Research warns of distress to residents due to inequitable access to water - Hindustan Times
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Research warns of distress to residents due to inequitable access to water

BySanskriti Menon
Jul 25, 2022 12:30 AM IST

The research, which also uses IPCC projections and modelling tools, shows a high possibility of multiple drought years due to climate change

Research carried out under the Food-water-energy for Urban Sustainable Environments (FUSE) initiative by Stanford University, USA, Austrian partners Austrian Foundation for Development Research (ÖFSE) and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany predicts distress of residents in Pune if there is a possibility of multiple drought years due to climate change. This research project started in May 2018 and is nearing completion now.

Inadequate access to safe water supply is a reality for many in Pune, such as these women in Baner washing clothes in the Ramnadi, which has influxes of untreated sewage. (HT PHOTO)
Inadequate access to safe water supply is a reality for many in Pune, such as these women in Baner washing clothes in the Ramnadi, which has influxes of untreated sewage. (HT PHOTO)

The FUSE model provides the opportunity to project a range of other scenarios as well, and to assess the feasibility of policy solutions. These could include changing water allocations while compensating for the loss of farm livelihoods, reducing urban water wastage, and increasing recycling and reuse.

On July 18 and 20 a workshop was hosted by the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE) where representatives of the water resources department, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), and 80 academics and civil society organisations in Pune met the FUSE research team and shared their inputs.

“The FUSE model shows that the existing inequitable access to water in the Pune region would lead to severe distress for most households and farmers if a multiple-year drought occurs due to climate change as population grows over the coming decades,” said Christian Klassert, researcher at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Germany.

Mangesh Dighe, environmental conservation officer PMC, said, “We have requested the FUSE team to conduct one more presentation only for Pune Municipal Corporation. We would like to go through it again.”

The ‘Living Lab’ approach applied to the research convenes stakeholders to consider future urban food-water-energy systems challenges and participate in modelling the complex interrelationships around water use.

The FUSE model has been applied to the cases of Amman, Jordan, and Pune as these are growing metropolitan regions each containing approximately five million people, intermittent freshwater supplies, and significant competition with agriculture for water and energy. The researchers, who visited Pune before Covid for the initial steps of the research, were back in the city last week to share the FUSE model.

Recent studies by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany, and Mashal, Pune, showed that in informal settlements many household members, usually women, spend several hours a day filling water, compromising time available for other activities including livelihood opportunities.

The profligate use of water and inadequate access co-exist in urban Pune. A similar story is well-known in agricultural water use. Farmers with easy access to surface water or groundwater for irrigation tend to grow water-intensive crops like sugarcane. Others struggle for water and against land conversion.

However, the development challenge is not only the inequity in access to water for domestic and agricultural uses.

The Bhima River basin, which has the Mutha, Mula, Pavna, and Indrayani rivers as tributaries of the Bhima, has a limited quantity of surface water and groundwater. Further, the Mulshi dam water is reserved for hydroelectricity generation. A third issue is water pollution, primarily due to inadequate facilities for the treatment of domestic sewage and industrial effluents.

These issues are compounded with the increasing uncertainty of rainfall, and the possibility of multi-year droughts. When dam levels run low, the dependence on groundwater reserves increases. With extreme rainfall events and the expansion of impermeable urban lands, flash floods and rainwater runoff may be too rapid to recharge aquifers.

The research, which also uses IPCC projections and modelling tools, shows a high possibility of multiple drought years due to climate change.

The FUSE research should be seen as a wake-up call for averting major water stress, especially for the population already living under precarious conditions. It should help focus much-needed public and policy attention on the need for innovation and sustainable management of water-food-energy systems and the need for urban transformation, backed by sound science to help address climate change impacts as the region’s population grows significantly over the coming decades.

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