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Satish Lele

Problems of Global Warming on Water Resources in India

20 years ago, Monsoon in India generally used to start by end of May. Since 10 years, it starts from 15th to 20th of June. Now it starts after 1st of July. This leads to water famine in May and June. There is no water to drink for rural population and cattle, as wells dry up. The monsoon used to be for a period of 4 months, but now it is only for 3 months, and rain fall is 75 to 80% of normal. Less rainfall in Himalayas is reducing glaciers. Monsoon is now totally unpredictable and famines are regular features. Agriculture in India is rain-fed and therefore, vulnerable to increasing climate variability. Experts predict that climate change may increase rainfall, but the distribution during a rainy season, a critical factor for agricultural production, is likely to change.

Rainy seasons have already become less reliable. In some years, farmers have failed to prepare their land before the rains arrive. In others, they plant too early and their crops have withered by the time the rains eventually come.
As rainfall patterns change, severe droughts are also increasing in frequency. Droughts have occurred in most parts of the country in recent years. This has led to food insecurity and social conflicts, as people search for pasture and water for animals.
Impacts of water scarcity : Climate change has the potential to impose severe pressures on water availability and accessibility. Currently, 30% Indians have no access to safe drinking water, and basic sanitation. Climate change is expected to make it even harder to achieve these targets. India has the highest population growth rate in the developing world, and food production is somehow keeping pace. Two of the most limiting factors to improved food production are the quality and quantity of available water resources. Rainfall variability in many regions of India directly affects agricultural productivity. Rainfall is the most relevant climatic variable of food production in India. As rainfall becomes more variable, feeding Indiaís rising population can become a greater challenge.
Disputes and conflicts over water: Since food security is directly linked to water availability and accessibility, increasing water scarcity will increase the potential for conflict within the country. The increasing severity and scale of impacts resulting from climate change is likely to exceed the coping capacity of many communities. This situation could lead to severe socio-economic and environmental impacts and will require additional adaptation efforts. The following points become clear:

  1. Current water management practices in India are unlikely to be adequate to cope with the projected negative impacts of climate change on water availability and distribution.

  2. India needs a much greater focus on increasing peopleís adaptive capacity to climate variability and climate change over the long term.

  3. Key to improving future adaptation efforts is the incorporation of current climate variability into water-related planning and management.

Adaptation to Water Resources challenge in India

Johad: In Rajasthan, Tarun Bharat Sangh, founded by Mr. Rajendra Singh, is helping communities to build small scale sand dams that store millions of liters of water upstream of each dam. This indigenous technology helps people to access water for domestic and agricultural use during the regionís long dry seasons. The dams have concrete overflow and are built across seasonal river beds. They capture sand as it is carried in torrid river water during the short, intense rainy seasons. The captured sand is used in dry season for manufacturing bricks.
Livelihoods in Rajasthan are under increasing stress as a result of unpredictable rainfall patterns and increasing desertification. This water scarcity is the major barrier to development in this region, with climate change making water even more scarce. But sand dams are increasing the adaptive capacity of small holder farmers. Over the past 10 years, the local Non Governmental Organization, has provided over 100,000 people with better access to water through building sand dams, making communities less vulnerable to droughts.
Percolation Dams: In the eastern part of Sahyadri mountain range, in southern part of India, it rains heavily for 4 months. Water flows down the slope a thousand kilometers to dump into Bay of Bengal. This water is stored in small and large reservoirs which are built as sand dams, along the ravines of mountains. These hold millions of liters of water, which percolates throughout the year. This forms streams under the soil and water table increases. This water is lifted up from wells in down stream villages. The life in such villages has transformed.
Household Water Harvesting: Rain water falling on the house is collected and stored in an underground tank, and allowed to percolate in the soil. This helps to increase water table of soil.
Benefits from sand dams: Analysis of data collected shows that after the sand dams were built, access to water improved. There was an increase in domestic water use of about 50 percent, and a doubling of agricultural water use. Farmers rapidly shifted to growing water demanding crops such as tomatoes, onions, fruit trees. The study also shows that the percentage of households growing irrigated crops rose before dam construction to afterwards. This has increased the income level of people and also the purchasing power.
Challenges: The socio-economic indicators show that sand dams are a successful way to adapt to drought. However, there are still challenges with this technology:

  1. The technology is both labour and capital intensive, most local communities can not implement it without external help.

  2. Despite its cultural acceptability, this water harvesting technique has not been widely replicated in other areas, probably due to high costs of materials, the labour involved, and limited technical skills.

  3. Due to the prolonged drought, many sand dams are now drying up.

Local Non Governmental Organizations should consider the following:

  1. Increase public awareness about climate change impacts, and encourage people to implement available adaptation options, for example planting drought resistant crops such as sorghum, millets, cassava and sweet potatoes.

  2. Develop and promote agricultural rainfall risk insurance schemes.

  3. Improve access to natural water sources, by sinking boreholes for drinking water.

  4. Create seed and food banks to ensure the safe-keeping of harvested produce.

  5. Promote local savings and credit, by encouraging local co-operative financial institutions to provide credit to farmers to build sand dams, in a timely manner and at low interest rates.