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ADB Loan to Help Tackle Water Stress, Climate Threats in India’s Cauvery Delta

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MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $100 million loan to strengthen a key irrigation system and improve water management in the Vennar subbasin of the Cauvery delta in Tamil Nadu—one of India’s most water-stressed states.

The delta river basin is a critical source of water for agriculture, both within Tamil Nadu and neighboring states, but a lack of investment over many years has left irrigation systems unable to meet user demand and increasingly vulnerable to floods and droughts. Much of India is currently reeling from its worst drought in decades, sparked by an extreme El Niño weather pattern, and this is forecast to give way to a La Niña system that could potentially bring above average monsoon rains in 2016, heightening flood risks.

“The Vennar irrigation network is no longer able to meet the needs of many of its poorest farmers particularly in coastal areas, and the climate extremes that have been battering the country and are expected to worsen mean there is a pressing need to upgrade it,” said Manjula Amerasinghe, Project Management Specialist in ADB’s South Asia Department. “This project will support both physical improvements and stronger water management, giving a significant boost to the lives of coastal communities who often go without sufficient irrigation water.”

The project will strengthen the embankments of six major irrigation water channels in the Vennar system to make them more resilient to floods and upgrade water regulators, sluices and pump stations. To boost management, more community members will be tapped to take part in planning and delivery of water services, training will given to state water resource department officers, and flood forecasting and warning systems and flood risks maps will also be drawn up to help communities respond more proactively and effectively to extreme events. A feasibility study will also be carried out to examine the potential for similar improvements elsewhere in the Cauvery delta in a follow up project.

The work is expected to be completed in December 2020.

The Cauvery delta, on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, is known as the “rice bowl” of the state, with over 70% of the delta population engaged in farming and fishing, but access to water is unreliable and flooding common during the monsoon season. This is expected to worsen as climate change intensifies with projections that storm rainfall could increase by 19%, the sea level could rise by up to 0.87 meters by 2100, and maximum temperatures could increase by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. The Cauvery River flows through the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and part of the Union Territory of Puducherry, with over half the catchment area in Tamil Nadu.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, ADB in December 2016 will mark 50 years of development partnership in the region. It is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2015, ADB assistance totaled $27.2 billion, including cofinancing of $10.7 billion.

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