Indus Water Treaty: Need for Re-imagination of the River

The World Bank brokered 1960 Indus Water Treaty, celebrated as a success story of water-sharing conflict resolution having withstood 3 wars, is basically a water-partitioning agreement with substantial protocols for addressing disputes and disagreements arising out of water-sharing.  The technical density and the nature of division of waters, aggravated by the political conflict between India and Pakistan has subjected the treaty to substantial wear and tear.  With the treaty having no embedded capability of handling variability arising from environmental degradation, uncertain weather patterns and changing climatic conditions, there is a case for reviewing and upgrading it into a more co-operative water management framework necessary for increasing the viability of irrigation and sustainable management of the river system.

Indus Water Treaty: Best Deal of the Times? 

Experts describe the Indus Water Treaty, signed after long and tortuous discussions, as the best deal of the times reflecting the political compulsions and water management philosophy of the times.  It allocated 3 western rivers to Pakistan and 3 eastern ones to India while permitting non-consumptive access to India to the western rivers with maximum 3.6 million acre feet storage for limited agriculture, hydro-power generation and transport. Under it about 80% waters are allocated to Pakistan and 20% to India in what many in India feel is an unfair settlement somehow accepted by the negotiators. On the other hand, Pakistan feels that India has got too much water considering that the territory that went to India historically used only 10% of water. According to officials in Indian Ministry of Water Resources, the treaty provides for a potential of 1.4 million hectares to be irrigated and 19000 MW hydro-power to be generated through run-of-river projects.  However only 8 lakh hectares have been irrigated and only 3000 MW hydro-power is being generated annually. India wants to maximise the water potential under the treaty specially in the background of dissatisfaction in Jammu & Kashmir that the treaty restrictions hamper its developmental potential.  In fact in 2003 the Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly passed an unanimous resolution demanding a review of the treaty, while in April 2016 they demanded compensation for lost hydro-power potential.  But Indian efforts at utilizing the water potential under the treaty only fuels Pakistan’s lower riparian insecurity with Pakistan continuously having  technical disagreements in India’s planned power projects. While the Baglihar power plant conflict  could be settled in 2007 only under arbitration by a Neutral Expert, the Kishenganga project dispute is under reference of an arbitration court.

Differences & Disputes inherent in Nature & Structure of Indus Water treaty

Experts agree that it is the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty  limiting the use of western rivers by India that is the main cause of the conflict with differences arising both from the highly technical nature of the treaty as well as the nature of division of waters under the treaty.  The various technical conditions and restrictions under the treaty  relating to different engineering structures and features like crest levels of spillways, location of intake for turbines, pondage levels,  limits to artificially raising water levels in operational pools, etc lend themselves to different interpretations and approaches resulting in technical disagreements over the meaning and applications of treaty criteria.  While Indian engineers approach  is to primarily focus on techno-economic viability of the projects to get best benefits under the provisions of the treaty, Pakistani engineers tend to  focus primarily on the provisions and restrictions treating the techno-economic viability as secondary.   With these two basically different approaches, there is little scope for mutually acceptable modifications in the planned projects.

Differences also arise due to the very nature of the division of waters which has created an adversarial situation in relation to Indian use of the western rivers through technical restrictions and specifications meant to safeguard Pakistan’s interests.  Pakistan feels that Indian structures upstream on the western rivers will reduce water flow downstream or enable India to release stored waters and flood its territory.  Pakistan thus frames the problem partly in terms of water security and partly in terms of national security.  India’s stated position that its capacity to reduce water flow downstream is limited while it cannot flood Pakistan without first flooding itself has failed to assuage Pakistan’s lower riparian anxiety.  That the treaty does not specify the maximum number of projects or the height of dams or total hydro-power capacity or that India is bound to send all technical data regarding the planned projects in advance to Pakistan only adds to the complexity of the issue.  The upshot is that while India tries to make maximum use of its entitlements under the treaty, Pakistan tends to exercise the virtual veto power the treaty gives it stringently rather than in an accomodating manner. It must however be mentioned that water experts in track II discussions have often expressed the worry that while a single project has no capacity to reduce water flows downstream, the cumulative impact of a number of projects could affect water flow downstream.  Indian water expert late Ramaswamy  Iyer had expressed the view in some of his writings that since a cumulative impact study of projects in the Ganges basin is being done, a similar one could be done in the Indus basin with experts from both sides.

Treaty lacks Social and Ecological Perspective on River System 

By virtue of its techno-engineering approach, the treaty has ignored the organic nature of water and its relationships with people and livelihoods resulting in inequitable sharing and insufficient conservation of the precious resource.  By treating the river system as mere volumes of water contained in channels, the treaty has ignored the implications of interconnections between the river’s natural flow and other elements of the ecosystem like lakes, under-ground acquifer, wetlands, marshes and mangrooves.  The treaty does not say  anything about maintaining  a minimum environmental flow for purpose of maintenance of delta ecosystems downstream.  The view that any water that goes into the sea is waste ignores the need for sufficient fresh water to reach the delta to maintain a healthy balance between fresh and saline water and to safeguard the estuarine-mangroove ecosytem. In a very real sense, the treaty does lack a sense of social and ecological sensitivity.  However in the words of late Ramasway Iyer ‘ the treaty is a product of the times which has largely served as a moderating factor in the hydro-politics of the two countries curbing their worst impulses’

Need to Re-imagine the Indus River 

Based on analysis of drivers of conflict in the basin like riparian position, basin dependence, media framing, adversarial institutional structures and processes, relative military and economic strengths, experts opine that while India is precariously balanced between conflict and co-operation, Pakistan is definitely skewed towards conflict.  They say that the absence of open conflict in the basin is not necessarily an indicator of presence of co-operation but of negative peace.  Under conditions of negative peace both countries are taking water decisions in the background of imperfect and insufficient knowledge about the intentions and capabilities of each other with terribly sub-optimal results. Both countries are adopting the  precautionary principle of assuming the worst possible scenario perceiving the other as a threat and taking even more stringent measures.  Experts again opine that the sustainability of the treaty requires both technical and social ingenuity.  While technical ingenuity exists, there is lack of social capital in an atmosphere of mistrust, lack of deep listening, lack of search for common grounds across differences and perceived riparian vulnerability by Pakistan.

New Compact for Indus System Management:

The increasing unsustainability of irrigated agriculture, the need to harness hydro-power in Jammu & Kashmir in quest for clean energy, and climate change with its predicted impact in terms of glacial melt and changing precipitation patterns are strong push factors for a review of the IWT. If division of waters is a flawed water management concept and practice, then handling and harnessing the variability in water flow has been recognised as the crux of sustainable  river management approach.  Further if climate change is about intensification of variability and unpredictability of water flow, then the IWT with its emphasis on neat average flows and statistical predictability of water availability will not be able to handle conflicts arising out of hydraulic volatility.

The techno-engineering approach of maximum water extractions from  the river has been increasingly challenged by ecologists who have demonstrated that fluvial regimes are complex geo-morphological, chemical and biological processes in motion with a natural flow regime which regulates various ecological processes.  Arguing that rivers are integral components of complex ecological systems forming an intricate part of the cultural, economic and social lives of communities, they have said that reducing rivers to the waters that they carry is a sadly instrumentalist view of the river system.  They have advocated that the steel and concrete engineering approaches must give way to a entirely new spectrum of management in which the embedded ecological and social contexts of the river system must be acknowledged.

