though many baolis in Delhi are surrounded by buildings, the wells can still be recharged. “Catchment area management is the key. In the small areas of land between the baolis and buildings, rainwater harvesting pits could be built to divert rainwater away from the storm drains,” he says. “Once in the pit, water will percolate through the soil and recharge the nearby baoli, allowing modern development and ancient structures to co-exist side by side.”

(This was one of the three parts of the original longer story published by The Guardian, which can be read here)

The Himalayan waters: complex challenges and regional solutions

Tibetan_part_of_the_Koshi_basin_Santosh_Nepal
Tibetan Part of the Koshi Basin (Pic by Santosh Nepal)

 

 

Santosh Nepal and Arun Bhakta Shrestha, ICIMOD

It is difficult to think of a resource more essential to the well being of people and their economies than water, yet managing water resources is a complex and challenging task. The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region heavily depends on water resources for irrigation, food, hydropower, sanitation, and industry, as well as for the functioning of many important ecosystem services. Water thus directly contributes to the national GDP and to livelihoods and income generation at the local level. Although water is the foundation of sustainable development, water management in the HKH region remains fragmented and uncoordinated, and does not take relevant regional issues into account.

Many big rivers like the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra originate from the snow and glacier covered high mountains, and have abundant seasonal and annual water supply. Despite this, mountain people living on the ridges and hill slopes have limited access to water for drinking and agriculture. Throughout the mountain region, springs are reported to be drying, and mountain agriculture has suffered from drought. The shortage of water has placed an increasing burden on mountain communities, particularly on women. Furthermore, the communities face loss of property and lives due to water-induced natural hazards. Climate change has exacerbated the situation by creating uncertainty about the future water availability and water security. Understanding the characteristics of water is crucial for sustainable water management. This article attempts to highlight some of the complexities and challenges of water management in the HKH region and discusses a possible way out for sustainable management.

Water and energy

Energy is one of the most important pillars of sustainable development. In the HKH region, hydropower is one of the most promising environmentally friendly sources of energy. With a potential estimated to be 500,000 MW, the region has abundant opportunities for hydropower development. Energy security can open up opportunities for development and employment and contribute to the national GDP. Moreover, innovative solutions such as electric transportation and a clean source of domestic and industrial energy supply would significantly improve the deteriorating environmental condition of the region. However, many countries in the region have been able to tap only a small fraction of their available potential. Out of the 42,000 MW potential reported in Nepal, only about 2% is harnessed so far, whereas Pakistan has harnessed 11% of its total potential. Still, people in both these countries face many hours of scheduled power cuts.

Water and the environment

Water plays a vital role in maintaining different ecosystem services in riparian areas. Freshwater ecosystems in particular largely depend on the specific flow regime of rivers passing through them. However, due to intervention of infrastructure development, the flow regime changes in the downstream areas, where, in many cases, communities depend on water resources for livelihoods such as fishing. A major concern is how to make sure that a certain minimum flow is maintained so as to sustain freshwater supply and support dependent ecosystems. There is very weak monitoring of the minimum flow requirement in the region.

Water for food

Water and food share a strong nexus, both being essential ingredients for human survival and development. Agriculture is a major contributor to the GDP of countries in the HKH. In Nepal, it contributes to 35% of the national GDP. The Indus River system is a source of irrigation for about 144,900 hectares of land, whereas the Ganges basin provides irrigation for 156,300 hectares of agricultural land. Access to water resources for food production and their sustainable management is a concern from the local to national level. Amid rapid environmental and socioeconomic changes, the growing population will require more water and food, and equitable access to vital resources has become a major question. Sustainable solutions to these problems require efficient use of water resources for agricultural use in which technological innovation plays a vital role.

Water and disaster

Due to its physical setting, the HKH region is prone to various water-induced hazards (e.g., landslides, floods, glacial lake outburst floods, and droughts). Every year, during the monsoon season, the floods bring havoc to the mountains and the plains downstream. These floods are often transboundary. Globally, 10% of all floods are transboundary, and they cause over 30% of all flood casualties and account for close to 60% of all those displaced by floods. The social and economic setting of the region makes its people more vulnerable to natural hazards. Lack of supportive policy and governance mechanisms at the local, national and regional levels, and the lack of carefully planned structural and non-structural measures of mitigation lead to increased vulnerability.

