The efforts by local communities in India to improve water availability have been lauded in a UN report that highlights the importance of finding nature-based solutions to meet global water challenges.
With five billion people at risk of having difficulty accessing adequate water by 2050, finding nature-based solutions is becoming increasingly important, the UN World Water Development Report 2018 said in a report on Monday.
The report, released at the world’s largest water-related event in Brazil, gave examples of nature-based solutions such as such as China’s rainwater recycling, India’s forest regeneration and Ukraine’s artificial wetlands.
“We need new solutions in managing water resources so as to meet emerging challenges to water security caused by population growth and climate change,” said Audrey Azoulay, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in the foreword of the UN World Water Development Report 2018.
“If we do nothing, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050,” she added.
The report notes that the global demand for water has been increasing and will continue to grow significantly over the next two decades due to population growth, economic development and changing consumption patterns.
It cites the example of efforts undertaken by a non-governmental organisation Tarun Bharat Sangh in Rajasthan that supported local communities to undertake landscape-scale restoration of local water cycles and water resources in the state when it was facing one of the worst droughts in its history in 1986.
However, over the following years, Sangh worked alongside local communities to regenerate soils and forests in the region by setting up water harvesting structures. This led to a 30 per cent increase in forest cover, groundwater levels rose by several metres and cropland productivity improved.
“The case study of Tarun Bharat Sangh in Rajasthan, India, presents an excellent example of the way in which low- cost community-led landscape approaches can improve both groundwater recharge and surface water availability through combining the management of soil, vegetation and structural (physical) interventions,” the report said.
The UN report also lauded the leadership provided by women, who customarily take responsibility for providing their families with safe freshwater. Activities centred on the construction of small- scale water harvesting structures combined with the regeneration of forests and soils, particularly in upper catchments, helped improve the recharge of groundwater resources.
The impact of these efforts was significant, with groundwater levels rising by an estimated six metres; productive farmland increasing from 20 per cent to 80 per cent of the catchment and crucial forest cover, including in farmlands, which helps to maintain the integrity and water-retaining capacity of the soil, increasing by 33 per cent.
“These innovative water solutions improved water security in rural India,” the report said.
It added that Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by world leaders in 2015 seeks to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all and, also access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030.
Due to climate change, wetter regions are becoming wetter, and drier regions are becoming even drier. At present, an estimated 3.6 billion people, nearly half the global population, live in areas potentially water-scarce at least one month per year, and this population could increase to some 4.8 billion to 5.7 billion by 2050.
The report notes that reservoirs, irrigation canals and water treatment plants are not the only water management instruments at disposal.
It also cited the example of China’s Sponge City which aims to recycle 70 per cent of rainwater. Faced with an ever-increasing demand for water, China recently initiated the project Sponge City to improve water availability in urban settlements with the aim of recycling 70 per cent of rainwater.
(With inputs from agencies)