Strengthening community resilience through water management - Hindustan Times

Strengthening community resilience through water management

Apr 02, 2024 03:04 PM IST

This article is authored by Meenal Patole, director, Programmes, WaterAid India.

In a village, planning the water distribution system is a community affair where every voice matters. From ensuring that no one is left behind to crafting systems that honour tradition and simplicity, the villagers are the architects of their resilience. It is a model that fosters a profound sense of ownership and responsibility—a shared commitment to sustain not just water, but the very fabric of their way of life. A journey towards where water flows not just as a resource, but as a testament to the power of community-driven change.

Water Management (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
Water Management (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Reflecting on the journey towards sustainable urban development, the significance of achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.6 becomes evident. SDG 6.6 underscores the critical imperative to safeguard and restore water-associated ecosystems, which are indispensable for the viability of cities and the wellbeing of communities. In India, despite notable progress, a significant portion of the population still lacks access to safe and adequate drinking water.

Efforts have been made to support community resilience through equitable water access. These endeavours underscore the link between water, peace, and sustainability, particularly in rural regions. Amidst ongoing challenges, the focus remains steadfast on empowering communities and amplifying their voices in the journey towards water security and peace.

At the heart of these initiatives lies the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), India's flagship scheme with the ambitious goal of providing safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections to all rural households by the end of 2024. Within this framework, community participation emerges as a cornerstone, reshaping the dynamics of decision-making and resource management.

According to the ministry of Jal Shakti, significant progress has been made in the country since the launch of JJM, towards enhancing access to piped water supply schemes to rural households. At the time of the announcement of the JJM in August 2019, only 3.23 crore (16.76%) of rural households were reported to have tap water connections. As on March 15, 2024, as reported by states and the Union Territories, the total number of rural households with tap water connections has reached to 14.51 crore (75.18%).

JJM emphasises community involvement in decision-making, empowering communities to address their specific needs effectively. Through active participation, marginalised communities are included, ensuring culturally appropriate systems that are easy to maintain. This approach fosters ownership and responsibility, ultimately leading to more sustainable water management practices.

And here arises the power of community participation which plays a pivotal role in strengthening social cohesion, fostering trust, and promoting cooperation, thereby reducing the likelihood of conflicts over water resources. Challenges persist, especially in multi-village schemes, requiring innovative solutions for operations and maintenance. Clearer frameworks and enhanced participation mechanisms are imperative. Sustainability and climate resilience are foundational principles, necessitating a holistic approach to water management. Strategies include water budgeting, conservation practices, and leveraging traditional wisdom to address environmental uncertainties.

While JJM offers a promising framework, there are certain aspects that require further attention. The programme utilises two primary models: single-village schemes (SVS) and multi-village schemes (MVS). SVS models, where water sources are located within the village, provide clear opportunities for community participation. However, MVS, where water is drawn from a centralised source for multiple villages, present a different picture. In MVS, community ownership and participation in operation and maintenance (O&M) remain unclear.

Through the convergence of ongoing schemes and Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) activities related to sustainable groundwater management, the Atal Bhujal Yojana (ATAL JAL) scheme aims to involve communities actively in a range of activities, including the formation and strengthening of Water User Associations, the monitoring and dissemination of groundwater data, water budgeting, the preparation of water security plans specific to gram panchayats, and their implementation.

Sustainable water management goes beyond just addressing drinking water needs. Agriculture, as a significant water consumer, needs to be integrated into the equation. Water budgeting, a process that comprehensively assesses water usage within a community, is paramount. Civil society organisations are already pioneering efforts in this area. Through collaborative development of water budgets with communities, we can ensure water is used efficiently and sustainably for all purposes.

Furthermore, fostering convergence between different government departments is essential. Water for agriculture, health institutions, and schools often falls under the purview of separate departments. Improved communication and collaboration between these departments can lead to a more holistic approach to water management and ensure everyone's needs are met.

Water management, community involvement, and lasting peace are intertwined. Achieving true water security goes beyond quantity—it requires renewal and conservation. Community participation is key, fostering ownership, responsibility, collaboration, and innovation in sustainable practices, enhancing resilience to challenges like the climate crisis.

Agriculture, vital for many villages, presents a specific challenge in this regard. According to the annual assessment by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) and the state governments in 2022, the Annual Extractable Ground Water Resource stands at 398 BCM (billion cubic metre). The Annual Ground Water Extraction for all uses amounts to 239.16 BCM. Notably, approximately 87% of this total, equivalent to 208.49 BCM, has been utilised for agriculture activities. Sustainable water budgeting is crucial, considering both agricultural and domestic needs, and strategies for renewal and waste reduction.

The water economy concept highlights water's role in peace and sustainability. Unequal distribution can lead to tensions and conflict. A holistic approach considers water's multifaceted role, ensuring stability, and prosperity for all through community involvement, sustainable agriculture, and water management.

In pursuit of sustaining peace and bolstering community resilience, equitable water management emerges as a cornerstone. Firstly, prioritising inclusive participation in planning and decision-making processes ensures that the diverse needs of all community members are met. Secondly, fostering a sense of ownership over water resources encourages responsible stewardship and maintenance practices. Additionally, embracing culturally appropriate water distribution systems not only respects tradition but also enhances its effectiveness and acceptance within the community.

Moreover, investing in education and capacity-building initiatives empowers individuals to actively engage in water conservation efforts. Furthermore, promoting sustainable water practices, such as rainwater harvesting and efficient irrigation methods, can significantly mitigate water scarcity and enhance long-term resilience. Lastly, fostering partnerships between local communities, government agencies, and civil society organisations can leverage collective expertise and resources to address water challenges comprehensively.

This article is authored by Meenal Patole, director, Programmes, WaterAid India.

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