Pluralistic Narratives Needed:

A renewed compact for the Indus river system requires effective de-centering of the techno-engineering approach based on the expertise of water engineers, and harnessing instead the expertise and experiences of a whole lot of social constituencies across the basin.  This will involve a co-operative dialogue between different river-based communities on either side of the border like fishermen, irrigation-dependent farmers, river ecologists, water historians, sociologists, water experts, agriculture economists, etc.  These plural narratives will impart the new Indus compact with the much needed social and ecological perspective which will have the potential to transform the hydro-politics of the basin into a mutually beneficial co-operation.  That will work in favour of a more prudent management of the basin’s rapidly depleting water resources, and help address issues of environmental degradation and climate change challenges.

While it goes without saying that any negotiation  on reviewing the IWT will be utterly contingent on significant improvements in bilateral relations, it must be emphasized that certain changes in attitudes, approaches and perspectives could prod both countries towards a more constructive and co-operative spirit in the operations of the treaty.  There is a need to reframe the water  crisis in the basin as one of relative water scarcity instead of absolute water scarcity which will limit economic development and affect national security.  Because 75% of Pakistan’s water originates in India and because 95% of its agriculture depends on Indus waters, Pakistan has framed the water crisis in a framework of national security with the discourse strongly marked with existential threat.  But the very fact that over 90%  water drawls are used in agriculture where its efficiency is less than 40% is a clear indication that water scarcity in the basin is more institutional and can be tackled through appropriate engineering and institutional reforms.

Need for Counter Securitizing Narrative: 

Along with a more pluralistic narrative, there is also a need to centre-stage a counter water securitising narrative through a focus on better water management both from the supply and demand side.  Desecuritisation of water scarcity requires that strong sentiments of water nationalism and food nationalism need to be toned down and the water crisis should be framed within a poor water governance matrix in both basin countries. In this context,  both countries have to take steps like focussing  more on open communications on water data and working  out mechanisms for mutual assistance during extreme events and disasters.  The media, specially in Pakistan, should be encouraged not to sensationalize the water scarcity issue as an existential threat, but to focus   the debate on  better water management, innovative agricultural practices, environmental degradation, inter-provincial water-related conflicts, etc.  At the official level, confidence building measures such as thickening of track II diplomacy, softening of borders, and actively enabling exchange of scholars and water experts will be of immense use in diluting the atmosphere of mistrust.  There is also a need to strengthen  integrated multi-disciplinary approach in decision-making over India’s hydro-power projects rather than leaving it to engineers alone  because hydro-power projects on the western rivers fall in the realm of foreign policy. At the field  level efforts should be made to leverage the close historic and cultural ties between farmers in Indian and Pakistan parts of Punjab for sharing  water management experiences. That the Punjab Water Council of Pakistan, a forum of farmers, have already expressed the need to talk to Indian farmers on the issue of water is an indication that stakeholders on either side of the border are ready to take a more integrated view of the river system.


In conclusion I  would like to say that co-operative institutional mechanisms like Joint Data Centres, Regional Environmental Monitoring Centres and platforms like Joint Working Groups for sharing of experiences on technology use, policy and institutional structures will go a long way in paving the ground for a more beneficial management of the river system.  That the arbitration verdicts both in the Baglihar and Kishenganga power projects have chosen to adopt an interpretative approach towards the technical provisions of the treaty in attempts to inform its operations with contemporary international law principles  of environment protection and sustainable development points to the direction in which future development in the basin should move.  While the 2007 Baglihar award upheld India’s right to use state of art technology for building the dam, the 2013 partial award in case of Kishenganga has upheld the need for minimum environmental flows downstream to Pakistan.  In the longer term both countries have to explore every political and cultural opportunity to move towards a joint and holistic management of the river system aimed at sustainable development in the basin and building capacity to face climate change challenges.

Changes in Indus Basin: A Diagnostic Analysis

At a time when the global discourse about water is getting centred around restoring rivers to function as healthy working systems, the discourse in India has again reverted around reviewing and even abrogating the World Bank brokered Indus Water treaty (IWT) signed by India with Pakistan in 1960.  Following  a fiery atmosphere of intensified political conflict between the two neighbours, the river Indus is unfortunately getting seen as a potential political tool. Of course the Government of India has made it clear that it is not in favour of abrogation of the treaty, but of making maximum use of its eligible water share within its framework.  This stand may serve to assuage the people of Jammu & Kashmir who have felt their developmental potential sidelined under the treaty restrictions, but will it assuage the river itself which due to poor management of its resources has turned into a carriture  of its original vibrant free-flowing self?

The Indus basin which once hosted the sub-continent’s oldest and most sophisticated civilization, and today supports a region marked with huge population pressure and immense economic development aspirations, has become one of the most depleted river basins of the world.  Out of an approximate 180 billion cubic metres (bcm) average annual discharge, only around 35-40 bcm flow into the sea, and during certain parts of the year no water reaches the sea.  Pakistan and India withdraw more than 90% of the surface water and extensively mine the groundwater only to support an agriculture system that has one of the world’s lowest water productivities in terms of crop per unit of water and per unit of land.

The Indus Water Treaty, regarded as an example of successful water-sharing conflict that has withstood the test of 3 wars, is basically a water-partitioning agreement  wherein 3 western rivers of the Indus river system were allocated to Pakistan and 3 eastern ones to India. It permits India limited access to the western rivers for irrigation, hydro-power generation and transport with restrictions and conditions aimed at safeguarding Pakistan’s interests. The technical density and nature of division of water, aggravated by the political conflict between India  and Pakistan,  has subjected the treaty to substantial wear and tear.  With the treaty having little  embedded capability of  handling variability arising from environmental degradation, uncertain weather patterns and changing climatic conditions, there is a case for reviewing and upgrading it into a more co-operative water management framework that will increase the viability of irrigation as well as help restore  the river into a healthier functional system.

Vital Statistics of the River: A Grim Picture

The Indus drains over a million sq kms covering the 4 countries of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and India.  With 40% of its watershed being located at elevations of over 2000 metres above sea-level in the relatively young Himalayan mountains, the river is one of the highest carriers of sediment load in the world.  It carries an average of around 510 tonnes/km2/year in comparison with hardly 146 tonnes/km2/year by Brazil’s Amazon river and 38 tonnes/km2/year by the Nile, two  of the world’s longest rivers.  However much of the nutrient rich sediment that used to annually nourish the delta lies trapped behind dams and barrages, adversely affecting storage capabilities of reservoirs, considered as irrigation lifelines in highly seasonally variable river flows, and damaging delta ecosystems.

About 70% of Indus water flow comes from glacial and snow melt with rainfall accounting for the remaining 30%.  Around 85% of water flows into Indus catchment occurs within a period of 3-4 months in summer with flows increasing by over 20 times at peak time due to glacial & snow melt as compared to the drier winter season.  Therefore water flow in Indus is highly seasonally variable which requires sufficient storage capacity so that excess stored water can be made available during lean times.  However the per capita storage per year in Pakistan is hardly 150 cubic metres (cm) amounting to just about 30 days of the river’s annual discharge , while dams in India can store around 120-200  days of annual flow, both of which compare poorly with China’s per capita annual storage of 2200 cm and US’s 5000 cm.