Regional cooperation in sustainable development of water resources

The examples above show that water has both beneficial and adverse traits, its management is complex, and often a regional approach is necessary. The hydropower potentials are primarily concentrated in the mountain regions have but the major users of the energy are the urban areas and industries in the plains. Strong technical and political barriers separate those regions, which is one of the major reasons of slow progress in hydropower development. However, recent trends have shown some positive change. In the recent 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu, the SAARC member countries signed a Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation. This agreement has opened up the energy market in South Asia, and thereby possibilities for cooperation in the energy sector. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the collaboration would play a role in energy security.

There are strong indications the HKH region is going to be warmer in the coming years. Precipitation is likely to increase in different places and have more inter-annual and intra-annual variability. What does the change in temperature and precipitation mean to water availability in the HKH region? What complexities do the cryosphere dynamics add to this equation? Should these changes be of concern to water resources development in the region? These questions cannot be answered without concerted efforts of the regional countries.

The regional nature of the natural hazards requires a regional approach to the solution. Effective flood management requires sharing data and information between the upstream and downstream areas, not only within the country, but also at the transboundary level. Technological innovations based on satellite information, in combination with ground-based data, can be transformed into information that can prove vital in saving lives and properties. For example, the Koshi Flood Outlook (www.icimod.org/?q=14181) being developed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its national partners in Nepal and India has high potential for saving lives and properties in the basin. Such efforts should be promoted widely in the region. During the Jure landslide event of August 2014 in Nepal, during which the Sun Koshi River was blocked for several days, a great concern emerged from the Indian side regarding the status of the landslide and the likelihood of an outburst flood. The flood outlook was helpful in providing important information. This example shows that disaster risk reduction could be an entry point for immediate regional cooperation. This will create trust, which can be a basis for future cooperation for maximizing benefits such as energy trade. Countries of the HKH region should recognize the potential of water resources for sustainable development. These resources can help reduce poverty, improve livelihoods, conserve ecosystems and contribute to flood and drought management in the region. This will not only help us face the present crisis, but also open up avenues to deal with issues of future water availability amid climate and socioeconomic changes. Regional cooperation should be based on the three pillars of sustainability: economic vitality, environmental integrity and social equity, both at the national and local level.

This is a special feature article prepared by ICIMOD to mark the World Water day 2015 today, March 22, 2015

(Nepal (santosh.nepal@icimod.org) is Water Resource Specialist and Shrestha (arun.shrestha@icimod.org) is Programme Manager for the River Basins and Cryosphere and Atmosphere Regional Programmes at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

South Asia slow to act on water threats

The Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India Image NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons

Satellite image of the vast Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India
Image: NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons

A study of the five countries sharing and relying on the Indian sub-continent’s great rivers shows that Bangladesh is the only one that is taking climate change seriously

Even before this year’s delayed and inadequate monsoon recently brought some relief to the Indian sub-continent, researchers discovered widespread concern by local experts that their governments are mismanaging the water supplies on which a billion people depend for survival, and giving insufficient attention to climate change.

A new report, Attitudes to Water in South Asia, explores domestic water management and transboundary water issues in five countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It focuses on two river systems, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and the Indus-Kabul basins, which are vital to the lives of a vast population.

Chatham House – the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs − worked on the report with India’s Observer Research Foundation, and similar partner organisations in the other four countries. Their findings are based on evidence from almost 500 interviews conducted in the five countries in 2013 with a range of water experts, government officials, policy-makers and decision-makers from NGOs and the private sector.

Observing that water is “highly politicised in the region, with strong links to food security and the livelihoods of the large proportion of the population dependent on agriculture”, the report underscores the relation between the domestic mismanagement of water in each country and the failure to address transboundary water relations.

Few agreements

“In spite of the shared river system and the interdependencies, South Asian governments have signed few bilateral water agreements and no regional ones,” the report says. “Those transboundary water treaties that do exist face criticism on a number of grounds: for time periods too short to too long; and for their lack of provision for environmental factors or new challenges, such as climate change.”.

Yet the ability of countries in South Asia to deal with the possible effects of climate change will be in part determined by their ability to manage water, and also how they deal with weather events such as floods and droughts.

“The majority . . .  expressed concern that their governments
were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention”

While many respondents across the region felt that other immediate concerns were more pressing, the majority of those interviewed expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention,” said Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report.

