In today’s world, the pressure on water resources increases daily. The growing human population with its associated increased industrial activity and farming means that there is less and less water to go around. This pressure also impacts upon natural ecosystems such as rivers, wetlands, estuaries and deltas. Unfortunately the world’s poorest peoples—the landless, fishing communities and indigenous peoples—are the ones who rely most strongly on these natural ecosystems to provide food, shelter and income. Thus, water use by “richer” users for income generation and development affects these poorest people the most, widening the rich–poor divide.
One of the families involved in water management
research (photo: Basant Maheshwari)
To tackle this imbalance between water use and supply, water demand needs to be curtailed. This brings in the idea of “demand management”, where uncontrolled use of water cannot be allowed to continue. Demand management needs to consider concepts of equity and justice around water sharing. These are not simplistic concepts and need to be thoroughly developed and understood in the particular context being considered.
ACIAR is funding projects in India that look at all these aspects of water management: demand management, institutions, and equity and justice. The outcomes of this research (see LWR/2006/072 and LWR/2006/158 below) are already being actively taken up by the Government of Andhra Pradesh to improve their watershed development.
Groundwater management in Rajasthan and Gujarat
A new ACIAR project in India’s north-western states of Rajasthan and Gujarat is looking at the problem of falling groundwater levels. This issue is typical of many regions across the world. The project has taken an interesting approach in engaging local villagers, through school and gender-based surveys about water use and needs, and training 34 Bhujal Jankaars, or “BJ’s” (a Hindi word meaning “Groundwater Masters”).
|One of the BJs involved in the research (left), and another BJ |
demonstrating watertable measurement (right)
(photos: Basant Maheshwari)
The BJs have been trained in mapping, geographic information systems (GIS), and watertable and water quality measurements. They have now monitored groundwater levels weekly for over 12 months to establish baseline conditions, following the adage of “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”. While BJs are monitoring groundwater, they interact extensively with their communities, particularly sharing watertable data to show the state of groundwater fluctuations in the area. The BJs clearly get pleasure from their role, as well as a sense of leadership in their communities with regards to groundwater issues.
|Surveying school children about water issues |
(photo: Basant Maheshwari)
Water availability and quality can have an impact on children, including their school attendance (e.g. if children have to spend time fetching water when it is scarce). To gain an insight into the awareness among students of water issues, surveys were conducted with students in villages from both states. Students and teachers have also been working with the project team helping spread information to the community about groundwater quantity and quality issues.
|Discussing issues of gender and water management |
(photo: Maria Varua)
Despite women’s significant role in water use and household management, their needs and uses of water are not often represented in water resource management policies or projects. This research is gaining a better understanding of the reality of gender and water issues in selected villages of Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is using village surveys to ask about women and men’s responsibilities regarding water, including: who uses water, what for and how much, who collects water, and who has a voice in its management.
“The Dharma of Water”
This project has emphasised the concept of the Dharma of Water – treating water with respect. The team is continuing to work closely with farmers and communities. The focus is on how they can share the limited groundwater resource, use the water more effectively, and take action in the countryside to increase the replenishment of the groundwater from rainfall.
As Rameshwar Lal Soni, one of the BJs, said: “If we have good quality and a good amount of water in the future for us and for the environment around us, we will have peace, happiness and prosperity in our home, village, state and country.”
By Dr Evan Christen (Land & Water Resources research program manager) and Dr Wendy Henderson (ACIAR's Science Communicator)
ACIAR project LWR/2010/015 Improved village scale groundwater recharge and management for agriculture and livelihood development in India, led by University of Western Sydney
See also UWS project website
ACIAR blog: Photovoice speaking up on water issues in India
Project LWR/2006/072 Impacts of meso-scale watershed development in Andhra Pradesh (India) and their implications for designing and implementing improved WSD policies and programs, led by Edith Cowan University
Project LWR/2006/158 Enhancing institutional performance in watershed management in Andhra Pradesh, led by La Trobe University