The river irrigates an average of 2,28,694 sq kms i.e. around 21% of the basin area of which around 60% lies in Pakistan and 38% in India.  An agriculture life-line for Pakistan and for Punjab & Haryana in India, the Indus basin contains the world’s largest contiguous irrigation system with several storage reservoirs, barrages, inter-river-links and over a 59,000 km long irrigation canal system with over 1.07000 km long watercourses.  But the viability of irrigated agriculture in the basin is threatened by multiple factors painting a grim picture for food security in a scenario where 40% more food would be  required to feed  the increasing population by 2025. While agricultural yields have increased after the Green Revolution, a water-intensive cropping pattern coupled with poor irrigation efficiency and bad on-farm management practices have continuously decreased the water productivity.

A river with a dynamic geomorphological regime in the past, today Indus  is one of the most engineered rivers with nearly all of its surface water being weir-controlled for irrigation.  Over the last 60 years since the signing of the IWT, the quantity of water flows into the delta has been reduced to a peak of around 35-40 bcm, hardly a tenth of its historical flows.  More importantly out of the 400 million tonnes of nutrient rich sediment that used to flow to the delta, hardly 100 million tonnes today awash the coasts. This water and soil squeeze has led to dying fisheries, coastal erosion, mangroove destruction and salt-water ingress into coastal regions with adverse impacts on livelihoods and ecosystems. In the plains, with primarily embankment-based flood control strategies, the river finds itself cut off from its flood plains, while silt accumulated due to dams and barrages have aggraded the river resulting  in  a super-elevated river in certain areas making it particularly vulnerable to avulsion and floods. Moreover its flood containing capacity has been weakened through rapid draining of wetlands and marshes, underlining the need for moving from aggressive  river-controlling strategies to river management strategies to restore their healthy functionality.

Basin Management: A Diagnostic Analysis

Traditional approach for river management is  essentially hydro-centric wherein the river basin was viewed as a complex physical system based on inter-relationships between the hydrological and geomorphological characteristics of the river.  It looked at water as a resource to be exploited for economic development and therefore emphasized maximum possible yield through techno-scientific applications and the development of mechanisms for most effective water allocation among users.  Applying this approach, the traditional water management and distribution system in the Indus basin was gradually replaced with dams and canal irrigation systems based on modern technical and engineering knowledge, bypassing local water management knowledge and practices.  Starting with ‘colonial canal colonies’ during British time, the techno-engineering approach was aggressively continued by nationalist water engineers of both India and Pakistan after signing of the IWT in 1960.  No doubt the the hydro-centred approach successfully turned the arid Indus plains into thriving agricultural farms, but the transformation has been achieved at the cost of massive environmental degradation, elimination of pastoral economy and marginalisation of small farmers, replacing a diversified cropping pattern with a commercialized monoculture and bypassing traditional water management knowledge and practices.  The once free and volatile Indus which had withstood a mixture of histories, cultures and environments found itself trained and disciplined into straight cemented irrigation channels driven by quantitative hydraulic data and rational models of river control.

IWT:  Paragon of Techno-Engineering Approach

The IWT with its focus on engineering technicalities and legality of water-use by signatories  India and Pakistan is a reflection of the single-sector oriented  hydro-centred techno-engineering approach of river control of the times. Signed in an atmosphere of suspicion amidst Pakistan’s lower riparian anxiety, aggravated by the antagonist political relationship between the two countries, the nationalist engineers and statist negotiators did not concern themselves with more contemporary principles of equitable water sharing or holistic management of the river system.  Instead they divided the river system apportioning 3 whole western rivers to Pakistan and 3 eastern rivers to India with  non-consumptive access to India to the western rivers with maximum permissible  storage of 3.6 million acre feet for irrigation, hydropower generation  and transport.  The treaty is thus more of a conflict-avoidance techno-legal protocol devoid of any ecological or social perspective on the river system.

Water management treated on a techno-engineering-centred approach as opposed to socio-ecological-centred approach tends to ignore the organic nature of water and its relationships with people and livelihoods.  It also tends to reduce the entire river system into mere volumes of flowing waters.  Neglecting the organic nature of water and its relationships with people leads to inability for equitable sharing and preserving the precious resource.  The engineering-dominated supply -side approach focused on water resource development giving scant attention to the manner in which water was used.  The result is that the largest irrigation system in the world is plagued with large scale resource degradation including water-logging & salinity, over-exploited groundwater, poor irrigation efficiency, low water consumption values, lowest water productivity and significant livelihood impacts and biodiversity damage in the delta ecosystems.

Acute Resource Degradation: Water-logging, Salinity and Declining Water-tables

Agriculture experts say that due to diversion of water for irrigation, about 16 million tons of salt which would have drained into the sea along with the water gets accumulated on the irrigated land annually.  Out of 16 million tons only about 2.2 million tonnes gets deposited in a series of evaporation ponds, which means that about 1 tonne of salt per hectare is added to the soil every year.  Absence of natural drainage due to flatness of the plain and insufficiency of the over 15000 km constructed surface drainage has resulted in poor drainage resulting in accumulation of salinity in the basin.  Salinity levels get worsened through the practice of concurrent use of surface and ground water by farmers in an attempt to reduce salinity in the irrigation water and thus avoid  soil  salinization.  Groundwater ensures a reliable, timely, demand-dependent and self-controlled water supply as against the gravity-based low-intensity continuous irrigation supplied by the canal authorities.  In the absence of sufficient knowledge about proper mixing ratios of surface and ground water, farmers at canal-head areas who actually get around 30% more surface water freely use groundwater resulting in water-logging, while farmers at tail-end areas supplement the depleting surface water that reaches them with poor quality groundwater thereby aggravating salinity.  While seepage through unlined canals remain another potent source of water-logging, declining water-tables increase groundwater salinity due to redistribution of salts in the underground acquifer.  An estimated 4.5 million hectares out of total around 16 million hectares of irrigated cropland is currently affected by salinity with the problem being acute in the delta region of Sindh where over 54% of irrigated cropland  is salinity-affected. Agriculture  economists say that land degradation due to water-logging and salinity is decreasing crop production potential in the basin by an estimated 25% valued at a loss of around 250 million dollars per year.

In both India and Pakistan dependence on groundwater is almost equal or exceeds dependence on surface water.  An  analysis of net irrigated area across the basin shows that only 28% of total area is irrigated by surface water canals while 72% is irrigated  by both surface and groundwater.  In 1960 groundwater accounted for only 8% of agricultural water, but today groundwater accounts for around 60-65% of agricultural water across the basin. India has around 1.9 million tube wells while Pakistan has around 1.2 million of which 80% are electricity operated and around 20% diesel-operated.  The multi-fold increase in electricity-operated tube wells in both India and Pakistan during the last 3 decades has been due to subsidized electricity.  Groundwater exploitation which is over 150% across the basin with average water-tables decline of 1.5m/y has affected groundwater quality in irrigated areas as well as crop production in rain-fed areas due to decreased drought resilience.  In Indian Punjab, agriculture experts say 110 blocks out of 138 have been over-exploited i.e. groundwater drawls of over 100%, 3 blocks are in critical stage with groundwater drawls between 90-100% and 2 blocks in semi-critical stage with drawls ranging from 70-90% . Only 23 blocks located in the foot-hills region or areas of poor water quality are safe.  More dependence on predictable and self-controlled groundwater has given India and Pakistan higher yields but groundwater dependence comes with grave environmental externalities.

