In last week’s review of the drinking water situation in the state, Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik directed the officials to prepare water scarcity hotspots in the state. With the commence of summer months, large parts of the state are already facing water scarcity and stresses of various degrees. Such water stress conditions are likely to become more severe and widespread with climate change impacts such as rising temperatures and erratic monsoons, rapid industrialization and unplanned urbanization. It is in this unfolding context, the state government and other stakeholders need to revisit the existing water management policies and practices in the state and shift towards a more integrated water governance policy and planning framework to tackle such multi-dimensional issues of water security.
Valuing water, among others, is one such framework which can support and strengthen such efforts of the state government. This year’s World Water Day (March 22) theme was Valuing Water. The World Water Development (WWD) Report 2021, which was launched on this occasion, underscores the urgency for more collective action to further improve and integrate valuing water approaches in development decision-making for wise use of this vital natural resource.
Odisha is endowed with rich water resources, both surface and ground. According to the Department of Water Resources estimates, the average annual availability of surface water from state’s own drainage boundary is 82,841 billion cubic meter (BCM), while 37,556 BCM flows into the state from neighboring states. The state has a net dynamic ground water resources of 16, 68,914 BCM. More than three-fourths of this water resources are monsoon dependent. Odisha’s existing annual per capita water availability of 3.359 cubic meters is likely to reduce to 2,218 cubic meters by 2051, rendering larger parts of Odisha severely water-stressed and directly impacting irrigation, agriculture, domestic water supply, sanitation, fisheries and other industries dependent on water. Increasing ground water salination in some of the costal region, pollution of rivers and other water bodies, other geogenic contamination such as high concentration of fluoride and arsenic in ground water, pose additional threats to the state’s water security. The state’s development gains, investments and infrastructure are at great risk of recurring natural hazards like floods, droughts and cyclones and other climate change impacts. For example, according the Cyclone Fani – Damage, Loss and Needs Assessment (DLNA, May 2019) report of the state government, Cyclone Fani caused an economic damage of Rs 24,176 crore in Odisha.
There is an urgency to assess many such climatic- and non-climate threats to the state’s water security and design appropriate policy measures to address such a such complex development challenge. Given the multiple values associated with water and water resources, the valuing water approach offers unique opportunity for the state government to systematically assess these values and use them while reviewing or implementing development policies for a water secure Odisha.
A set of pathways are suggested to help the government’s efforts in this direction:
- Develop a shared understanding on valuing water. Valuation of water resources, or for that matter any natural resources, is often controversial and the methodologies are always contested given multiple values associated with such life-supporting resources which can’t be always monetized. In spite of these methodological challenges, there has been significant improvements in the adoption and use of natural resources valuation in policy design and decisions, by both public and private sectors. One window of opportunity for this could be through the review and revision of the State Water Policy (2007). Such a revision will also ensure alignment with the new National Water Policy (2020) and help identify suitable opportunities to integrate and promote a valuing water approach while planning and negotiating various development projects and investments, including those linked to investments by the private sector and other infrastructure development projects in the state.
- Build on the existing policy initiatives and development priorities. Rather than looking at valuing water as an additional layer of activity or a stand-alone policy exercise, it could be initiated and linked to existing policies and other development priorities in the state. For example, Sujal – Drink from Tap Mission, launched by the Chief Minister in October 2020, aims to provide quality drinking water, fit for direct consumption from the pipe, in more than 50 towns and urban centers in the state by 2021. Through this initiative, which is part of the government’s 5T governance innovation, the state capital Bhubaneswar became the first million plus city in India to achieve universal coverage of piped water supply with 100 per cent household connections. A water valuation approach to this existing scheme would help understand different values of stakeholders, water users and beneficiaries and identify opportunity to improve public participation in efficient use of the water supplied through this scheme, promote more sustainable consumption behavior and reduce water waste, and also create more awareness on the water sources and their protection. Existing institutions like the Pani Panchayats, which are part of the farmers’ organization and have an objective to improve higher cropping intensity by economic use of water, could be leveraged to mobilize more awareness and action on valuing water among water users.
- Shift from the existing water-only focus to a more water-energy-food-ecosystem (WEFE) nexus approach: Water is key to food and energy production and functioning of vital ecosystems like forests, rivers and floodplains. Most of the climate change impacts such as droughts and floods, leading to water scarcity, decline in water quantity and quality adversely impacts all these sectors. Increasing water demands from these sectors and the trade-offs need to be aligned and managed in a scare water context. Hence, there is an urgency to shit from a water-only sectoral approach towards a more integrated multi-sectoral and inter-linked water-energy-food-ecosystem (WEFE) nexus approach of water governance. Such a nexus approach has been found to be more effective in supporting decision-making in contexts of increasing water demands and resulting sectoral conflicts and building climate resilience through more collaborative and integrated planning and implementation. The state Planning and Convergence Department and the Climate Change Cell could collaboratively initiate policy consultation on such a nexus approach and initiate programmes. One such opportunity is through more water-focused works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) program. For example, a recent Down to Earth documentation highlights ways communities in Bhuanpanda and Mandekhela villages in the migration-prone Bolangir district have been reaping the twin benefits of employment and increased agricultural productivity through more such water-focused activities in MGNREGA.
- Create and sustain more political will: Water security issues often dominate policy debates and public discussions during summer months when large parts of the state face severe to extreme water stress conditions. For example, in the recent Odisha Assembly session an adjournment motion was moved over water security and shortage issues in the state. While such high-level political discussions help initiate relevant policy actions on water security issues, there is a need to sustain the political will on this topic for more concerted actions. This can be achieved by building more awareness among the legislatures, decision-makers, political parties and their leaders, private sector, citizens and media. Framing the water security issue more from a water-climate-livelihoods links and the opportunities to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation for All) targets at the state level, could mobilize more political will and engagement.
These pathways could foster more collaboration and convergence on valuing water and in turn could improve the water security in the state.
(Jyotiraj Patra is a Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD) Fellow and currently works with an international development organization on water governance issues. Views expressed are personal)