There is an urgent need to study the impact of climate change on water and protect water sources
A new report on water sector options in the face of changing climate has called for fresh approach to studying alterations in the patterns of rainfall and snowfall, availability of surface and ground water and the existing water infrastructure.
The report—Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate-- laments the lack of studies in the country on the impact of climate change in the water sector, but at the same time is optimistic about the situation offering a `unique opportunity’ for revisiting the sector for better understanding, planning and management.
Dedicated to communities around the world whose lives have been disrupted by climate change brought about due to high consumption lifestyle of the elite, the report, published by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, reviews the situation in the context of the international framework of climate change vis-a-vis adaptation, mitigation, technology and economics.
India needs to immediately come out with a report on the state of impact of climate change in the water sector, it says. Trends in quantum, peaks and pattern of long-term annual rainfall, resultant impact on river flows and ground water recharge are crucial issues for equitable distribution of water and its management. Transparency and sharing of data is the key to finding solutions.
Seeking top priority to rain-water harvesting, ground water recharge and incentives for changing cropping patterns and methods, the report points out that the irregularity in monsoon rains is hugely impacting farmers, particularly the rain-fed ones who form 60 per cent of the entire farming community.
``By way of adaptation strategies, we need to make local rainwater harvesting and ground water recharge our top priority in our water resources policy, programmes and practices,’’ it points out.
The document extols the government to take water related issues to the grassroots and spread good examples of resilience (adaptation) to climate change with local communities and use of traditional knowledge and techniques.
Documenting some of the case studies on innovative ways to mitigate the impact of changes in rainfall patterns, the report highlights the potential of up-scaling such examples to find solutions to adaptation, sustainable and democratic water management, conservation of biodiversity and poverty alleviation.
Stressing the need for switching to cropping patterns and techniques that conserve water (as in system of rice/crop intensification), it emphasises the need for the system of forecasting rains to be made more accurate. “This key information should be made available to farmers, decision-makers and people.’’
Farmers should be encouraged to use practices that increase the carbon content in soil so that moisture is retained for longer periods, especially during gaps between rainfalls. The use of reservoir operations should be transparent, accountable and participatory to reduce the flood disaster potential during unforeseen changes in climate.
At the same time, the report touches upon a hitherto ignored aspect of impact of climate change: Compensation to farmers who suffer the impact of climate change, which is not of their making.
Referring to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, the report says that no clear picture is available of the extent of loss of snow in area and volume, but research provides some indicators of how the different basins were going to be affected.
“However, there are still a lot of variables and even the available information is not all in public domain. Our knowledge base is poor. The answer is not in building big storage dams to compensate these losses as that would actually increase the problems as such projects destroy the forests, rivers, biodiversity and also emit methane in tropical and sub tropical climates. Destruction of all these resources would reduce the adaptation capacity of the communities near the glaciers and society in general.’’
The better option, the report points out, would be to create small, localised storages that can serve local communities and can be maintained by them. The country requires urgent action to protect existing groundwater recharge systems and to create more by saving every drop of rain where it falls.
Even as the Water Resources Ministry is working out a new water resources policy, the report sets the agenda for a revamped policy: “It should be equitable, sustainable, participatory, decentralised, democratic with a transparent approach to water management based on sound knowledge and data.”
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.
Clearly, the need of the hour is to prioritise on how to manage the scarce resource that water is.