Water


After Summit Papers


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Thematic parameters for paper writers:


The Himalayan region in India covers about 5 lakh square km and consists of ten states and two districts. It is inhabited by approximately 64 million people per the 2001 census. Water resources in the region are under stress due to increasing population, erratic rainfall and winter aridity due to climate change. The mountain states of India face common issues and challenges. Similarly, mountain peoples across the Himalayan region have realised that the solutions to meet these challenges are also similar. Implementing them will become easier if the states work together. A common front will make it easier for the Himalayan States to present their strategies for development to the Centre.

With this end in view, the Indian Mountain Initiative (IMI) was conceived by CHEA in 2010 at Nainital. The initiative organises a Sustainable Mountain Development Summit (SMDS) each year in a Himalayan state where the stakeholders of the Indian Himalayan Region can discuss issues relevant to the mountain regions and the mountain people, and present them as a common platform. The summit was conceived to serve as a platform for various stakeholders from the mountain states to come together and engage in an informed debate on identified themes with the objective to inform and influence public policy formulation for the mountain region. The 3rd Mountain Summit is planned in Kohima, Nagaland in September 2013 around the themes of forest, water, and agriculture.
This note invites papers discussing the main issues concerning water in the mountain regions. These issues have been identified as:

  • Water conflicts
  • Water rights and access (including governance and gender issues)
  • Innovations and technologies for mountain water management/conservation
  • Policy gaps and opportunities in water conservation and management

Climate change is a reality in the mountains, more than in any other part of the world. It influences every aspect of life in the Himalayan region. Conflicts are exacerbated by heightened water insecurity, which also affects peoples' access to water. Technologies need to take into consideration future weather and water behaviour in a changing world and policies for water conservation also need to keep an eye on future changes. Climate change is therefore a cross-cutting issue in the four themes listed above, and we hope that your papers will reflect this reality.

1. Water conflicts

Perhaps the most contentious issue in the mountain states is that of hydropower. The aggressive construction of dams in the mountain areas to satisfy a perceived (and magnified) demand for power does not acknowledge the concerns, wishes and demands of the mountain people. This exploitative focus on 'maximum power generation' is widening the rift between mountain peoples and the rest of India. While hydropower can be- if ethically and conservatively planned- a source for clean energy, the planning and construction process needs to take into consideration mountain communities and mountain ecosystems. These conflicts are set to intensify with the increasing frequency and magnitude of extreme events such as the one in Uttarakhand in June 2013. The silt that washed down during the floods from the illegal dumping sites at the Srinagar HEP has destroyed any hopes that the town had of recovering from the floods.
Conflicts on a more local level are also increasing. While tourism is a source of revenue, it is also a competitor for scarce resources. In villages around the lakes of Kumaun, there is increasing resentment over the piped water supply being given to the hotels instead of reaching the villagers. This is manifesting itself as increased control of once-free springs as hoteliers and landowners restrict access to other people who may wish to share the water.

2. Water rights and access (including governance and gender issues)

Receiving a quarter of the country's rainfall while only housing 6% of its population, the Himalayas seem water-abundant. The reality however, is that the odds are stacked against people having equitable access to water. First, topography plays an important role. The steep slopes mean that most precipitation flows down to the drain line of the watershed and so towards the plains. Since most villages are located on the slopes or near the ridges, water availability post-monsoon is low. Climate change is manifesting itself as fewer rainy days with more intense rainfall. This too means a decrease in water availability. Caste plays a role too. Several villages in Uttarakhand have a separate spring for the dalits, which is often seasonal. The people dependent on these springs are then at the mercy of their higher-caste neighbours for access to water. Urban-rural conflicts over the use of water, especially during the summer months are on the increase, as was illustrated in the Kosi basin, Almora district where a ban on irrigation supplies water to the city of Almora. Government policies and projects that look upon the Himalayas as a source of supply of water to cities in the plains exacerbate this discontent. Swajaldhara, which gives communities ownership over their water supply and the renewed focus on resurrecting dying traditional water sources are positive initiatives.

3. Innovations and technologies for mountain water management/ conservation

Why are hydrams not the norm in mountain areas? The answer to this question may provide help with designing a strategy that focuses attention on technologies appropriate to the mountain areas. In this case, appropriate technology will be one that makes use of the topography and the climate to increase efficiency rather than to fight it. Some of these technologies can be found in traditional water management techniques, while some are the product of innovative research. Hydrams, micro-hydel plants, and gharats (traditional water-based mills) put the terrain to work to produce energy and goods. Compost toilets and traditional architecture conserve scarce resources. Solar pumps, photovoltaic cells, and Norphel's technique of storing water in its frozen form all use local weather to human advantage. Research on innovations and technologies in the mountain environment needs to be two-pronged. Development of new and robust technologies that are suited for mountain environments and resilient enough to encompass future climatic changes is necessary; sociological research into the question of why existing appropriate technologies are not more widely embraced by both the local communities and policy makers is perhaps even more pertinent.

4. Policy gaps and opportunities in water conservation and management

There are several policies that are targeted towards increasing control of tribal communities over their natural resources. Swajaldhara, aimed at enabling villages to take ownership of their water supply systems, is functioning throughout the nation. What do these policies mean to the tribal councils and Gram Panchayats they are designed to empower? While the north-eastern states claim there is a disconnect between DONER and their needs, some individuals are campaigning for DONER to include the remaining Himalayan states within its purview. A rigorous analysis of the efficacy of these policies and their implementation at the Panchayat level needs to be carried out. Does DONER have a role to play in the NorthEast or in the entire Himalayan region? How can its relevance to the Himalayan states be increased? The states are now tasked with developing the State Action Plan for Climate Change. Will this prove to be an opportunity for the states to define policies to manage their natural resources and their unique vulnerabilities, or will it remain another 'on-paper' exercise?

We invite your papers on the broad issues discussed above.

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