Water: Constraints & Opportunities
Source: Flickr, CIMMYT

The 4th India Water Week began on April 4 and comes at a time of increased concern over available water resources. New Delhi faced an acute water crisis during February 2016 in which schools were shut down due to the crisis. As of March, Maharashtra was still facing water shortage where drinking water has been shipped via trains from New Delhi.  In addition Maharashtra and Karnataka regions have been constantly facing droughts in the past few years.

With India facing droughts and floods of small and large scales every year, it becomes important to better manage water resources. A recent article using meteorological forecasts notes that India will have a normal monsoon this year after three decades of back to back shortfall of rainfall. With half of the Indian population employed in agriculture, more normal weather patterns will be critical to sustain the agricultural industry.

Last years’ water scarcity and recurring droughts wilted crops and cut water levels in India’s main dams. India’s reservoir levels are three quarters of the average for the past decade. Water scarcity can hurt economic growth by damaging crops and pushing up prices. The monsoon accounts for about 80 percent of India’s total annual rainfall and affects both kharif (summer) and rabi (winter) sowing. Half of the farmland depends upon seasonal precipitation as sowing begins in June.  It is hoped that a return of more normal rainfall patterns will be able to boost production and help manage increases in food prices in South Asia.  The India Water Tool, using data from the World Resources Institute and Columbia Water Centre is available in the interactive map section of our Food Security Portal and allows spatial visualization of the water constraints.

A recent paper in the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability discusses some important points in this regard. Watershed development (WSD) interventions with heavy public investments in the past four decades in India have been targeted mainly on conservation and improvement of the natural resource condition for reducing the food security of urban and rural population. Technical interventions in the form of water harvesting structures or soil conservation methods are intended to increase water availability and crop productivity but the authors note that a number of WSD interventions have resulted in negative consequences in terms of water supply, especially for the poorest households. The paper uses a sustainable livelihoods framework to analyze the capacity of the households to survive consecutive drought years (resilience) and finds that there are a number of deficiencies in assessing the success of watershed interventions due to a lack of complete knowledge, confounding factors, determining impacts at scale and the diversity of the natural (and social) systems.  Looking at two meso-scale watersheds that were part of the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems (APFMGS) project, they find that while natural capital and resilience is influenced by WSD, it is not affected to the extent expected.  The authors note that to reduce negative externalities such as groundwater drawdown, continuous monitoring of these WSD will be needed.

The government of India is making efforts in this direction with implementation of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) which aims at precision-irrigation, water saving technologies, convergence of investments in irrigation at field level, expansion of cultivable area under assured irrigation, introduction of sustainable water conservation practices, integrated developed of rainfed areas using a watershed approach towards soil and water conservation, and promotion of extension activities for water harvesting, water management and crop alignment for farmers at a grass-root level. Around Rs 5,300 crore ($791.04 million) has been allocated for this fiscal year. The National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) has been involved in preparation of state irrigation plans and providing advisories to state governments for comprehensive irrigation development. The Ministry of Water Resources will also undertake various measures for completion of projects under Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP).

At the local level, there have been some initiatives such as the project "Boochetana" (supported by ICRISAT) on rainfed agriculture in Karnataka and pond models for rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge in state of Maharashtra. The government has prepared designs for rainwater harvesting and artificial recharges depending on the terrain. For example, percolation tanks, modification of village tanks for recharge, check dams, and contour bunds work for hilly and inter-mountainous area such as Himachal Pradesh, percolation tanks and recharge pits for alluvial plains such as Bihar, and recharge through wells, modification of village tanks for recharge structure, check dams and percolation tanks for hard rock areas such as Maharashtra and Karnataka.  

It is clear that use technologies and monetary support should not just focus on dealing with natural calamities but also increasing resilience to future shocks.

By: Jaspreet Aulakh, IFPRI 

Photo credit:Flickr, CIMMYT