ECC Platform Library

 

India’s Water Crisis and the WEF Nexus

07 June, 2016
Dhanasree Jayaram

The ongoing drought conditions in India have affected 256 districts in 10 different states and more than 300 million people. Another figure quoted by the Minister of Rural Development and Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation stands at 313 districts in 13 states. In many parts of the country, acute water scarcity and water stress have created severe economic and social distress, including the loss of crops, farmer suicides and rural-to-urban migration. Indeed, the situation is so precarious that the Supreme Court (the apex court in India) has stepped in to direct the central government to declare the drought a humanitarian disaster and to establish a consolidated fund and national response force to deal with the drought conditions.

Whilst much analysis has been carried out linking these drought conditions to climate change, through the investigation of socio-economic implications and exploring potential policy options to tackle the problem, a more inclusive and holistic approach towards addressing the issue needs to be brainstormed and put into action. The Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus approach could potentially put the issue into perspective and help offer solutions.

The natural and human factors

The nexus approach towards understanding and tackling resource issues emerged primarily in the wake of the food and energy crisis in 2007-2008. Since then, the nexus approach has been adopted to analyse a number of insecurities connected to water, energy, food and climate, especially with a focus on human security. In a country like India, rising population and growing prosperity are already putting unsustainable pressures on available resources. A changing climate and poor natural resource management are compounding the stress.

In 2015, the El-Nino phenomenon induced drought-like conditions with a 14 percent deficit in rainfall during the southwest monsoon period, which is linked to climate change. Some regions even experienced rainfall deficiency of over 40%. However, this alone cannot be blamed for the water crisis that the country is experiencing. As experts observe, a good monsoon this year cannot resolve India’s long-term water woes. Whether it is unregulated groundwater extraction for irrigation, water wastage in urban areas, diversion of river water for different purposes, lack of investments in storage systems, unsustainable cropping patterns or the pricing of energy and agricultural commodities – the range of factors that have contributed to the drought is extensive. This clearly points towards the nexus operating at all levels.

The fast-depleting groundwater

In a country where 80 percent of the water is consumed by the agricultural sector, 65 percent of the agricultural land is irrigated by groundwater and 84 percent of the net increase in irrigated area is on account of the groundwater in the last four decades, a large proportion of the problem could be resolved by fixing the poorly managed agricultural sector (particularly farming practices) that is critical for food security. Moreover, it indicates the need for focussing beyond surface water management and addressing the more important groundwater crisis.

The origins of this crisis can be traced back to the Green Revolution of the 1960s when the country’s policy and epistemic communities took to massive cultivation of high-yielding crops (mainly cereals), mostly employing flood irrigation that uses relatively low levels of technology and labour. The aim was to raise agricultural yields multi-fold and make India food secure, as well as to support rural and low-income farmers. Flood irrigation has been criticised heavily for its contribution to water wastage through evaporation, run-off, soil erosion, leaching of fertilisers and so on. Eventually, water resources are over-exploited and wasted as yields do not increase proportionately to water usage. In the subsequent years, flood irrigation has given way to drip and micro irrigation in many parts of the country; but in the drought-hit areas, the former practice has not been completely abandoned, and in many cases, such as in Maharashtra, the former is still more popular.

The flawed cropping patterns

Maharashtra is a leading sugarcane producer, one of the most water-intensive crops and its cultivation is primarily rain-fed, unlike in another major producer state Uttar Pradesh where it is irrigated. The state has been reeling under severe drought for the past few years due to inadequate rainfall. The farmers have been forced to depend to a great extent on groundwater to sustain yields, using tubewells and borewells that pump water to the surface, even at a time when drinking water is scarce.

Karnataka’s story – not far behind Maharashtra in terms of sugarcane production remains the same. Ironically, the government policy of promoting the cane industry, i.e. by reducing duties in comparison to other crops, by providing incentives for exports, and free or subsidised water and electricity, so far has led to its cultivation replacing other crops such as ragi and jowar with more and more farmers opting to plant it. Similarly, rice – another water-intensive crop, but one of the staple crops of India – is being grown in regions (the Punjab-Haryana belt) that have depleting water tables. This brings to light the inherent irony in the farming practices followed in the country, especially in terms of cropping patterns, wherein to this day water-intensive crops are grown and promoted in regions that have historically been drought-prone.