Low Water Productivity:  Symbol of Poor Water Management

Though the basin commands over 59,000 km long canal network with over 107000 km long watercourses, irrigation efficiency is only around 35-40% from canal head-waters to crop-root zone.  Around 50% of total surface water inputs are lost to canal and water course seepage, filed application losses and evapo-transpiration. Besides seepage through unlined canals, poor on-farm practices like water-inefficient traditional land-leveling methods, tillage, inefficient irrigation systems including overland channels and flush irrigation has resulted in water consumption values of hardly 15-20%, one of the lowest in the world.  Water productivity in Pakistan for wheat is hardly 0.5kg/cubic mts of water as against 1.0kg/cubic mts of water in India, both of which compare poorly with California’s 1.5kg/cubic mts of water.  However it must be mentioned that agricultural yields have increased substantially in the basin since the Green revolution with wheat yields increasing 125% and rice yields by around 175%.

Sustainable Water Management: Only Way Ahead

There is an absolute and urgent need for more prudent water management both from the demand and supply sides to improve irrigation viability and long-term sustainability of irrigated agriculture in the basin.  But since 90% of the annual river discharge is already being withdrawn, supply side augmentation can only be done through increased water efficiency.  Demand management remains the key to better water management in the basin. Changing cropping patterns to reduce acreage under water-intensive crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane, and cotton in favour of less water-intensive but high-value crops like oilseeds, maize, pulses, vegetables & fruits is necessary.    There is need to limit rice cultivation, specially in water-scare and salinity-affected delta areas in the Sindh region, to domestic consumption needs so that virtual water export through rice exports is reduced. Improved water-saving farming practices like precision land-leveling, mulching & bed-planting in case of wheat crop which saves about 18-25% of water, alternate wet and dry irrigation in rice crop or direct seed rice plantation both of which methods save about 25% water should be encouraged and incentivized   Similarly prevention of water losses by replacing unlined open water courses with underground pipes coupled with increased use efficient irrigation systems like drip and sprinkler can vastly increase irrigation efficiency.  The good news is that farmers are increasingly adopting resource conservation technologies like zero tillage drills and laser land leveling with appreciable increases in yields.  Approximately 54% of farmers in Punjab use zero tillage drills, while around 90% use laser land leveling.   However drip irrigation use in both Punjab and Haryana is just about 0.5% against a potential of around 6%.  The percentage of sprinkler irrigation in Punjab is around 0.5 % compared to a high of 30% in Haryana.

In view of over 150% average groundwater exploitation across the basin there is an imperative need for acquifer management through a balance between discharge and recharge. Artificial recharge of groundwater through means like construction of rain-water conserving re-charge ponds in farms, recharge shafts along highways, roof-top rainwater harvesting by urban and rural households and digging and maintenance of village ponds could go a long way in sustainable management of groundwater overdraft in the basin.  To tackle water-logging problems in canal-head areas and salinity in canal-tail areas, upstream farmers should be encouraged to use more groundwater which is fresh and tail-end farmers to use less ground-water which is saline.  But to change the current water-use practice of excessive surface and groundwater by head-end farmers and excessive ground-water by tail-end farmers, canal authorities have to regulate canal water flows to ensure that tail-end farmers get timely and sufficient water. It  may be difficult to quickly change long-standing water-use practices, but logical motivation programmes could lead farmers towards the needed change.  Similarly logical motivation is required to combat salinity through methods like  promotion of use of gypsum or organic matter or acids or planting bio-drainage trees like poplars, eucalyptus or growing salinity-resilient grasses or fodders also useful for livestock.

New Compact for Sustainable River System Management:

Sustainable management of the river system requires a renewed Indus Compact which will effectively de-centre the technical engineering approach based on expertise of water engineers, and harness instead the expertise and experiences of a whole lot of social constituencies across the basin.  This will involve a co-operative dialogue between different river-based communities on either side of the border such as fishermen, irrigation-dependent farmers, river ecologists, water historians, sociologists, water experts, agriculture economists, etc.  These plural narratives can impart the new Indus Compact with the much needed social and ecological perspective, and has the potential to transform the  hydro-politics of the basin into  mutually beneficial co-operation aimed at  more prudent management of the basin’s fast depleting water resources, besides addressing environmental degradation issues as well as climate change challenges..


काला पानी की सजा भुगत रहे कई गांव

नदी है, पानी है। पानी से घिरे खेत-खलिहान। किंतु सदा नीरा नहीं, है जहरीला। 13 बरस से अभिशप्त इलाका। आम जिंदगी, उर्वर धरती, हरियाली पर काली साया, मनुषमारा का। ‘मनुषमारा’ एक नदी है, जिसे लोग कहते रहे हैं जीवनदायिनी। ये ही आज छिन रही हैं लोगों की खुशियां, खेतों की उर्वरता, फसलों की हरियाली। देने को दे रही सिर्फ गंभीर बीमारीजनित काला पानी, जहरीला जल। ताउम्र के लिए बच्sitamarhi 1 sitamarhi 2चे-बूढ़े हो रहे विकलांग, इलाका उजाड़। यही तो कहानी है रून्नीसैदपुर व बेलसंड के कई गांवों की।

सीतामढ़ी के रून्नीसैदपुर व बेलसंड के आधा दर्जन गांवों के लिए मानो ‘मनुषमारा’ नदी अभिशाप बन गयी है। उत्तर बिहार के इस सुदूर इलाके के लोग 15 साल से काला पानी की सजा भुगत रहे हैं। खड़का पंचायत के भादा टोला गांव समेत हरिदोपट्टी, अथरी, रैन विशुनी, बगाही रामनगर पंचायतों की स्थिति बनी भयावह है। हजारों एकड़ जमीन पर काला व जहरीला पानी पसरा हुआ है। इसके चलते लोगों की खेती गयी। आजीविका का साधन छीन गया है और मुफ्त में मिल रहीं गंभीर बीमारियां। पशु-पक्षी, कीट-पतंग मर रहे हैं। जलनिकासी के लिए प्रखंड व जिला मुख्यालयों पर ग्रामीणों ने आंदोलन चलाया, लेकिन समस्या का समाधान नहीं हुआ। अधिकारी बेफ्रिक हैं, और लोग परेशान। काला पानी का असर खेतों से लेकर घरों तक हो रहा है। सबसे अधिक प्रभावित भादा टोला है, जो रसायन घुले पानी से घिरा है। इस गांव के लगभग दो दर्जन लोग विकलांग हो चुके हैं। लालबाबू राम, रामसकल राम, सुखदेव राम, कुलदीप राम व राजदेव मंडल पुरी तरह निःशक्त हो गये हैं। चलने-फिरने में असमर्थ हैं। सगरी देवी, सुमित्रा देवी, सगरी देवी, कुसमी देवी समेत दो दर्जन लोग विकलांगता के शिकार हो चुके हैं। भादाडीह टोला के ही चार लोग हसनी देवी, बलम राम, सिंकिंद्र राम व विनय राम कुष्ठ रोग से ग्रसित हैं। बलम राम बताते हैं कि हम अभिशाप ढो रहे हैं। हमें सिर्फ आश्वासन मिला है। कोई मदद करने नहीं आया है। ‘जल ही जीवन है, लेकिन इनके लिए पानी मौत बन चुकी है’ जुमला बन गया है।
इस इलाके का करीब 20,000 एकड़ भूभाग दूषित पानी में डूबा है। स्थिति इतनी भयावह हो गयी है कि यहां के लोग अपनी माटी, अपना गांव छोड़कर पलायन करने को मजबूर हैं। पिछले दिनों तिरहुत प्रक्षेत्र के आयुक्त अतुल कुमार ने रून्नीसैदपुर के दो गांवों भादा टोल व हरिदोपट्टी का दौराकर वहां की अभिशप्त जिंदगी को निकट से देखकर द्रवित हुए। लौटकर उन्होंने अपनी वेबसाइट पर पूरी रिपोर्ट लिखी थी। इन गांवों में अधिकारियों की टीम जाकर शिविर लगाया और बुनियादी जरूरतों को पूरी करने की पहल शुरू की, लेकिन उनके तबादले के बाद सबकुछ स्थिर हो गया। रैन विशुनी पंचायत के मुखिया प्रेमशंकर सिंह कहते हैं कि यहां के किसान मर रहे हैं। जलजमाव के कारण फसल नहीं हो रहा है। जो जमीन सूखी है, वहां जंगल उग गये हैं। बनसुगर से लेकर कई जंगली जानवरों से लोग परेशान हैं। जमीन भी नहीं बिक रही है। जमीन से कुछ नहीं मिला, फिर भी मालगुजारी देनी पड़ती है। लोग निराश हो चुके हैं। लेबर तो पलायन कर गये, लेकिन किसान कहां जाये।
यह समस्या 1997 की बाढ़ के बाद तब शुरू हुआ, जब मधकौल गांव के पास बागमती नदी का बायां तटबंध टूटने के कारण मनुषमारा नदी, जो बागमती से मिलती थी, उसका मुहाना ब्लाॅक हो गया और उसका एक किनारा बेलसंड कोठी के पास टूट गया। इसके बाद इसका पानी रून्नीसैदपुर से लेकर बेलसंड से धरहरवा गांव तक फैल गया। उधर, रीगा चीनी मिल से निकलने वाला कचरा इस जलधारा के जरिये करीब दो दर्जन गांवों तक पहुंच गया और समस्या को और भयावह बना दिया।
प्रेमशंकर सिंह बताते हैं कि बागमती पर रिंग बांध बनाने से यह समस्या उत्पन्न हुई। इसका समाधान जलनिकासी ही है। इसके लिए नहर खोदकर इस पानी को निकाला जाये, लेकिन यह संभव होता नहीं दिख रहा है। काला पानी की जलनिकासी के लिए अनवरत संघर्ष चलते रहे हैं। एक दशक पूर्व ही राज्य के जल संसाधन विभाग ने जलनिकासी के लिए एक विस्तृत योजना बनानी शुरू की, जो आज तक अमल में नहीं आयी। अभी हाल में नेशनल ग्रीन ट्रिब्यूनल (एनजीटी) ने पर्यावरण मानकों के उल्लंघन के लिए रीगा चीनी मिल को नोटिस जारी किया।

