Study shows urban Himalaya region vulnerable to water problems

Study shows urban Himalaya region vulnerable to water problems

Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, March 1

The urban Himalaya is running dry and could lead to water problems, a new study conducted in four Hindu Kush Himalayan nations Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan said.

The first-of-its-kind study that covers some 13 towns in the four countries shows that Himalayan tows faced increasing water scarcity because of unplanned urbanisation coupled with the effects of climate change.  

It attributes this increased water insecurity to poor water governance, lack of urban planning, poor tourism management during peak season, and climate-related risks and challenges, and that, if the current trend kept up, the gap between demand and supply could double by 2020.

The study says that local population used groundwater resources to supplement their inadequate water supply, which it was unsustainable in the long-term.

“There is a lack of long-term strategies for water sustainability in urban centres, and this requires the special attention of planners and local governments,” the study says.

“Urbanisation has pulled people from rural areas in the HKH region into nearby urban centres.  Although only 3 per cent of the total HKH population lives in larger cities and 8 per cent in smaller towns, projections show that more than 50 per cent of the population will be living in cities by 2050. This will naturally place tremendous stress on water availability.”

The gap between demand and supply in eight of the surveyed areas was between 20 and 70 per cent. 

At least three-fourths of the urban areas in this region leans heavily on natural springs for their water—the study found that their dependence on such a source ranges anywhere between 50 and 70 per cent.   

The solution and the conclusion

The study suggests a holistic water management approach, which includes spring-shed management and planned adaptation to deal with the problem.  It also said that other options could be explored.

From the case studies of the Himalayan towns, it is evident that increasing urbanisation and climate change are two critical stressors that have an adverse effect on the biophysical environment of urban Himalaya. 

With development plans and policies focusing more on rural areas, issues surrounding urban environments remain neglected. The depletion of natural water resources, encroachment and the gradual disappearance of traditional water systems such as stone spouts, wells, and local water tanks are evident across the region. 

The degradation of water bodies invariably affect wetland ecosystems and also reduce the general capacity of retention that helps prevent flooding. This, in turn, causes impairment of urban drainage and flood management systems.

Important issues concerning water insecurity in urban Himalaya

  1. Water has to be sustainably sourced to bridge the gap between supply and demand. This is especially important given that spring water is the only source of water. Sourcing could be done by increasing budgetary allocations for reviving and protecting springs, increasing water harvesting, and diversifying water sources. 
  2. Water governance and management need to consider issues and services beyond water utilities. A polycentric governance system—which would involve multiple governing bodies and institutions interacting with one another to ensure access to water—could be a more suitable water governance model in Himalayan towns and cities. 
  3. The equitable distribution of water needs more attention. The poor and the marginalised are most vulnerable to dwindling water supply. Many cities are faced with the challenge of providing access to safe water for the poor, especially during the dry season when supply dwindles. 
  4. Women’s multiple roles in water management need to be recognised, and their role in the planning and decision-making processes needs to be reviewed and strengthened. 
  5. Mountain cities need to be viewed in the broader context of mountain water, environment, and energy. Climate change impacts on these sectors are presenting new and growing challenges to Himalayan towns and cities that require innovative solutions. 



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