Where water, energy and food meet

Even more importantly, large tracts of land that were earlier being used for cultivating food crops are now being diverted to cane – that not only feeds the sugar industry but is increasingly being seen as a source of biofuels that could cater to India’s move towards greening its automotive industry by introducing flexible-fuel vehicles. The country has previously unsuccessfully experimented with jatropha, a plant promoted by the government to produce bio-diesel. A move towards flex-fuel at this stage will therefore have to take into consideration the ground realities including water shortage and persisting food insecurity in the country, even if it is a good step towards maintaining energy security and mitigating climate change.

Talking about energy security, one must not forget that although the agricultural sector consumes 80 percent of the country’s water resources, India’s burgeoning industry’s water demands have also grown exponentially. Consequently, the water crisis has adverse implications for not only the industry, but also energy security. The sugar industry in the drought-hit Marathwada region of Maharashtra that enjoys high political patronage (cutting across political lines – the reason why no restrictions were put on it for long), could now be forced to use only recycled water so that drinking water is not diverted to running sugar mills. The Maharashtra government has also announced water cuts for all industries. The state’s power sector is also hit as many thermal and hydroelectric plants are either shut or are being run at well below capacity.

Options for India on the domestic front

India has to overhaul its water policy and implement policies that take into account the water footprint of its crops and not rely merely on traditional choices. This does not imply that India must refrain from growing rice, sugarcane and other water-intensive crops. A staple crop like rice should be grown in regions that receive sufficient rainfall, such as eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. Similarly, India should re-examine its food trade policy that is tilted towards heavy water consumption. Currently, India exports sugar and imports pulses, when the country’s climatic and soil conditions would better suit the cultivation of pulses. This scenario is caused largely by the lopsided policies of the government, including (in comparison to rice and sugarcane) poor procurement or stockpiling, lower import duty, lower subsidies (on electricity, water and irrigation), and inadequate post-harvest storage facilities.

Additionally, energy policies linked to the agricultural sector have long been criticised due to their unsustainable nature, with the government granting heavy subsidies on electricity, resulting in unregulated energy use and groundwater extraction (using pumps) by the farmers. Economists have recommended a gradual phase-out of subsidies on power and water (accompanied by support for low-income households) as well as a crop-neutral incentive structure so that water intensive crops do not get an upper hand on account of them being high-yielding or lucrative in the short-term.

India’s options at the international level

On a global scale, the discourse on WEF Nexus has increased over the years. This is especially due to the highly interconnected nature of the international economy. The water crisis in India has not only regional and national implications, but also global ones. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has also repeatedly accused India of distorting trade. Although India cannot instantly give up stockpiling or subsidies, it has to develop a strategy with the rest of the international community that integrates the three sectors of water, food and energy through bilateral and multilateral diplomatic initiatives, without impinging on the rights and interests of those in poverty.

Additionally, India cannot afford to adopt climate-friendly energy practices at the cost of its water and food security. Thus, while it enters into bilateral and multilateral arrangements, as mentioned in the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), to enhance the use of biofuels, it has to work out a formula that ensures that the country’s areas assigned for growing food crops are not encroached upon as well as crops like sugarcane are not grown in drought-prone regions.

Most importantly, the nexus approach underscores the need for the international community to invest huge amounts of resources in the farming sector in order to make it more sustainable, especially in the development and deployment of advanced technologies (irrigation, crop varieties etc.) that may prevent a future crisis. The Paris Agreement does not mention agriculture, but clearly emphasises its relevance through food security, food production and so on. Countries such as India can certainly take the lead in adapting agriculture and to an extent reducing the sector’s emissions. But they cannot do so unless financial resources are pooled in order to establish mechanisms and make them effective in the long run. At this stage, India’s priority should be to resolve its inherent contradictions and loopholes to be able to influence international policy and decision-making on addressing these issues.

[This article is written as a part of the adelphi-MARG project Climate Diplomacy, supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.]

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

Dhanasree Jayaram is Project Associate, Manipal Advanced Research Group (MARG), Manipal University, Karnataka, India

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Topic
Climate Change
Energy
Land & Food
Water

Region
Asia

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

Read more

Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

Read more

Cities

Sorry, no description found.

Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

Read more

Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

Read more

Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

Read more

Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

Read more

Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

Read more

Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

Read more

Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

Read more

Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

Read more

Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

Read more

Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

Read more

Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

Read more

Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

Read more

Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

Read more

Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

Read more

Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

Read more

Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

Read more

Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

Read more

North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

Read more

Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

Read more

South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

Read more

Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

Read more