  • संतोष सारंग

Water Management in Transboundary Rivers

Political boundaries are drawn without any consideration to river basin boundaries.  There are 263 rivers crossing international boundaries, but only 143 of them have developed any mechanism for co-operative water management, while 158 lack any such water management framework.  These international water courses account for almost 60% of global run-off and affect roughly 40% of the world population.  Disparities between riparian countries in economic development, institutional capacity, infrastructure and political orientation often give rise to multilateral or bilateral disputes.  But what could really trigger social and economic instability in these international watersheds include factors like climate change, deteriorating ecosystems, demand for non-fossil fuel energy, continued population growth and aging infrastructure.  Co-operation on shared water resources is critical, special in water scarce countries,  where upstream and downstream impacts of consumption and pollution are highly magnified.  Managing the interdependence of transboundary waters is one of the greatest human development challenges of the international community.

Traditional approaches to Transboundary Water Management:

The river basin has a singular importance as unit of analysis in relation to water because the river basin as a territorial unit enables us to understand the complexity it composes, being part of and embedded in a larger socio-ecological system.  Since the basin involves the water cycle, land use as well as a variety of relationships and interactions within  different levels from regional to national to municipal, which in turn involves different geographical scales of analysis, an integrative approach becomes imperative.  An integrated approach demands the establishment of appropriate legal instruments, institutions and management tools at the river-basin, sub-basin and regional levels.

.Traditional  approaches to governance of international water resources are largely geared towards meeting national demands of water and emphasize the state as the appropriate geographical scale of analysis.  These traditional approaches also rely on the certainty that historical data covering water supply, demand values, and ecosystem health can be used to predict the future.   In addition they protect sovereignty through clear-cut rules for dividing water resources rather than flexibility to adapt to change and to  foster resilience of the system.   Managers of transboundary river systems are facing increasing challenges related to conflicting national interests, power disparities between riparian countries, differences in national institutional capacities, limited information and data exchange, besides lack of sufficient basin-scale knowledge and institutional capacity for decision-making.   Characterised by state-centric  top-down management aimed at maximisation of yield, with heavy reliance on scientific and technological expertise while  by-passing community or indigenous knowledge, the traditional approaches are poorly suited to face conditions of uncertainty and unpredictability related to climate change. However there is an increasing  emphasis on collaborative management  of socio-ecological systems like river basins which aims at building their resilience in the face of uncertainty and unpredictability.

Resilience and Sustainability:

Like other forms of common pool resources, transboundary rivers are complex dynamic socio-ecological systems,  the governance of which requires the recognition of links and complex feed-backs between the social and ecological components of the system, as against traditional natural resource management approach which involves a one-way management by the social system for services from the ecological system in return.  Resilience theory is one such theory which provides a framework for understanding the coupled complexity within a socio-ecological system, which helps to develop governance systems aimed at enhancing its resilience and thus  its sustainability.    When applied to ecological systems without a human component, resilience theory focuses on the capacity of the system to return to its prior level of self-organisation following a disturbance and the degree to which that capacity is influenced by changes. When applied to social systems, resilience is the ability of human communities to withstand and recover from stresses.  By viewing governance in a way that recognizes the coupled complexity, rather than as a feature independent of the ecological system it manages, resilience can be enhanced both from the natural adaptive capabilities of the ecological system,  as well as the ability of the social system to respond to ecological problems by seeking to restore the ecosystem.  Resilience theory thus focuses on the broader social context within which the ecosystem functions, and provides an umbrella theory for integration of concepts of natural resource management with ecological response to achieve sustainability.  Traditional natural resource management approach, on the other hand, focuses on the optimization of yield or efficiency through tight control of the system at the cost of its resilience or inbuilt self-organising capability to deliver the full range of services.  A system thus compromised on its resilience is vulnerable to be shifted to a threshold into a new regime of function and structure that may fail to provide the full range of ecological services.

Adaptive Management and Polycentric Governance :  An Imperative Need

In Resilience theory, the concept of adaptive management has been used to describe a process of learning through the monitoring of ecosystem response to a particular action followed by incremental change in the action based on what is learnt.  The concept includes the process of feedback to a managing agency from the monitoring of the response of the ecosystems.  Adaptive governance has emerged at the intersection of common pool resources and resilience of complex socio-ecological systems.  Adaptive governance moves from a focus on efficiency and lack of overlap among jurisdictional authorities to a focus on diversity, redundancy and multiple levels of management that includes a role for local knowledge and local action.  Adaptive governance is polycentric governance with many centres of decision-making, formally independent of each other, but very closely co-ordinated.  The diversity and overlap among several jurisdictions with authority to mange the same ecological resource inherent in adaptive governance  is preferable to the hierarchical management with  clear cut divisions of authority  of the traditional management modes.   Polycentric governance views local capacity building for purposes of self governance as key to effective governance, and therefore.seeks to grant a larger voice and decision making power to local institutions or actors, while retaining a network of state and federal institutions,  without surrendering total control to local authorities.  The redundancy of management actually enhances the resilience of the system.  Polycentric regimes with multiple centres of authority but one main centre of horizontal and vertical co-ordination are more likely to adopt sound good governance practices like stakeholder participation, transparent water allocation, equitable water management practices and climate-friendly policies.