For instance, in Afghanistan, even where respondents had some knowledge of the body responsible for setting government-wide policy on climate change, they were equally certain that the amount of practical action on ground was virtually zero.

In Bangladesh, where most respondents were acutely aware of climate change and its possible effects, many said their government was doing better. There was a general consensus that ministers had made climate change a priority by setting aside funds for adaptation and mitigation.

However, Afghani and Bangladeshi respondents noted the lack of availability of important policy documents − currently available only in English − in local languages..

And Indian respondents felt that climate change was not a major priority for the government, although it was widely recognised that it could wreak havoc on the country.

“Inadequate water storage leaving farmers vulnerable to the vagaries of weather suggest an urgent need for appropriate investment in such facilities in order to not just increase agriculture production, but also to ensure farmers have an option to adjust to changing climate,” the report says.

Food security

Climate change could also have a big impact on the transboundary water relations, the report warns. Some respondents from India and Bangladesh feared that a variation in the timing and intensity of monsoons could affect agricultural production and weaken food security, “driving tension between the two countries over access to water in a dry period”.

Interviewees from Nepal perceived climate change as a “future threat”, in comparison with immediate challenges and the need to increase access to water and electricity. Most respondents felt that Nepal’s approach was “inadequate” and pointed out the gap between national plans and local implementation.

Pakistani respondents believed their country’s approach to climate change lacked “urgency”. They particularly pointed out that a Ministry of Climate Change had recently been reduced to a mere division of another ministry, and had had its funding slashed by 62%.

Brink of cataclysm

The report quoted a climate change expert working with the Pakistan government, who said his country stood on the brink of an environmental cataclysm, with the seasonal monsoon shifting away from traditional catchment areas towards Afghanistan. “This trend, reinforced by climate change, [has]increased the likelihood of extraordinary rainfall patterns, cloudbursts, and flash floods,” he said.

The researchers’ recommendations Include: improving domestic water management, and rainwater harvesting; enhancing data collection, data sharing and discussions between the five countries, particularly in relation to floods and droughts, and the management of watersheds and river basins; easing water demand through less water-intensive crops and irrigation methods.

They also stress that existing treaties should be revisited, ensuring that they address technological advances, environmental factors and climate change. – Climate News Network

(This was first published by Climate News Network on July 7, 2014 and it can be read at http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/2014/07/south-asia-slow-to-act-on-water-threats/ )

For more than 20 years, a slim book has helped Indian farmers become self-reliant in water

‘The Lakes Are Still Alive’ by Anupam Mishra is helping villagers rediscover ancient water-conservation methods.

A farm pond in Mahoba district
A farm pond in Mahoba district

This year, in the parched district of Mahoba in Bundelkhand, in southern Uttar Pradesh, where persistent drought has led to large-scale migration over the past decade, several ponds were full of water even before the monsoon began.

These are ponds that farmers began building in March 2013 as part of the Apna Talaab Abhiyaan (Build Your Own Pond Campaign), which was started by local non-profits and activists from New Delhi, and supported by the district administration, with the aim of making farmers less dependent on the vagaries of the monsoon.

Most of these ponds, which filled up during last year’s monsoon, retained water until March, while the larger ones had water even until it began raining again this year. By July, almost 400 ponds in the district had been constructed.

“Anupamji and his book inspired us,” said Kesar Singh, a Delhi-based activist working in the district, when asked why farmers began this project. He was referring to Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talaab (The Lakes Are Still Alive), written by Anupam Mishra, an environmentalist associated with the Gandhi Peace Foundation, who edits Gandhi Marg, a Hindi magazine published once in two months that propagates Gandhian thought.

Twenty years after it was published, the slim copyright-free volume, written in lucid Hindi, has inspired scores of farmers, government officials and activists across the country to use a variety of simple methods to make their communities self-reliant in water.

Published in July 1993, the book is a useful compendium of traditional rainwater harvesting practices across India. The book, accessible online, has described how decentralised water storage systems such as baolis (step wells), kuis (wells with small diameters), chaals (very small water body along a slope, typical of Uttarakhand), johads (tanks that are fed by earthen check dams), ponds, tanks, wells and lakes, can help communities withstand drought.

Traditional methods

Traditionally, farmers who depended entirely on rainfall could grow only one crop a year. Only those who had their own water source, such as large wells or water bodies nearby, could plant another crop. In time, access to dams and canal networks, as well as tube wells that drew from groundwater, enabled many farmers to plant two to three crops a  year.

