Integrated Approaches for Water Security
in Semi-arid Regions
Water is the most precious natural resource for
supporting life systems on earth. There are approximately 1.4 million
cubic kilometers of water on our planet, but about 97.4 per cent of this
is brackish, and two thirds of the remaining 2.6 per cent is fresh water
locked up in ice caps and glaciers. Only a tiny fraction of the total
available fresh water is stored in groundwater aquifers. With increasing
population growth, groundwater is the most exploited resource urgently
requiring protection and management. By 2030, approximately one third of
the world’s population will suffer from chronic water shortages, with
the most intense scarcity to be felt in the arid and semi-arid regions.
Access to fresh water can thus become a key deterrent to socio-economic
development in semi-arid and arid regions. Variations in seasonal
weather patterns further aggravate the situation, and climate change has
led to declining precipitation around the world. Rain is also expected
to decline in frequency but increase in intensity, leading to frequent
droughts and floods.
Unreliable and inadequate surface water sources have transformed traditional water consumption patterns, especially in semi-arid regions. Excessive, unsustainable ground water withdrawals exceed the rate of natural aquifer recharge levels. The problem of unsustainable water use is often exacerbated by subsidised power as well as technological innovations; deep tube wells and high-powered pumps; market demand for water-intensive cash crops, significantly altered the water management behaviors, resource distribution and organisational arrangements. There is a strong need for the integrated management of freshwater resources to ensure an equitable supply of fresh water, based on climate change scenarios. Effective management obviously involves considering the supply and quality of freshwater resources within a given watershed or river basin. There is an urgent need to plan adaptive strategies towards strengthening national and local capacities. Prior to all this, however, the systematic collection of data, sharing of traditional and cross-sectoral knowledge, systematic collection of information on the status of water resources and their dissemination are all essential for comprehending climate change impacts.
Development Alternatives (DA) has been pioneering projects in the semi-arid Bundelkhand region, to strengthen institutional arrangements for water management as well as develop technical capacity in irrigation and sustainable farming practices, while taking into consideration local adaptation needs based on climate change predictions. DA has taken up several projects targeting farmers’ and women’s groups primarily supported by Arghyam Trust, Department of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, CCD, Embassy of Switzerland and NABARD. A set of practice packages that includes water-efficient irrigation, high yielding seed varieties, water-efficient crop selection, agro forestry and soil fertility management are being demonstrated in select watersheds and Panchayats. We have initiated programs for information exchange through the Bundelkhand Knowledge Platform, an institutional framework for sharing information at the regional and local levels.
The learning and capacity
building programme for water management at the local level is an
integral part of our interventions in Bundelkhand. Local youth and
village women health workers and volunteers are trained for testing
periodic testing of the water quality by using the simple, reliable,
user-friendly field test kits developed by us. Such field demonstrations
are proving to be highly effective in imparting education on linkages of
water quality and health impacts and appreciation for clean drinking
water and personal hygiene habits. Employing GIS-based planning tools
for community consultations for village water planning, budgeting and
monitoring by community institutions, we have been demystifying the
hi-tech for grassroots applications. Focus on quality, quantity and
sustainability, as well as on the empowerment of women and farmers,
institution building, information-sharing, application of science,
technology and participatory approaches for planning and management are
the factors behind the success of our village water security programs in
the semi-arid Bundelkhand region.
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