Water: Resource, history, management and challenges

A look at the history of water and its relationship with human communities.

Water is under threat in India. With an increasing population and a fast growing economy, the demand for water and its use is increasing. Water security for life and livelihoods, ecology and ecosystems of rivers, lakes and other water bodies, groundwater, traditional livelihoods and oceans, is heavily endangered.

Sanitation in India has had a fascinating history. From the Indus Valley civilization we have evidence of drainage systems, rainwater collection and groundwater use. The history of dams probably dates to structures such as the Grand Anicut on the Cauvery and the artificial lake in Bhopal. Large scale multi-purpose dams were seen as providing for food security through irrigation and the generation of electricity by the nation. The contestations around dams have recently become sharper and with the proposed interlinking of rivers project the debate is growing.
India also has the largest canal network for irrigation in the world, the largest area under watershed development, the largest number of bore-wells and the highest groundwater exploitation in the world.
Water as a human right is now been accepted in the UN conventions. The Indian Water Policies, both at the National level and at the state level, are yet to articulate this. Also unclear is how these rights will be rolled out in practice both for life and for livelihoods.
Conflicts are another dimension of water as a scarce ecological resource and the elite capture of it at many levels. Conflicts arise famously between states but there are many other typologies of conflicts which seem to be increasing rapidly.
India unfortunately has the largest number of people without access to toilets for any country – more than 600 million. This is stated to cause enteropathy, a debilitating inability to absorb nutrition and thus causing stunting and malnutrition. Apart from morbidity and mortality, the impact of bad sanitation on the economy is up-to 6.5 % of GDP as estimated by a WSP study. A national mission to provide toilets for all is on yet there are challenges in terms of usage, maintenance and sustainability

the challenges facing India in the water and sanitation sector

2. The evolution , the policy and institutional framework under which the water and sanitation sector operates

3. The key debates and contestations in the sector