International Law for Transboundary River Governance:

International law has primarily been concerned with the development and optimal use of international watercourses, and it is only recently that the ecological services provided by water and the resulting importance of protecting water quality have become concerns of international watercourses law.  Further hydrological relations between surface water in rivers and lakes and ground water have become better understood leading to calls to international law to extend to connected ground water systems  as well.

A rich body of customary law has been developed in response to conflicts over use of shared watercourses.  These include the 1957 Lac Lanoux Arbitration between Spain and France in  which the tribunal upheld the general obligations of upstream users to notify downstream users and to take their interest into account through good faith negotiations.  Similarly in the 1997 case between Hungary and Slovakia concerning the Gabcikovo Nagynoros Dam, the International Court of Justice reiterated the principle of ‘community of interest’ which provides for equality of all riparian states in the use of the whole course of a shared river, and excludes any preferential privilege of any one riparian state.  The principle requires that state boundaries should be ignored and a basin should be regarded and managed as an integrated unit.  The court decision also added concern over the environment as an important dimension of international law emphasizing that environmental protection and vigilance is required on account of the often irreversible character of damage to the environment.  These principles of customary law have now been expressed in the United Nations Framework Convention on the Law of Non-Navigable Uses of International Watercourses of 1997, and the International Law Commission Draft Articles on the law of Transboundary Acquifiers.

The International Watercourses Framework Convention establishes a number of key principles to which all watercourses states in their agreements governing shared watercourses should adhere to and adapt to suit their unique needs.  The first principle is that watercourse states shall utilize an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner.  Secondly watercourse states are obliged to take all appropriate measures to prevent the causing of significant harm to other watercourse states, and where harm has nevertheless taken place to ‘take all appropriate measures to eliminate or mitigate such harm, and where appropriate to discuss the question of compensation’.  Third it mandates all riparian states to co-operate on the basis of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit and good faith in order to attain optimal utilisation and adequate protection of an international watercourse.  The Convention sees co-operation as critical to the implementation of the conflicting principles of equitable utilisation and prevention of significant harm, to be achieved by establishing joint mechanisms for attaining optimal utilisation and adequate protection of the international watercourse.  Fourthly watercourse states are required to regularly exchange information on the condition of the watercourse.  And fifthly the Convention mandates a watercourse state seeking to implement planned measures which are  likely to have significant adverse impact upon other watercourse states to provide the latter with timely notification. The Convention also requires all watercourses states to individually and jointly protect and preserve the ecosystems of international watercourses.

However it must be noted that political and financial constraints have made it difficult for many countries of the world to adopt the International Waters Convention, 1997.  More than 17 years  after its adoption by the vast majority of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Convention has obtained only 36 ratifications which has however  enabled it to enter into force  on 17th August, 2014. .  However a whole lot of key countries remain outside its scope.


Global climate change will pose a wide range of difficulties to water courses, altering water quality, water quantity, systems operations and imposing new governance complications.  For countries whose water-sheds and river-basins are within their national boundaries, adaptive water management will be a difficult enough task.  But for countries with transboundary watercourses implicating  a multiplicity of political entities and actors, water management will be very difficult requiring the engagement and co-ordination of all actors across the basin.  Besides most transboundary river agreements are based on the assumption that supply and quality of water will not change much or will change marginally, and do not include adequate mechanisms for coping with social, economic or climatic conditions.  There is therefore the need to improve the flexibility of existing inter-basin agreements.  This will need efforts for creating flexible water allocation strategies and water quality criteria, agreements on response strategies for extreme weather events like floods and droughts, development of clear amendment and review procedures to allow for changes in hydrological or climatic conditions, and establishment of joint management institutions to facilitate  climate vulnerability assessments.  With water no more remaining a local or national or even a regional issue, there is need for global water management to take over.

Effective Water Governance: Need of the Hour

Water is identified as the 3rd largest risk in the World Economic Forum Risk Report, 2015. A growing population pressure on finite water resources, coupled with industrialisation and urbanisation, globalisation and trade treaties are resulting in increasing demand for water and upstream-downstream conflicts. Further the physical availability of water does not guarantee a safe and affordable water supply to all.  The latest Global Environment Outlook says that if the present unsustianable trends of water use and management continue, then about 1.8 billion of world population will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity by 2030 and about 60% of world population  could be subject to water stress. The resulting decline in water quantity and quality will be exacerbated by climate change. The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, 2014, has established that fresh water resources have the vulnerability to be strongly impacted by climate change with wide-reaching impacts on societies and ecosystems. Due to global waring and associated changes in hydrological cycle on account of changing precipitation patterns and receding glaciers, most of the world’s water-stressed areas will get less water, while while flows will become less predictable and more subject to extreme weather events and floods. With its inextricable links to food security, economic development and energy nexus, water scarcity is becoming one of the defining problems of the 21st century.

Water Crisis- A Crisis of Governance

Water is unevenly distributed both spatially and temporally.  It is even more unevenly distributed among different strata of society and among different competing uses. While availability of water is a concern for some countries, at the heart of today’s water crisis lies power, inequity and poverty.  Part of the problem lies in the unique characteristics of water as a public good. Because of its life-sustaining character, water is a basic human need.  But scarcity and competing demands on its use makes water also an economic good.  Water of an acceptable quality is required to maintain ecosystem services and sustain ecosystem integrity.  So water is also an environmentally essential good.  One of the main reasons for the water crisis, according to Vandana Shiva, a well-known India-based water expert, is the commodification of water which has led to increased control on water management by multinational corporations.  The World Bank and IMF have in the past ecouraged many developing countries to privatize water supply in the hope of increased efficiency in its management.  The involvement of profit-oriented MNCs has reduced the involvement of citizens in water management.  With the withdrawl of subsidies, both direct and cross, on the advice of these international financial institutions, the poor have often found themselves shut out from water access due to increased prices, sparking unrest in many parts of the world.  With water use growing at more than twice the growth rate of polulation, the challenge of water management lies in meeting the basic needs of humans, both present and future geneations, needs of the environment, and in ensuring that water of acceptable quality is available for use in agriculture and industry without compromising ecosystems integrity.

Water crisis has aptly been described by the UN as a crisis of governance rather than a physical scarcity of water.  The world’s water problem stem from our failure to meet basic human needs, ineffective or inappropriate institutions and management, and our inability to balance human needs with those of the natural world.  These maladies are rooted in a wasteful use of water characterised by poor management systems, improper economic incentives, under-investment, failure to apply appropriate technology, and an antiquated mindset focussed on developing new supplies to the exclusion of increasing conservation, efficiency, and effective demand management.   Water management is far from being a technical issue involving endeavours to match supply with demand through application of science and technology, rational problem solving approaches with stakeholder involvement, etc.  Water management is about shifting patterns to a contested and scare resource, and is inherently a political issue.

