Changing Behaviour for
Better Water Management


The South Asian sub-continent has the Brahmaputra river flowing through Tibet into the Bay of Bengal via Assam. The Ganges flows from Nepal to India and becomes Meghna downstream before flowing through Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. The Ganges delta thus formed with 400 million people is the world's largest delta. These are vast and highly-fertile sediment-laden areas. Both these rivers constitute the GBM basin of an area of over 1.7 million km2. India is a major stakeholder in the usage of both these rivers as a major portion of them are present in the Indian territory with 79% of the Ganges in India and 36% of the Brahmaputra. But the whole region is facing a common threat. Climate change does not respect borders. Climate change induced disasters such as cyclones, floods, sea level rise or drought are trans-border shocks. This added to the existing geopolitical and environmental pressures poses a great threat to the water security of this region.

Studies show that water availability influences behaviours very strongly. Cross-boundary rivers such as the ones in the basin are a central concern of water security to the countries they pass through.1 These can make countries engage in conflict oriented or cooperative behaviour based on the relative water scarcity that is created due to variability of water flows. It also affects the water resources sharing in rivers in the future. The solution for such a threat is a cooperative combined solution. But the GBM basin is shared between nations that do not have equal power status. The geopolitics of these nations focus on bilateral solutions rather than a basin wide management. The GBM basin has been always framed as an issue of geopolitics, involved with processes of system or power games rather than a social issue concerned with human needs, values and life.

The river resources should be seen as a whole taking a basin approach as the GBM ecosystem is inter-country. If civil societies using a climate lens on water governance and hydro-diplomacy push for enhancing cooperation for resource efficiency, they can help meet increasing energy, food and water needs of these fast-growing economies. Behaviour change communication helps develop and promote positive behaviours which are appropriate to the context of an issue that a community faces. It is important to assess to what extent behaviour based water conservation programmes improve trans-boundary and community led watershed management. These are new opportunities that can be tapped into by looking at behaviour based water conservation as a result of improved information sharing beyond the borders.

It is important that the subnational and national governments rather than focusing on relief packages, push for more integrated water management and trans-boundary cooperation. A complete change of outlook and behaviour is required for addressing water security in the GBM basin. Our vision for good water governance should start from looking at the GBM basin and its rivers as a combined ecosystem rather than just a water resource. Integrated planning and management of sectors such as water, energy, land, forest, ecosystems and agriculture would help transcend national boundaries. And further, in order to effectively improve trans-boundary water dialogue over the GBM basin, we must improve the way communities perceive river water management. This has to be followed up by improving capacities of officials/ diplomats engaging in the issue. Climate challenge would also be addressed adequately by taking maintenance of trans-boundary ecosystems as a starting point.

Development Alternative has years of experience in sustainable integrated watershed management and changing behaviours to improve community led water management. It is crucial to push for an effective dialogue over the management of rivers in the GBM basin for promoting economic and social development through equitable and reasonable utilisation based on consensus and active people's cooperation at all levels of the government.

Syed A A Farhan


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