Water Security in Peri-urban South Asia: Adapting to Climate Change and Urbanization

Research Funding: International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada

Faculty Researcher: Prof Dr M. Shah Alam Khan, Prof Dr Mohammad Rezaur Rahman, Prof Dr M. Shahjahan Mondal

Collaboration: South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies (SaciWATERs), Hyderabad, India; Nepal Engineering College, Kathmandu, Nepal

Urbanization is a defining process and characteristic of South Asia. South Asia is home to over 1.6 billion people in 2010 or a quarter of humanity, of which a third live in urban areas. This figure is expected to grow at an accelerated rate in next two decades. Water sources in peri-urban locations succumb to growing pressures from the cities as new and emerging claimants compete for scarce water; at the same time, the disposal of urban and industrial wastes into peri-urban water sources further compromises peri-urban water security. The effects of these are aggravated by climate variability and change. In 2010, Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC) supported an action research project focusing on how urbanization and climate change shape peri-urban water insecurity and how water users adapt to these changes. This action research project explored the implications of rapid urbanization and climate change on  water availability  for vulnerable communities in  four  South  Asian  cities  of Khulna (Bangladesh), Gurgaon and Hyderabad (India) and Kathmandu (Nepal). Based on the gender and class disaggregated information, the research shows how people especially women and men from marginalized communities are coping with the changing scenarios and adapting to the new situation.

Further, this research documents the mobilization of affected communities and relevant line departments as key stakeholders in the process of building resilience to the process of urbanization, climate change increased water scarcity. It documents the process of bringing together a large number of stakeholders that are affected by the process of urbanization and climate-induced water insecurity, or have potential to influence the issues at the ground level. This process was important in present research locations because peri-urban areas tend to be neglected both by urban and rural authorities – since some of their problems fall under the mandate of neither.


Climate variability, urbanization and peri-urban water insecurity:
The research confirms that urbanization creates new claimants on water on two counts. First, fresh water flows from per-urban to urban uses as cities are not fully covered with formal water supply system and new demands are generated which utilities are unable to meet. Second, the increase demand for land leads to appropriation and contamination of land and water resources in urban and peri- urban locations. Climate variability and change brings in multiple stressors to this process of transformation. Planned urbanization that incorporates environmental planning, climate smart development and local resource use will help reducing vulnerabilities of peri-urban residents.

Disaggregating vulnerabilities:

Gender, class/caste and access to water: The gender and class/caste disaggregated data  collected in the research shows entwining of caste/class and gender issues that defines  water allocation and access among users. The evidence of vulnerability and its impact on people lower in socio-economic hierarchy is evident from the present research. We found that there is no uniform gender disaggregated data in the water sector collected officially. Lack of data provides lack of evidence or status of the changing relationship between gender, class/caste and water access. This study, therefore suggests disaggregating vulnerabilities to reach the people who needs help the most.

Climate science verses local perception:
Local adaptation at its best: The research found that, most of the climatic data analysis has been concentrated at aggregate level and is generalized to represent the country/ region. With extensive variations in topography and microclimate there is need of site specific climatic data analysis to understand the climatic variation at local contexts which this research has catered to. We also found that local perception is an important aspect of adaptation. People develop strategies to cope with the changes in the short run and to adapt to the long term changes based on their dynamic and evolving knowledge, whether or not they are consistent with meteorological data. Our research also shows that in most of the cases, local perception is very close to the climatic trends but there is a need to marry the science and perception for better adaptation outcomes.

Stakeholders’ engagement is critical and paramount:
Our research shows that local communities are struggling to find ways to prepare for the potential impacts of climate change while dealing with immediate pressures through changing agricultural practices, livelihoods and coping with water stress. Our engagement in this project shows that existing management approaches do not adequately incorporate changing stakeholder preferences. Affected communities are mostly aware of the trade-offs but that is not reflected in the planning process because of the gap between policy and practice. This project tried to include stakeholders’ participation at the local level and has shown initial success. The experience therefore shows that stakeholders’ engagement is not only critical but also paramount for better urban planning aimed at sustainability of resources.