By Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena in Bhubaneswar, February 16, 2022: Water is highly precious for all living beings in this world. Mankind without required amount of fresh water cannot have a healthy and prosperous living. Nearly 70% of fresh water is used in agricultural sector, 20% is industrial sector and the rest 10% is available for drinking and other domestic purposes.

In the world, only a fraction of one percent of water is available as fresh water and the rest are unused and salty in nature. This is present in seas and in frozen condition in glaciers and polar regions. Further, the fresh water is unevenly distributed in the world. Many countries including India are in water stressed region.

At present, nearly one third of population in the earth does not get sufficient water for drinking and other domestic purposes. In addition to these, a large amount of water in rivers and other wetlands get polluted by releasing solid wastes and untreated waste water of industries and urban sewage. In view of these, it is necessary to manage the fresh usable water resource in an integrated manner involving all stake holders particularly in water stressed region like India.

The definition of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), which is internationally accepted, is a “process which promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystem”.

The principles regarding integrated water resource management which has been formulated in the International Conference on Water and the Environment Management at Dublin in the year 1992 had been adopted at United Nation Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in the year 1992. These principles are referred to as the Dublin – Rio principles and should be the basis for IWRM.

Principle – I: Water as a finite and vulnerable resource

Water is required for various purposes, functions and services. Therefore, its management has to involve consideration of demands placed in the resource and threats to it. The notion that, fresh water is a finite resource arises as the hydrological cycle on average yields a finite quantity of water for time period and this cannot be altered significantly by any human actions. The fresh water resource should be regarded as a natural resource which needs to be maintained to ensure that the desired services it provides are sustained.

The human beings can affect the productivity of water resource and also they can reduce the availability and quality of water by actions such as harnessing ground water in excess, polluting surface as well as ground water and changing land use like deforestation and urbanization. It has to be recognized that the value or welfare derived from water resource, will vary with uses to which the assets come out. The effect of human activities led to the need for recognition of linkages between the off stream and downstream users of water.

For example, off stream users must recognize the legitimate demands of downstream users and also take care that excessive consumption or pollution would deprive the downstream users of their legitimate share of the resource. Therefore, there should be an understanding between the two concerned authorities of both the regions.

Holistic management of water not only involves management of natural systems but also necessities co-ordination between the range of human activities which create the demand for water, determine land uses and generate water borne waste products. The policy making for management of water should be done by involving concerned organizations at all levels that is from national ministries to local government or community based institutions. There is also a need for taking into consideration water cost and sustainability when making production and consumption choices.

Principle – II: Participatory Approach

Water is a resource in which every section of the society even individuals are stake holders. Real participation is possible when stake holders are part of the decision making process. This can occur directly when local communities come together to make water supply, management and choices for different applications. Participation also occurs if democratically elected or other similar agencies can represent stake holder groups.

Participation requires that, the stake holders at all levels of the social structure have an impact on decision at different levels of water management. A participatory approach is the only means for achieving long lasting consensus and common agreement. In order to achieve this, stake holders and concerned officials in water management agencies have to recognize that the sustainability of water is the major problem and all the concerned parties are going to have to sacrifice some desires for the common good. The government at national, state and local levels should take the responsibility for making effective participation possible. This involves the creation of mechanism for stake holders consultation at all spatial scales and community levels.

For creating participatory mechanism an example is given for clarity. The state of Guna Juato, Mexico, has created a ground water technical committee in which different water users and government officials gather to seek for solution to the problems of water mis-use and distribution. It is also a forum through which water users and authorities have direct channels of communications from top to bottom and vice versa. This has enabled the possibility of implementing several regulatory decisions by consensus.

Principle – III: The Important Role of Woman

In the integrated water resource management (IWRM) special efforts have to be made to ensure women participation at all levels and also in decision making. Women play a key role in collection and safe guarding of water for domestic as well as agricultural purpose which constitutes about 80% of the total water consumed by human beings. It may be mentioned here that, in India, in most cases, the women are taken for granted and they are least consulted for management of this vital resource. It is very essential to involve women at every level to ensure their increasing role in decision making and widening the spectrum of activities through which women can fully participate in IWRM.

Principle – IV: Water as an economic good

In some developing countries like India, water has been still viewed as a free material. Therefore, people very carelessly use water and in some cases waste more. India being under water stress region, water should be considered as a valuable natural resource. In order to extract maximum benefits, there is a need to change the perception about water values and to recognize the opportunity-cost concept. United Nations has recognized water as an economic and social resource.

To avoid confusion between value and charges, there is a need to distinguish between the two. The value of water in alternative uses is important for rational allocation of water as scarce resource, whether by regulatory or economic means. Charging for water is applying an economic instrument towards conservation and efficient water usage, to provide incentives for demand, management, ensure cost recovery and to signal consumers’ willingness to pay for additional investments in water services. The full value of water consists of economic value and intrinsic value.

The full cost of providing water includes full economic cost and environmental externalities associated with public health and ecosystem maintenance. The full economic cost consists of the full supply cost due to resource management, operating and maintenance expenditure and capital charges.

While implementing the above programmes, it is necessary to give due importance to solve problems related to supplying required amount of fresh water to increasing population, climate change, irregularities in rain falls, disappearance of wet lands and forests, unscientific method of transportation of water and wasting huge quantity of water in present irrigation system.

Along with framing and properly implementing the IWRM, it is essential to bring awareness amongst all sections of people in following areas:

(a) The importance of pure water for healthy living,

(b) avoiding pollution of water bodies due to dumping of solid wastes and releasing untreated sewage and industrial waste water,

(c) developing more wetlands like tanks and ponds and harvesting rain water in these instead of releasing most of it to sea through rivers,

(d) recharging aquifers to increase ground water resource

(e) plantation of trees in large numbers particularly in catchment areas of rivers,

(f) adopting drip and sprinkle irrigation system instead of the present system where a lot of water is wasted,

(g) industries releasing waste water to water bodies after proper treatment,

(h) drinking of fresh water after necessary treatment and (i) avoiding wastage of water at any stage.

India is in water stressed region of the world. The situation is getting worse in recent years due to climate change and increasing population. The annual per capita availability of water in India was 6008 cubic meter (cum) when the country achieved independence in 1947 and it came down drastically in the next 50 years to about 2260 cum in 1997 and now it is only 1800 cum.

If no serious efforts are made in harvesting rain water, developing wetlands, preventing water pollution and managing the water resource scientifically, it is estimated that, the availability of water per capita will fall only to 750 cum per capita by the next 50 years. Unless appropriate measures are taken to increase the fresh water resources, the country will head towards a disastrous situation.

* (Former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India)

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