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FEATURE STORY December 9, 2019

Helping India Overcome Its Water Woes


Urban Water supply in Belgaum District, Karnataka


Dipankar Ghoshal/World Bank

India is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. Yet, it is believed that India does not so much face a water crisis as a water management crisis. IJsbrand H de Jong, Lead Water Resources Specialist at the World Bank, weighs in.

What are the challenges that India faces with water management, especially given that we often have too little or too much water?

India is home to 18 percent of the global population but has only 4 percent of the global water resources. Its per capita water availability is around 1,100 cubic meter (m3), well below the internationally recognized threshold of water stress of 1,700 m3 per person, and dangerously close to the threshold for water scarcity of 1,000 m3 per person.

Population growth and economic development put further pressure on water resources. Climate change is expected to increase variability and to bring more extreme weather events.

Paradoxically, India is also the largest net exporter of virtual water (the amount of water required to produce the products that India exports) and has one of the most water-intense economies. Despite looming water scarcity, India is one of the largest water users per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). This suggests that the way in which India manages its scarce water resources accounts for much of its water woes.

Government capacities are lacking as far as improving water management is concerned, while policies and incentives often favor inefficient and unproductive use of water. This is coupled with weak or absent institutions (e.g. for water regulation) and poor data collection and assessment.

"Despite looming water scarcity, India remains one of the largest water users per unit of GDP"



What important lessons in water management can India learn from other countries?

We don’t have to go overseas to see good examples of water resources management. The Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority, established under a World Bank project, is putting in place policies, regulations, institutions and incentives that promote more efficient and more productive use of water, e.g., by ensuring the equitable distribution of water among users, and by establishing water tariffs.

Efforts to establish effective authorities are also underway in other states, and Maharashtra is disseminating the lessons learned from its experience.

In India, experience with improving water service delivery has been mixed as, only in rare cases, have efforts been embedded in a favorable policy and regulatory environment. When it comes to improving water service delivery, India can learn from Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique and New South Wales (Australia), among others.

Poor or absent water management policies also exacerbate the effects of climate change on water. On the other hand, sound water management can neutralize many of the water-related impacts of climate change. Vietnam, for instance, has implemented a comprehensive program to manage water-related risks and build resilience. Nigeria has helped prevent erosion, reclaim valuable land and focused on sustainable livelihoods to reduce the vulnerability of people, infrastructure, assets, natural capital, and livelihoods to land degradation. And the Philippines is implementing comprehensive urban drainage works to improve water management.

How is the World Bank supporting this issue?

The World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework for India recognizes the importance of the efficient use of natural resources, including water, in support of the country’s ambitious growth targets. Several World Bank projects support India’s efforts in the water sector:

Through the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the World Bank is helping the Government of India build institutional capacity for the management and clean-up of the Ganga and investing to reduce pollution. The $1-billion operation has financed investments in wastewater and effluent treatment, solid waste management and river front development.

Another World Bank project, the Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project, has improved the safety and performance of 223 dams in the country through rehabilitation, capacity-strengthening and measures to enhance legal and institutional frameworks.

The National Hydrology Project is providing significant support to strengthen capacities, improve data monitoring and analysis, and laying the foundations for benchmarking and performance-based water management.

The Shimla Water Supply and Sewerage Service Delivery Reform Development Policy Loan supports the Government of Himachal Pradesh in its policy and institutional development program for improving water supply and sewerage services that are financially sustainable and managed by an accountable institution responsive to its customers.

The West Bengal Accelerated Development of Minor Irrigation supports farmer-led irrigation by improving service delivery to farming communities and linking these to agricultural markets.

Innovative instruments are being deployed to finance these operations, such as the development policy loan in Shimla, the program-for-results financing in the Swachh Bharat Mission Support Operation and the National Groundwater Management and Improvement Project, and the use of disbursement-linked indicators in Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project-II.

Analytical work at the World Bank focuses, among others, on irrigation and water and sanitation service delivery. The results will be incorporated into future lending operations.