Cooperation is critical for achieving water access, security and poverty alleviation

The U.N. General Assembly has declared 2013 ‘International Year for Water Cooperation’. Further, it dedicated the 2013 World Water Day (March 22) to ‘Water Cooperation’.

The estimated global population in 2050 is 9 billion, all of which will depend on finite and vulnerable water resources. This indicates that our interdependence on water issues is growing every day. Water issues cannot be solved on their own, or be left to professionals. In reality, every one’s water use affects others. We use or waste or pollute the common water resources.

Challenges, concerns

Cooperation is critical for achieving water access/security, poverty alleviation and environmentally sustainable economic development. The growth of agriculture, industry and the service sector depends on water availability. However, various development activities create pressure on the sector through excess demand and disposal. Economic development should plan in harmony with the biophysical limit of the water cycle. In this respect, maintaining the environmental flow in surface water sources, stabilising groundwater stocks and managing water quality are important.

The availability of good quality water in adequate quantities for drinking and other domestic purposes is a criterion for health and social security. In the world of privatisation, water faces the threat of commercialisation; wherever water markets exist, the ‘ability to pay’ becomes the criterion for access. Hence, the water rights of the poor and vulnerable communities should be safeguarded.

Benefits of water cooperation

Water is a renewable natural resource and public good. But the ownership right on land bestows a private character on water. However, most rivers, ponds, lakes and aquifers are common property. Therefore, water rights (except for private wells) are not clearly defined and the right to using the resources is not protected.

Hence, excluding others from using water is not possible and the results are competition, over-extraction and conflict. However, cooperation has a greater role in achieving social harmony in water allocation and increasing human welfare.

Water cooperation can avoid the costs (tension and disputes) associated with conflicts between neighbours.

Cooperation at the river basin level can promote efficiency in water management through better storage, distribution, and expanding irrigation acreage.

Cooperation between municipalities and private providers can stimulate resource mobilisation. The Tamil Nadu Urban Development Fund developed the Water and Sanitation Pooled Fund, a Rs. 300-million facility generated through bond markets for 14 small municipalities, with a partial credit guarantee from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Cooperation between the government and industry will succeed in mobilising finance and skills for water supply projects. For example, the Public Private Partnership (PPP)-based Tirupur Area Development Project in Tamil Nadu, at a cost of Rs. 10,230 million, succeeded in transferring 185 mld water from the Cauvery to Tirupur for textile industries and domestic users.

Through cooperation, a decentralised approach and community initiatives can operationalise in the water sector with better social impacts.

The success of pollution management strategies in the industrial (either through effluent treatment plants or cleaner production technologies), domestic (through sewage treatment plants) and agriculture (application of biofertilizer and pesticides and farm management) sectors will depend on the level of cooperation among the stakeholders.

What is required?

Water cooperation requires a multilevel inclusive and innovative approach. Water resources management must be addressed at appropriate geographical levels with multistakeholders’ involvement. Further, the government’s development policies should be consistent and in accordance with the water policy.

Water cooperation can build mutual respect among users, understanding and trust among countries, and promote peace, security and sustainable economic growth. However, operationalising this philosophy in a developing country like India (that possesses the world’s 17.5% of human & 11% of livestock populations, 4.2% of water and 2.4% of land) is an extremely great challenge. But cooperation is the only option available to us. Hence, each of us should be much more tolerant and sacrificial rather than adopting a competing approach.

The writer’s e mail: nelliyatp@yahoo.co.uk

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