Politics of Water Regimes:

The core business of water management is about coping with variability.  it is related to storing excess water from wet periods to bridge dry periods, protecting low-lying areas from floods, balancing withdrawals between upstream and downstream, and balancing water uses between socio-economic activities and ecological uses.  Hydrological interactions are typified  with commonplace upstream-downstream effect in which down-streamers have to cope with variations in hydrological regimes occurring in the upstream. Socio-political structures shape the way natural resources are used and benefits and risks are distributed.  dominant interests and distribution of decision-making powers get reflected in decisions regarding the management and development of water resources.  through engineering, design, cost-benefit analysis, and through environment impact assessments  and strategic impact assessments, the provision of a public good like water gets intertwined with political and financial interests.  it is not incidental that polluted areas, water-short neighbourhoods and flood-prone localities are co-related with higher levels of poverty and vulnerability.  Paradigmatic example of asymmetries of power in water management is the way cities siphon off water away froma griculture through administrative fief, and rarely through the market, thus imposing externalities on citizens in terms of pollution, flood damage, acquifier depletion, etc.  And industry while siphoning off groundwater without paying market price sucees in shifting costs in terms of pumping stations, falling water tables and water stress to tax payers as a whole.

In an ineffective water governance regime, decision -makers or interest groups manage to frame the water management discourse in favour of certain  interests such that the voice of the impacted weaker sections is limited or unheard sicne they have little access to channels of information.  There is a tendency to depoliticize water management problems by clothing inherently political debates through the use of political technologies using scientific or technical or neutral terms.  But the need of the hour is to acknowledge the political dimension of water development and management, and re-politicize the issue through a re-balance of decision-making and discoursive power towards the empowerment of the community as a whole.

Not and Bolts of  Effective Water  Governance:

Amidst a growing recognition over the last sixty years that technology and infrastructure alone are not sufficient to address persistent water problems, discourse about water governance began to emerge in particular withe the Dublin International Conference on Water & development in 1992.  Early thinking about water governance was based on highly centralised systems emphasizing the role of governments in water management.  Today however the term water governance is used more broadly to describe the political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place, and which directly or indirectly affect the use, development and management of water resources and the delivery of water services to various levels of society.  A governance regime  is a system of formal institutions, water legislations, informal institutions like social norms and customs for water-sharing, as well as actor networks for policy formulation and implementation.  Water governance regimes address, among other things, principles of equity and efficiency in water allocation and distribution, water administration based on catchments, need for integrated mamagement of water, and the need to balance water use for socio-economic activitiers and ecosystems.  They calrify the roles of governments, civil society and the private sector in terms of ownership, management of water resources and water services.  Good governance requires the involvement of the public, and the interests of all stakeholders must be included in the management & development of water resources.

Water governance is important because how societies choose to govern their water resources has great impact on people’s livelihoods and sustainable development of ecosystems.  Socially how water resources and related services are distributed have direct impact on people’s health and livelihoods.  Efficient and equitable use of water resources is critical for poverty alleviation.  At the political level, all water stakeholders and citizens, including marginalised sections like indigenous people, slum-dwellers, small farmers, women, etc should have equal opportunity to influence and monitor water management decisions and their outcomes.  The environment dimension of water governance is critical to ensure that water use takes into account the need to maintain ecosystem services.  As opportunities for increasing water supply decrease in many parts of the world, competition over current supplies increases creating the need for improved water governance.

Water governance decisions are anchored in three levels – government, civil society and the private sector.  Facilitating dynamic interactions among tham and promoting dialogue and partnership is critical for water refors and improving water governance.  It must be noted that water governance depends not only on specific institutions mandated to govern water, but also on the overall governance context of the country.  If the country lacks essential democratic institutions like right to freedom of speech, right to information and right to organize, then participatory approaches to water management will suffer.  Similarly in the face of lack of information about water availability and water quality, people will have little chance to halt environmentally harmful projects or hold governments accountable for ill-governance.  water use and distribution is also affected by facts and circumstances outside the water sector.  For example global markets and trade agreements can affect the choices of crops with serious implications for water demand in the agricultural sector.  Water reforsm must therefore take into account social, economical and political conditions outside the water sector that can have direct or indirect impact on water resources.

Water Reforms around the World:

With slowly emerging changes in the predominant economic development paradigm towards a more balanced approach which recognizes the importance of investment in natural capital and the need to maintain ecosystem services and livelihoods, many countries are moving towards a greener economy.  In the face of increasing pressure on water resources, acute competition for water, declining water quality and a continuing need for improving access to water and sanitation, water reforms have become an imperative need. Climate change has made water resources management more challenging imposing major possibilities of rapid variability and unpredictability of water flows.   Many countries are therefore moving away from the traditional water governance modes dominated by top-down approach topwards bottom-up approaches which harness the knowledge, understanding and expertise of local people.

Water being essentially a local issue, its management requires a plethora of stakeholders at the municipal, basin, national, regional and international levels.  In the face of absence of effective public governance to manage the interdependence across policy areas and between levels of government, water policy-makers face obstacles in effectively formulating and implementing water reforms related to institutional and territorial fragmentation, limited institutional capacity, questionable resource allocation and unclear allocation of roles and responsibilities of different agencies.  Insufficient means for measuring performance contribute to weak accountability and transparency.  Similarly insufficient hydrological data and networks for sharing information poses difficulties specially in transboundary rivers.  The nexus between water, energy, agriculture and environment also present significant challenges for water policy reforms.  Due to silo nature of governmental functioning, policies across water, energy, agriculture and environment are formulated without sufficient consideration of their inter-relationship. For example, as countries confront water resources constraints they turn to energy-intensive solutions like long-haul water and desalination, and when confronted with energy constraints, they resort to water-intensive options like biofuels and steam-cycle power plants.  Institutional arrangements need to be re-engineered to create a greater intersection between policy formulation and implementation across these areas.

Water reforms in many countries have typically included components linked to decentralisation of water decision-making, increasing stakeholder participation, promoting incentives for more and better public-private partnerships, privatization of water delivery/distribution services, community involvement and clarification of isntitutional roles and responsibilities through formal legislation or informal customary law.  Local stakeholder participation has facilitated more informed decision-making, more effective implementation and enhanced conflict-resolution, besides giving voice to relatively powerless groups like subsistence farmers, indigenous people, traditional fishermen, women, etc.  However it must be said that water economies in most developing countries remain largely informal with little interface between users and public institutions.   In some countries, reform efforts have largely focussed on direct regulation and management, over-estimating the capacity of legal provisions to influence water use patterns, while sidelining incentive-based approaches which can deliver better results.

Privitasiation: A Controversial Issue

Although various private enterprises, community based organisations, water-users associations and NGOs can play important roles in partnership with government agencies in better delivery of water services, the privatization of water supply is a particularly controversial issue and bogged in ideological debates.  Since water is such a vital part of the economy and infrastructure, it is not surprising that there has been an enormous push for privatization of water services.  Some privatization programmes have produced positive results, but some have been catastrophies like the case of Cochabamba in Bolivia in 2000, when a consortium of private companies led by American corporate Bechtel had to quit the contract due to public unrest, and then file an arbitration case with the International Centre for the Resolution of Investment Disputes for losses of over 25 million dollars. The overall record of water services privatization is therefore not encouraging.  From Argentina to Bolivia and from Philiphines to the US, the conviction that the private sector offers a magic solution for unleasing efficiency and equity neede to accelerate progress towards the goal of ‘water for all’ has proved to be misplaced.  While these failures of private water contracts do not provide evidence that the private sector have no  role to play, they do point the need for greater caution, better regulation and a greater committment to equity in public-private partnerships. Weak or non-existent governmental regulations for the protection of the poor can result in a case of ‘no payment, no supply’. Weak regulations can also result in market-based rules pushing water rights from low-value use to high-value users like industry.  In such cases, the water sector ceases to be a social responsibility, and water changes from being a social good to a mere commercial commodity. The conclusion of the 4th World Water Forum held in Japan in 2006 that governments should have the primary role in providing water access without precluding the role of the private sector in providing some of the services highlights the democratic accountability of the state for the provision of water services.


