Water security and climate change were the main focus of the newly organised India Water Forum (IWF), which took place in New Delhi from 13-15 April. This inaugural international water conference aims at exploring solutions for sustainable governance and integrated management of water resources.
Delivering the conference’s opening address, India’s Vice President Shri M. Hamid Ansari said that “those formulating public policy on water must cater to the essential requirements and ensure the sustainability of ecosystems so that there is availability of adequate water for everyone. Prevention of greed, waste and conspicuous consumption must remain high on the agenda.” Shri Ansari also highlighted that water stress and scarcity would have a significant impact on the prospects of Indian companies operating in various sectors such as agriculture and power generation. Regulators, investors and citizens alike must demand corporate water disclosure, including plans and policies for water consumption, use and disposal, and whether environmental concerns have been addressed.
Organised by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and in association with the India Ministry of Water Resources, IWF specifically addressed the challenges and opportunities for water in the face of climate change. The conference endeavored to showcase knowledge and technologies developed in different countries and encouraging networks and partnerships.
Mark Smith, Director of the IUCN Water Programme addressed the IWF participants with a presentation, outlining that “water security has many building blocks, but with water resource regimes shifting because of climate change, three of the most important are: first, allocating water adaptively within the limits of availability; second, sharing benefits equitably, including across boundaries; and third, making sure water management helps to build climate resilience. From its work around the world, in Asia, and, increasingly, in India, IUCN has tools and approaches to help achieve all these.”
India which has 16% of the world’s population but only 4% of the total available freshwater, faces considerable challenges in terms of water security and the impacts of climate change. Its main water resources consist of annual rainfall and transboundary riverflows. The annual extraction of groundwater in India is the highest in the world. It provides for over 60 % of irrigated land. The growing dependence on groundwater has been at the cost of unsustainable over-extraction in at least a third of the country. This has considerably lowered water tables and adversely impacted the quality and quantity of rural drinking water.
Ganesh Pangare, IUCN Water Programme Coordinator for Asia focused on the topic of natural infrastructure during his keynote speech at the conference. Uncertainties and risk associated with water are expanding under climate change, while demand for energy and food are growing as economies and populations grow. Infrastructure development, including dams, reservoirs, irrigation and flood barriers, are important options for addressing these issues. Yet, one critical aspect of infrastructure is often widely overlooked. This is natural infrastructure. Just as built infrastructure stores, moves, regulates and purifies water, so does nature. Watersheds – and their soils, watercourses, wetlands, aquifers and floodplains – are natural infrastructure. Benefits from healthy watershed ecosystems include a reliable and clean water supply, protein from fisheries and agricultural productivity. Strengthening natural infrastructure can improve resilience of people and nature, and benefit economic development.
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