Recent years have brought substantial evidence of climate change. Adverse events all over the world that are attributable to climate change are on the increase. Climate change is now being recognized and gaining the attention of the world as climate events are being viewed in terms of “means and extremes.” World leaders converged to discuss and draw a roadmap in the United Nations Climate Change Conference recently concluded in Glasgow, Scotland.
In its wake, climate change has brought about intensification in rainfall variability and increases in temperatures. Going forward, extreme weather events is expected to lead to an increase of severity in droughts, floods, and heat waves in tropical regions such as India. Already grappling with an imbalance in water availability, India could see certain parts become drier, while others encounter floods.
While the overdue need to tackle climate change is becoming crucial, it is of prime importance for institutions to direct all possible resources to adapt to this looming threat. Even if global CO2 emissions are reduced to zero, global temperatures will likely continue to rise.
The impact of climate change is impacting water resources all over, making it central to intervention strategies. Improving water management in agricultural development-dependent rural India is key to reducing pressure on water systems.
Impacting rural lives
Agriculture and development in India employs almost 60 percent of the working population, which is dominated by smallholder farmers. This section is extremely vulnerable to the impact of climate change, and appropriate adaptation strategies must be taken for their long-term survival and well-being. One strategy that has the ability to tackle this problem in the short and long run in arid and drought-prone regions is rainwater harvesting. Water management and adaptation are major interventions that have the ability to have a positive impact on rural livelihoods.
Per the concept of the Water Poverty Index(Sullivan, 2002), the following are key dimensions of water use in rural livelihoods:
1. access to basic water services,
2. crop and livestock water security,
3. a clean and healthy water environment, and
4. secure and equitable entitlements to water.
Climate change impacts the ecosystem, leading to an adverse effect on food security, health, water resources, settlements, and infrastructure. Therefore, management of water resources is central to the well-being of the farming community in India. Climate change is seen to impact:
1) the hydrological cycle that affects precipitation patterns, melting of mountain glaciers and icecaps, all affecting soil moisture;
2) higher water temperatures that lead to changing water quality; and
3) a rise in sea levels, leading to salinization and reduction in the availability of freshwater.
Potential funding agencies and stakeholders collaborating to alleviate the acute shortage of finance for adaptation will hopefully be attracted to the nexus between mitigation and adaptation.
Rural India is beset with structural issues like population growth, rapid commercialization, and groundwater exploitation. Access to water in arid parts of rural India is dependent on groundwater, with little access to irrigation or canal supply. Communities require a radical change in mindset. An area that is drawing their attention is rainwater harvesting. The government slogan, “Catch the rain, where it falls, when it falls,” is being promoted vigorously as the government realizes its critical importance in the face of climate change.
Water-harvesting techniques increase the time required for crop moisture to set in, resulting in improved crop yields. However, farmers are reluctant to adopt water-harvesting techniques as they are labor-intensive, require some technical expertise, and are perceived to be costly.
Water Harvesting In Rural India
The concept of water harvesting has existed in India for many centuries. Ancient India had a well-balanced ecosystem to mitigate the effects of a diverse hydrological landscape. Some of the ancient technologies are still in existence. Water-harvesting techniques followed in earlier times were specific to the ecology and diversity of the region. History is replete with examples, from Kuhls in the western Himalayas to Tanka in Thar Desert, Rajasthan, and Sisandras in Karnataka. However, traditions were forgotten due to urbanization, migration, and population growth. Some of these techniques are relevant even today as low-cost and easy-to-implement interventions.
Some water-harvesting techniques being used in arid regions as mitigation interventions are:
(a) channel reservoirs,
(b) on-farm reservoirs,
(c) contour bunds and contour trenches, and
(d) check dams.
For an effective adaptation to climate change, water-harvesting policy intervention needs a concerted effort through public private partnerships (PPP) to reach people at the ground level.
In some parts of rural India, groundwater is a major source of water supply. This is expensive, sometimes contaminated, and leads to a rapid depletion of the water table. Livelihoods in these areas are adversely affected, and contaminated water leads to health issues as well. S M Sehgal Foundation, a leading NGO in water management and agricultural development, has been working tirelessly to address these issues for the welfare of rural communities.
In village Teharki in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, a pond had laid dry for the past fifty years. The pond, centrally located in the village, accumulated dirty water from the village. The pond was a slushy and slippery place. Since its shape and boundary was indistinct, the filth from the pond spread onto the nearby road, making it difficult for the people to commute.
S M Sehgal Foundation, under a CSR-supported partnership project, undertook the initiative of revitalizing this pond.
In Kolar district of Karnataka, Kere Habba (lake festival), an annual celebration of traditional tanks had long been forgotten in many villages, including Kempesandra, a village in Malur Taluk of Kolar. For the last forty years, the village tank was not storing much water, owing to heavy silt and reduced water storage capacity. The tank desiltation and rejuvenation work was carried out under the guidance of a Tank User Group (TUG) formed for facilitating the project executed by S M Sehgal Foundation with financial support from The Coca-Cola Foundation.
S M Sehgal Foundation’s Agricultural Development Program team has been working to build resilience in agriculture and sustainable development and create mechanisms to cope with or adapt to the effect of climate change in agriculture. Using a multipronged approach, the team works with farmers to promote water-use efficiency in agricultural development, soil health and nutrient management, renewable energy, appropriate farm machinery, protected cultivation, and salt-tolerant varieties of cereal and vegetable crops. S M Sehgal Foundation’s Agricultural Development Program promotes sustainable livelihoods by building capacities of farmers, including women producers, on improved agricultural practices and new technologies that increase crop yields, conserve water, and improve soil fertility.
To address the twin issues of food and water security, it is imperative to promote an equitable and healthy food cycle. The community most likely to bear the brunt of the ill effects of climate change are farmers with small landholdings. For them to rise above the poverty line and double their income levels, it is key to shift to climate-resilient agricultural development in India.
Water management is a unique approach and a sustainable solution to a multitude of ecological, economic, and social problems in the long run, thereby tackling climate change.