Updated: March 2, 2020 5:45:01 am
A recent study spanning 13 towns across four countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan – in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region shows that Himalayan towns are facing increased water insecurity in the wake of inadequate urban planning coupled with a rapidly changing climate.
The study – a first-of-its-kind on the HKH –shows that interlinkages of water availability, water supply systems, rapid urbanization, and consequent increase in water demand (both daily and seasonal) are leading to increasing water insecurity in towns in the HKH region, Dr. Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad who led the study told The Indian Express.
This water insecurity is attributed to poor water governance, lack of urban planning, poor tourism management during peak season, and climate-related risks and challenges. The study, published in the journal Water Policy, also shows that communities are coping through short-term strategies such as groundwater extraction, which is proving to be unsustainable. There is a lack of long-term strategies for water sustainability in urban centres, and this requires the special attention of planners and local governments.
Urbanization has pulled people from rural areas in the HKH region into nearby urban centres. Although only 3 per cent of the total HKH population lives in larger cities and 8 per cent in smaller towns, projections show that more than 50 per cent of the population will be living in cities by 2050. This will eventually place tremendous stress on water availability.
Subscriber Only Stories
The study shows that the gap between water demand and supply in eight of the surveyed towns is 20 to 70 per cent. There is a high dependence on springs (ranging between 50 per cent and 100 per cent) for water supply in three-fourths of the urban areas. As per current trends, the demand–supply gap may double by 2050. A holistic water management approach that includes springshed management and planned adaptation is therefore paramount for securing safe water supply in the urban Himalaya. Along with springshed management, other options could be explored in the wake of rising water demand.
With development plans and policies focusing more on rural areas, issues surrounding urban environments have been sidelined. Across the region, encroachment and degradation of natural water bodies (springs, ponds, lakes, canals, and rivers) and disappearance of traditional water systems (stone spouts, wells, and local water tanks) have become evident. Degradation and reclamation of water bodies affect wetland ecosystems and reduce retention capacities that prevent flooding. Consequently, urban drainage and flood management systems are being impaired, Dr Prakash told The Indian Express.
From the case studies of Himalayan towns, it is evident that increasing urbanization and climate change are two critical stressors that are adversely affecting the biophysical environment of the urban Himalaya. This special issue looks at the challenges of water management in twelve towns from four corners of the Himalayan region. These include, from west to east, Murree and Havelian in Pakistan; Kathmandu, Bharatpur, Tansen, and Damauli in Nepal; Mussoorie, Devprayag, Singtam, Kalimpong, and Darjeeling in India; and, Sylhet in Bangladesh.
All these cities face challenges of changing water budgets, increasing water demand, and water scarcity, which is discussed in a set of 10 papers that Dr Prakash has co-edited with Dr David James Molden, Director General of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) an intergovernmental knowledge organization dedicated to mountains and people of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.
Authored by a multi-disciplinary team consisting of physical and social scientists, anthropologists, geographers and planners, the papers highlight the concerns around unplanned and haphazard development in the region, which is leading to problems of inequity in water supply and unequal developmental outcomes. They also identify areas for future research and action on urban issues in the region.
📣 Join our Telegram channel (The Indian Express) for the latest news and updates