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Bangalore, noviembre 2006

Conference Report. Fresh Approaches at Water Conservation, Management / Distribution

Speakers : S. Vishwanath

Chair : Dr. Bhavani Shankar

Mr. Vishwanath in his pictorial and informative Power Point Presentation focused on the importance of Managing India’s water resources and proposed solutions for the same.

He began his presentation with the global viewpoint and then later narrowed down on present situation at the Indian level on the usage of water.

According to the statistic (World Water Use – 2000)

Agriculture : Global : 70 % ; National : 92 %

Industry : Global : 22 % ; National : 3 %

Domestic : Global : 8 % ; National : 5 %

In the era of globalization, there is a huge demand by the Industry for the usage of water from the agriculture sector. There are several conflicts already seen and countries like Australia, China, Spain and others have already increased its demand for water in the industry sector.

Mr. Vishwanath strongly believed that “Unless water is priced it won’t be taken seriously and used efficiently”. For example in India, many farmers have taken water for granted which is provided to them free of cost or which is subsidized heavily. In South Africa and many other parts, there is an argument by the people that God gave water and it should be given free to the people. However, we tend to forget that for the water to come to the taps at home or at the farm, we need infrastructure and equipments and hence Mr. Vishwanath puts forwards the argument that water should be priced.

If tariffs are too low and revenues come from subsidies, water and energy wastage increases because there is minimal investment and no incentive to conserve water or repair inefficient distribution systems. On the other hand, public policy makers must bear in mind that if tariffs are increased, they must be linked with better services. If subsidies are required, they must be carefully targeted for the poor and most needy sectors of society.

Mr. Vishwanath through the Dublin principles attempted to state the main issues and thrust of water management :

  • Freshwater is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment.

  • Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels.

  • Women play a central part in the provision, management, and safeguarding of water.

  • Water has an economic value in all its competing uses, and should be recognized as an economic good.

According to Mr.Vishwanath not many people are aware of the fact that in semi-arid areas forests consume more water than contribute to the ground water table and unfortunately not even ten people knows what the volume of water available in India is.

There is a misconception that India’s groundwater is not in a very good state. The annual recharge of water is far less than what is consumed. But the fact is that 60% of the water comes from the tube wells. We have enough water. We only need to manage the available water resources properly. Instead of developing big water systems, we should go for smaller ones. In other words, we should decentralize the water system. Different areas should have their own water system so that it can be managed properly.

Without going into the details of the most controversial project which is backed by none other than our present scientist genius, Dr. Abdul Kalam, President of India. He highlighted to the following points :

Propents of Inter-linking of rivers :

  • Will solve water problem - drinking and agriculture.

  • Will mitigate floods.

  • Will generate hydro-power.

  • Will drought proof the nation.

  • Much water goes ‘waste’ to the sea, will be made ‘useful’.

Critics of Inter-linking :

  • No surplus in any river except Barak and Brahmaputra.

  • Is enormously costly.

  • Ecological and environmental impacts negative.

  • Likely to cause displacement of people.

  • Will transfer pollution.

Mr. Vishwanath brought to light the important issues for concern :

  • Unsustainable use.

  • Groundwater ‘bubble’.

  • Ecological and environmental degradation.

  • Water as a sink for cities waste.

He explained the alarming situation in Bangalore, which gets its water from the Cauvery River which is 95 kms and 500 metres below the city. The production cost of water is very high at Rs.18 a kilo-litre which will become Rs.26 a kilo-litre. The ceiling on the availability of water - 1500 mld is good enough for 7 million people only i.e. by the year 2011 and the surface and groundwater is on the decline

In his conclusion, he said there is hope for the situation of water but we need to revise, learn from the past mistakes in Water Management and put effective implementation of the Basin Management, Rainwater Harvesting, Recycling, Demand management and Integrated water management Participatory management.

Dr. Bhavani Shankar the chair person for this session applauded the wonderful presentation by Mr. G. Vishwanath and later gave few technical alternatives/comments on the controversial Inter-linking of river project planned for India he further went on to condemn the need of such a project. He ended the session with PowerPoint presentation that was apparently used by the President of India, titled Letter written in the year 2070.

This presentation was highlighting the importance of water and if proper management and environmental care is not taken today, it will ruin the living conditions for the generation to come.

Some of the other issues discussed and raised during this session were :

1. Private – Public/Private Partnership

In India, almost all water and waste water systems are currently managed by the public sector, and most fail to meet the needs of the citizens or businesses they serve. The private sector has therefore stepped in obviously for profit but also it brings finance, reduces waste and lowers costs when supported by effective governance and transparency.

Partnerships between public and private entities have a proven record for raising project financing and bringing in technical expertise for infrastructure projects, including water and sanitation. They can accelerate solutions and enhance operations and service.

One of the major challenges for India is the capacity to manage a comprehensive program to reduce leakages or lost revenues. A number of utilities continue to lose close to 50% of their water to leaky pipes, illegal connections and unbilled or unpaid for water. Not only is the water itself wasted, so is the energy required to treat and pump the water. By using performance-based management contracts to draw on the technical and managerial skills of the private sector, public utilities can enhance their ability to tackle such operational and maintenance problems and improve service to their customers.

2. Rain fed crops or cash crops

The shift from rain fed coarse grain crops to irrigated cash crops like sugarcane has meant higher incomes. But the costs have been heavy. Farmers and villagers have benefited financially but have lost materially because of sugarcane production and the related increase in groundwater exploitation. From the point of view of the farmer with access to inputs for sugarcane, this crop is the most profitable, from the point of view of public interest it is extremely wasteful and resource destructive. Perhaps a speedy adoption of the technologically proven « Madagascar Method » of paddy and sugarcane cultivation should be adopted in India which will result in a 30 per cent to 40 per cent saving of water and a 50 per cent to 60 per cent increase in yields.

The traditional methods of Check dams should be practiced and encouraged. The major environmental benefit of the same is the replenishment of nearby groundwater reserves and wells. The water entrapped by the dam, surface and subsurface, is primarily intended for use in irrigation during the monsoon and later during the dry season, but can also be used for livestock and domestic needs.