In conclusion, given the complexities of water use within the society, allocating, developing and managing water resources with equity and sustainability requires that disparate voices with different perceptions of water are heard and respected in decisions regarding its use.  In conflicts ocer water, the dispute is not exclusively or mainly socio-environmental, but also economical, political, cultural and territorial. Therefore the issue of water governance has to encompass all these different dimensions.  Developing effective water governance and management practices grounded in equity and sustainabiluty is indeed one of the challenges of societies in the 21st century.






Ozone killing enough crops to feed millions of poor


Subhra Priyadarshini

Ozone pollution is destroying 12% of India’s annual cereal production – enough to feed 94 million people below the poverty line through the year. This startling estimate has been revealed in the first ever calculation of ozone pollution in the country¹.

A study by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune points a finger at the absence of air quality standards to protect agriculture from ground-level ozone pollution, primarily from vehicles and cooking stoves.

Ground level ozone is the main component of smog and is formed when polluting vehicles, industries or burning matter emit nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants react with sunlight to form ground level ozone, which is killer for vegetations.

Sachin Ghude

IITM scientist Sachin Ghude and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California San Diego carried out the modeling study, supported by emission inventories and crop production data. They quantified the impact of ozone on the yields of cotton, soybeans, rice and wheat crops in India for the year 2005, an year they used as representative of the first decade of the 21st century.

Through the simulation studies, the scientists estimated that wheat was the most impacted crop – every year the country was losing around 3.5 metric tonnes – followed by rice at around 2.1 metric tonnes, mostly in central and north India.

On national scale, this loss is about 12% of the cereals required every year (61.2 Mt) under the provision of recently implemented National Food Security Bill (September-2013) by Government of India, the duo report.

“This study, since it was led by Indian government institutions, should have a major impact on the country’s approach to air pollution mitigation. It should speed up India’s attempts to drastically cut pollution,” Ramanathan told Nature India. High surface ozone concentration over major agriculture regions in India, particularly the Indo-Gangetic Plains, one of the world’s most important fertile agricultural lands is a threat to the country’s food security, the scientists say. They estimate that ozone concentrations will only increase further in the future.

The greatest losses of rice and wheat crops were reported from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Uttaranchal states.

“The possible ways to minimize these losses is to reduce anthropogenic emissions especially from vehicular and Industrial source and cooking stoves,” Ghude points out. He says another alternative could be to breed ozone-tolerant crops.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan

Ramanathan says some off-the-shelf technologies could be put to use immediately to cut the most damaging pollution – the emission of nitrous oxides from the transportation sector. “This contributes to more than half of the nitrous oxides produced and controlling it would have a major impact in reducing ozone. In so doing, we will also reduce the global warming effect of ozone,” he says.

The study puts India’s economic losses from ozone-induced crop damage at $1.29 billion in 2005, mostly stemming from losses in rice and wheat crops.


1. Ghude, S. D. et al. Reductions in India’s crop yield due to ozone. Geophys. Res. Lett.(2014) doi: 10.1002/2014GL060930

Nepal’s forest users cope with climate stress on water


DANG, Sept 14: In June this year, thousands of farmers, especially in Nepal´s western region, were wrestling with rain deficit, constantly gazing toward the sky devoid of monsoon clouds.

In some areas badly affected by the weak monsoon, farmers were seen irrigating their parched crop fields with water supplied through pipes.
But, in Hapur village of Dang district, the picture was entirely different. Even as farmers reeled under the drought-like situation elsewhere, the Hapur villagers remained unaffected.

“The monsoon was late and weak this time around,” says Puni Kala Khadka, president of Chandra Jyoti Community Forest Users Group (CFUG), which has 124 families of Hapur as its members. “But, we had no problems at all.”

A woman in Makawanpur district walks through the jungle to fetch water in this recent photo. (Bijaya Gajmer/Republica)

Before this year´s paddy plantation season began, Chandra Jyoti CFUG built a canal to use irrigation water from a local stream. “Had this canal not been built, our crop fields would have parched like elsewhere,” says Khadka.

Due to what scientists have dubbed as a result of climate change, monsoon rains, the backbone of Nepal´s agriculture, are becoming erratic. Farmers are becoming more vulnerable to threats of droughts or floods than ever before.

This year, Meteorological Forecasting Division (MFD) announced monsoon´s arrival one week later than the usual date. But, even thereafter, it remained ineffective till mid-July, sparking fears of dismal crop output. Farmers felt relieved only after monsoon rains became more even and intense by July end.
“Rains are no longer reliable,” says Khadka. “Fortunately, we have this irrigation canal now.”

However, hundreds of thousands of farmers are not as fortunate as the Hapur villagers. They are still deprived of irrigation facilities. According to the Department of Irrigation (DoI), nearly 500,000 hectares of Nepal´s cultivable land still lack irrigation facilities.

Worse, the rate at which the DoI is expanding the irrigation coverage area is disappointing. “At the current rate, it will take us at least 25 years to expand irrigation coverage to the whole cultivable land,” says Basistha Raj Adhikari, a water resources management specialist.

Adhikari says the pace of irrigation coverage expansion cannot be accelerated only institutional and policy reforms are carried out. “In the existing scenario, farmers´ dependency on rain water cannot be done away with,” says Adhikari.

However, farmers in remote villages cannot afford to wait for institutional and policy reforms. They have already started to deal with their problems in whichever way or scale they can. And, forest users, affiliated to over 18,000 groups and spread across the country, are turning out to be a pioneer in this battle.

As climate change puts tremendous stress on water resources by driving the monsoon erratic and accelerating the Himalaya glacier melting rate, Nepal´s community forest users, as in Hapur village, are exploring their own ways to cope with the looming water crisis.

Community forest users are building canals, ponds, reservoirs and better managing watersheds. Under the government´s ambitious Multi -Stakeholder Forestry Program (MSFP), supported by the governments of the UK, Finland and Switzerland, community forest users are getting support to identify their climate-induced problems and solve them.

“Ours is a bottom-up approach,” says Ramu Subedi, the MSFP team leader. “We encourage forest users to identify climate hazards and enable them to cope with them. We do not impose adaptation programs from the top.”

In its 2007 report, the United Nations (UN) panel on climate change has stated that water and its availability and quality will come under immense pressure in the wake of global temperature rise. What the UN panel states seems a reality in Nepal as well.

Forest users are now preparing Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA), a village-specific document that helps the local communities adapt to the effects of climate change by identifying their climate hazards, along with their periodic operation plans. And, in most villages, water scarcity and irrigation problem appear to be the most common climate hazards.

“The severest stress of climate change is on our water resources — be it drinking water or irrigation,” says Subedi. “So, under the MSFP, we are helping local communities deal with these problems apart from mitigating the effects of climate change through forest conservation.”

Subedi adds, “Our National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) document has identified 1.1 million households as vulnerable to climate change. We want reduce vulnerability of around 0.5 million households in a period of 10 years.”

In Hapur village, Chandra Jyoti CFUG allocated Rs 30,000 for the canal construction. Under the MSFP, the CFUG members got an assistance of Rs 50,000. The locals also made labor contribution worth about Rs 40,000.

“This project does not look big but effective enough to help the locals to adapt to climate change,” says Kul Bahaudr Lamichhane, a district committee member of the Federation of Community Forest Users Nepal (FECOFUN). “As in Hapur, forest users are coping with climate change by managing their water resource elsewhere as well.”

Published on 2014-09-15 10:29:37