But in many places, the drawbacks of these these irrigation systems  became apparent. Villages sometimes constructed so many bore wells that the water table sank too low to make it economic to extract. In other instances, the water was contaminated. Dams and canal networks, for their part, came with enormous construction costs and displaced thousands of people.

Rather than inundating large areas, displacing people and then spending on transporting water from far away, Mishra realised that de-centralised methods work better in the long run. The simple but more effective method, he felt, ought to be: catch rain where it falls.

In his book, Mishra describes traditional methods that communities across India used to take care of their water resources. “The British introduced piped water systems and dams, and then the government took over water bodies, cutting communities off,” Mishra writes in his book. “Unfortunately, after Independence, our planners did not rectify the situation.”

For instance, in Rajasthan, a state with very little rainfall, communities always had kuis,
baolis and johads but have have atrophied over the years. Mishra and others like him stepped in to remind people to rediscover traditional practices.

Decentralised water storage systems can also be built in cities. “But Delhi and Mumbai does not care because these cities know they can bully resource-rich areas and get their water,” said Mishra. “Yet they will also have to learn, sooner or later.”

Experiments with water

Mahoba is only of the more recent examples of a community becoming self-reliant in water after using the traditional methods mentioned in Mishra’s book. Dewas in Madhya Pradesh and Lapodia in Rajasthan are two other, older examples.

In 2004, Lapodia and its environs in Rajasthan’s Alwar district were facing drought for the sixth consecutive year. While there was large-scale migration from most villages, Lapodia was spared because it had for more than a decade been working to revive two of its large tanks and developed pastures for its livestock near the water bodies.

It had done so with the help of Tarun Bharat Sangh, a non-profit working for water conservation and empowerment of communities in Alwar district. The group was founded by Rajendra Singh, who won the Magsaysay award in 2001, for his work on water conservation. He is all praise for Mishra’s book.

“The book has an important place in today’s India when it comes to community-based water management,” said Singh. “It offers insights into technical, social and cultural aspects, all three of which combined to spur the fabulous art of lake-building.”

Other examples abound. Across India, more than 40,000 water bodies have been built spurred by the book, estimates Mishra. There are almost  2,500 lakes in the Thar desert area, Mishra says. Inspired by the book, four large tanks were repaired near Chennai, while the Karnataka Jal Sanghe renovated and constructed several ponds and lakes.

Mishra’s inspiration

Mishra started thinking about self-reliance in water in the early 1980s, when he was travelling through Rajasthan. He was impressed by the several kunds, tanks and lakes in some places that he came across that were fully functional even in the scorching summer.

Soon afterwards, he travelled through Goa. There, he saw that the lush green paradise was slowly turning into a concrete jungle with resorts, hotels and private homes coming up in places that were catchment areas for water. There, he noticed that after the monsoon, water stocks decreased drastically. Tankers were needed to supply water to many villages as the groundwater had depleted rapidly after monsoon.

“I was impressed by the fact that a place such as Rajasthan that had such little rainfall had immense respect for every drop of water,” Mishra said. “In contrast, Goa, where the rain god was sending a bountiful monsoon, was suffering due to faulty practices.”

The comparison set him thinking, travelling, meeting people and trying to understand what different communities were doing with water. In 1991, he started writing the book.

Free distribution

From day one, Mishra decided that the book would be free of copyright. Over the years, as more people discovered the book’s value, they printed it themselves, some selling it for a profit, others for a cause.

So far, the book has been translated into a dozen Indian languages. Bharat Gyan Vigyan Prakashan, a Delhi-based publication house, brought out 25,000 copies in 1995, followed by publishers from Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, whose government also printed 25,000 copies, and Maharashtra.

Two years ago, Farhad Contractor, the founder of Sambhaav , a non-profit that that has promoted community-based rainwater harvesting in the Thar desert area for the past 25 years, printed it and gave several hundred copies to Mishra for distribution.

“We need to understand that not everything can be bought,” Contractor said. “This book is basically communities’ knowledge that we want to share. It has inspired and mobilised scores of people. We thought that it would be good if those who actually work on ground read it.”

(This was first published by Scroll.in and can be read here http://scroll.in/article/677189/For-more-than-20-years,-a-slim-book-has-helped-Indian-farmers-become-self-reliant-in-water)