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South Asia: Water Resources Management

Water in South Asia
Water in South Asia

The region’s rainfall varies from year to year, causing droughts and floods that result in deaths along with social and economic shocks. South Asia also faces water-related environmental problems—shrinking glaciers, soil erosion, pollution, and groundwater degradation—and trans-boundary issues that put pressure on the availability of water.

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Key Challenges

Water Resources Management
The region’s rainfall varies from year to year, causing droughts and floods that result in deaths along with social and economic shocks. South Asia also faces water-related environmental problems—shrinking glaciers, soil erosion, pollution, groundwater degradation—and trans-boundary issues that put pressure on the availability of water. South Asia’s renewable freshwater resources are about 1,200 cubic meters per capita. Withdrawals of freshwater are high, and many aquifers are overexploited as subsidized electricity makes pumping of water cheap.

Transboundary Waters
Many of the rivers in the region are shared across borders. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan, share 20 major rivers. Conflicting claims over shared water resources is a major security challenge in the region. This requires mediation and dispute resolution for water sharing between countries and communities. Though the increased scarcity of water has been a source of many tensions and conflicts in the region, there has also been recognition for the need for regional cooperation. The many treaties, protocols and conventions are proof for this.

The World Bank has played an important role in the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan that allowed the countries to share water from the Indus river.

Groundwater Management
Groundwater is the primary source of water for drinking and irrigation in South Asia. Adequate management in terms of quantity and quality is critical to ensure access to safe drinking water. Access to drinking water is reduced either by a shortage in the quantity of water or by the deterioration of the water quality of aquifers. In southern India , water shortages are the result of unsustainable extraction of groundwater by farmers.

Groundwater quality issues are also widespread in the region. This is due to untreated wastewater in urban areas or to the seepage of irrigation water into the aquifers. In addition, natural contamination of groundwater with arsenic and other metals such as fluoride is common throughout Bangladesh, as well as in India, Nepal and Pakistan. In the last decade, Bangladesh has lost nearly a fifth of its safe drinking water sources due to natural arsenic contamination of groundwater. Natural fluoride contamination is widespread in India.

The Bank takes a comprehensive approach towards groundwater management including water quantity and quality aspects, institutional capacity building and reform issues, as well as the establishment of adequate legal and institutional frameworks.

River Basin Management
River basins are the ultimate source of all water used in households, agriculture and industry, as well as the receptors of most wastewater. All living organisms in a basin have water needs that need to be met and they all compete for a scarce resource. In addition to fulfilling these needs, river basins also serve other purposes like recreation, nature, fishing and hydropower production.

Effective river basin management must take into account the relationships, interaction and impact that some water users have on each other. Where water is scarce, conflict may arise. More intense farming methods and aggressive use of pesticides upstream may mean less water and lower water quality downstream. An integrated, effective river basin management approach should therefore balance a river basin's functions and the costs they entail. For this to happen, users must be involved in the decision-making and management process. (For more information on Global River Basin Management)

Watershed Management
Watershed management uses a holistic management approach of soil, water, and vegetation in the watershed area in order to increase agricultural productivity and conserve natural resources. The goal is to improve peoples' standard of living without damaging the environment. Improving management of watersheds requires investments in technology, infrastructure, social institutions and markets. Typical watershed management technologies include soil conservation, water harvesting, storage and distribution, increasing vegetative cover, and safe disposal of excess water. International experience shows that successful watershed management requires that these technologies be adapted to local climatic and topographical conditions; population densities; crop types and agricultural practices; institutional capacities; and it must ensure that poor people benefit from it. Consequently, investments are also necessary to build the capacity of local institutions and communities. Farming systems improvements and value addition/marketing are key ingredients for deepening the impact of watershed investments.

Information Technology and the Water Sector
The World Bank has been increasingly promoting the use of appropriate information technology in water resources management. The goal is to build an appropriate knowledge base and strengthen analytical capacity in the region to better plan and manage water resources and service delivery. By tapping into the most appropriate available information tools and techniques, Governments can perform their functions more effectively.

Some of the information tools and techniques whose use and/or further development the Bank is promoting in water resources include:

- Databases, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing, Simulation & Optimization Models of various types, Integrated Decision Support Systems, and Monitoring & Evaluation systems (M&E)
- Appropriate Management Information Systems in water and irrigation & drainage institutions
- Modern topographic surveys to better plan and manage problems of waterlogging and water access
- Information kiosks in rural areas (for extension, marketing, information management, etc.)
- Computerization of records and use of archival/access software to store hydrologic and climatic data, data on irrigation systems and designs
- Digital libraries of environmental and water-related data

World Bank Support

World Bank assistance focuses on building an integrated, sustainable, and efficient water management and allocation systems that are governed by institutions and stakeholder participation. Projects include support to watershed management, groundwater management, trans-boundary waters, and river basin management.

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