Tag Archives: Sachin Shah

India’s Water Conflicts: Politics over Water

Being here for three months working on watershed issues has indirectly led me to other unstable issues here in India. Water conflicts in India are becoming explo­sive and politicians are working hard to sustain them over a long period of time. Practically every state in India, particularly in the south, has at least one or more conflicts over water distribution with its neighbor. Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are at loggerheads with each other over the sharing of the Krishna waters; Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala are in conflict over the Cauvery; Kerala and Tamil Nadu are fighting over the 113-year old Mullaperiyar dam. The intensity and frequency of these conflicts are increasing. No doubt that it will become worse with the in­creasing uncertainty of climate change.

Despite having negotiated several settlements with Pakistan over water with the help of mediators, it seems as though it is very difficult for Indian states to han­dle internal conflicts over water. One of the reasons is that there is a lack of an efficient frame­work and mediating mechanism for con­flict resolution, both within the govern­ment and civil society. There are a number of common themes among the conflicts over water in India.  For example, it is common for downstream users to distrust upstream dam building and operation, and this kind of conflict exists within states and between regions, at levels ranging from the village to the basin level. The other important aspect is that India’s systems are not oriented towards building trust. In fact, very often, the contrary is the case, especially when such conflicts overlap with state boundaries.

Another issue I see is that there is a lack of a scientific approach to water management. The science and the policy of dealing with water sharing have both considerably advanced in recent times around the world and especially in the United States. Water manage­ment in India does not seem to have advanced as much. As a result of a lack of communication between scientists and policymakers (ala Copenhagen) river flows have fallen below levels and have disappeared in many important fishing communities. India seems to have its own brand of the “rule of capture”. Dam construction technology has led to a construction race that aims at capturing every drop of water that everyone is entitled to. The complexity of climate change adds another serious dimension to the conflict. While the precise change in rainfall is disputed, all climate models agree on the likelihood of the increase of extreme events – extreme surpluses and extreme shortages.

Population Displacement in India Due to Climate Change: Why 3 Feet Equals 125 Million People

Climate change activists in northern India

Climate change activists in northern India

Climate change is increasingly understood to be a human induced phenomenon, greatly accelerating natural cycles. By now we have heard over and over again, that in it’s latest research the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that accelerated climate change – global warming – is taking place. No surprise there. But, what may be a lesser known fact is the impact climate change is having on sea-levels.

A 3-feet rise in sea-level will inundate 3,700 square miles in India, of which Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai will be the major cities being affected. This would mean losses of billions of dollars in infrastructural, social, physical assets and capital.

According to Indian climate scientists, 125 million people are likely to migrate in the coming century of which 75 million will be from Bangladesh. The people from Bangladesh will most likely migrate to India in addition to their own 50 to 60 million people who will be displaced due to sea-level rise and resulting water source scarcities.

Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai are the largest cities on the coast of India, on an average elevation of 5-30 feet, which is in the Low Elevation Coastal Zone, an area that falls under 30 feet of coastal elevation. Approximately 50,000 square miles of land fall under this zone in India – this includes a population of over 60 million. Fifty percent of this population are in urban regions comprising approximately 31 million people.

These are sobering numbers that leave these predictions in the hands of local institutions. The question is whether these institutions are capable of managing or containing these problems.

One industry that will be hurt the most are the fishing communities, which live on the coast and are the least resilient to climate change. Livelihoods will be lost and  forced to move inland in search of alternative work.

Erratic rainfall, climate changes, water shortages and food scarcity will push the vulnerable communities of landless laborers, small farmers, into worse conditions forcing them to migrate to the cities in search of new livelihoods. Economists believe that the adaptive capacities of these communities are extremely low considering that they are already affected by negative trends of globalization.

If these trends continue and no major policy changes are made then the displacement will be around 50-60 million. Too high a number for the Indian government to not take action.

Watershed Development Programs in India: Impacts on Equity and Resource Management

At the moment, I am calculating a water balance (rainfall versus water use) on a watershed and farm level in a village in the state of Gujarat, India to determine the efficiency of the central government of India’s Watershed Development Program. In general, the Watershed Development Program is designed to help poor farmers in villages in semi-arid regions of India. The program aims to generate jobs through building rain water harvesting structures, promoting gender and caste equity, and advocating natural and water resource management policy.

As part of an interdisciplinary team that includes hydrologists, economists, rural development experts, and social scientists, we hope to generate awareness of the affects (positive or negative) the watershed development has on the livelihoods of the rural poor.

Having a scientific background (hydrogeology), my way of thinking about solving problems has changed. For example, development programs are not and cannot be a purely scientific exercise. I have had the great fortune here at GIDR to go out to villages and talk to heads of villages, tribes, and various caste members of how the government’s water policies affect them. Interacting with various groups and stakeholders (in different languages no less) has proven to be challenging and rewarding at the same time – human impact from government policies and climate change are clearly expressed.

Being in the semi-arid region of western India has proven to be the best experience when it comes to the issues of climate change, rural development, and water policy.  It provides a challenging task of combining natural phenomenons with socioeconomic conditions of a unique population. Gujarat is a unique state unto itself as it contains vast deserts, dense forests, highly urbanized areas, rolling hills, and millions of acres of farmland. As a result, development strategies change throughout the state.

Hello from India!

Good evening from the 113 degree heat of Ahmedabad, India. I am interning with the Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR) where I am evaluating watershed development programs that were initiated by the central government to sustain productivity of dry and semi-arid regions of the country by adopting more efficient production and conservation techniques. This research effort, undertaken at GIDR for evaluating these watershed development programs, is known as the “Forum of Watershed Research and Policy Dialogue”. The forum focuses on watershed development sustainability, gender and caste equity, and democratization in rural India.

At the moment I am primarily conducting field investigations to determine the spatial distribution of groundwater withdrawal scenarios by farmers in select rural watersheds, (2) collaborating with an evaluation team in analyzing the collected field data and determining the program efficiency on three scales (household level, farm level, and watershed level), and (3) evaluating the impact of technology on the economic welfare of households in the select watersheds.

We basically want to answer the question of  “What impact do watershed development activities have on rural areas, especially groundwater resources, agricultural production, and socioeconomic conditions?” The ultimate goal is to help policymakers create guidelines for the watershed development programs in the state.

I’m hoping that with my background in hydrology and environmental science I can bridge development scenarios with water management with technological advancement and water policy. Stay tuned!