Climate Risks and Solutions: Adaptation Frameworks for Water Resources Planning, Development and Management in South Asia - Background Paper 2, Review of Water and Climate Change Policies in South Asia

from International Water Management Institute
Published on 16 May 2019 View Original


This report assesses the suitability of the water and climate-related policy environment (existing policy, legislation, strategy and planning instruments) for adapting to the impacts of climate change in the water sector in South Asia. South Asia will be exposed to a variety of impacts as a result of climate change, ranging from increased frequency and intensity of extreme events—floods, droughts and storms—to longer-term changes in climate and hydrological parameters, such as earlier onset of monsoons, reductions in mean annual river flows, and rising sea levels affecting coastal aquifers and surface waters. Each country of South Asia is exposed to a different suite of climate change impacts: for example, Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to flooding and sea-level rise, while Nepal and Bhutan face the issue of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). These impacts will have a major effect on the economies and social welfare of the countries in the region. The poor and disadvantaged are particularly vulnerable to climate shocks and are likely to be severely impacted by climate change.

This analysis was a desk study, confined to the content of the water and climate change instruments, and did not examine the extent to which these instruments were implemented in practice. Other analyses suggest that implementation of water instruments is weak across South Asia, and that the practice of water resources management lags behind the provisions in these instruments (see Paper 3 [Suhardiman et al. 2019]).

Climate change is likely to place additional pressure on groundwater because it is an attractive substitute for surface water, given that it is relatively isolated from the effects of increased climate variability and increased evaporation. Groundwater is already under severe pressure in parts of South Asia because of pollution and overuse fueled by the unreliability of surface water supplies—an issue that will be exacerbated by climate change. Consequently, it is essential that groundwater governance and management be improved as part of the measures to adapt to climate change.

Adapting to climate change, with a few exceptions, does not require a fundamentally new way of managing water resources—it largely requires better management of existing water resources. If water governance arrangements and water management practices are able to handle the existing variability in water availability and water demand, they will be well placed to cope with increased variability and changes in availability and demand as a result of climate change. There are two additional issues (the exceptions noted above) that climate change adds to conventional water management issues: (a) sealevel rise will lead to increased salinization of coastal surface water and groundwater resources, and (b) hydrological models, standards and procedures will need to take account of the effects of climate change on precipitation, snowmelt and ice melt, and temperature.

At the policy level, integrated water resources management (IWRM) is the accepted paradigm for water resources management. It is particularly suited for adapting to the impacts of climate change on the water sector, because it is designed to manage competition for increasingly scarce water resources.

Moreover, it promotes joint surface water and groundwater management, emphasizes demand management as much as supply augmentation, is an adaptive and learning process, and it links management at the local, national and transboundary levels. The components of IWRM are grouped into five dimensions in this report: (a) water resources knowledge, (b) water resources governance, (c) water resources infrastructure, (d) water resources planning and management, and (e) water resources communications, education and participation. Twelve criteria that describe the desirable characteristics of water instruments for adapting to climate change were developed from these dimensions. The formally accepted water resources instruments1 of the seven South Asian countries were assessed against these 12 criteria.

Generally, the water instruments were found to contain most of the features needed for adapting to climate change. However, three of the seven South Asian countries— Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka— do not have approved water policies, although they have subsectoral water policies. Four countries— Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India—clearly recognized the potential impacts of climate change in their water instruments, while Pakistan and Sri Lanka acknowledge that climate change could impact water management. Nevertheless, the focus is on surface water impacts, and the links between climate change and groundwater have yet to be well defined and understood.

All, except Sri Lanka, explicitly recognize IWRM as the basis for their water resources management. There is a widespread understanding of the importance of monitoring surface water flows and groundwater levels; coordinating actions across water-dependent sectors; extending their water storage capacity (although these development plans do not usually incorporate the effects of climate change); undertaking basin-level planning, although (with the exception of India and Afghanistan) these plans do not have to include the effects of climate change; implementing demand management as well as technical measures for improving water-use efficiencies; protecting water quality; improving public understanding of water management; and encouraging public participation (including disadvantaged groups) in water management.

These actions are not usually proposed specifically to help prepare a country for the impacts of climate change (although there are exceptions such as India recognizing that there will be a growing need for sediment control because of increased erosion under climate change, and Bangladesh and India advocating participation because it will help adapt to climate change at a local level). Nevertheless, by advocating IWRM principles, these water instruments establish an effective platform for adaptation to climate change providing that intentions spelled out are actually implemented and reflected through actions on the ground.

The climate change instruments of South Asian countries, together with various reports to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), were also examined against six criteria for their support to adaptation in the water sector. Overall, there is a widespread understanding of the importance of improving water resources monitoring for surface water and groundwater. Four countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India—advocate that these data be held in a central repository and be made available when needed. Several countries recognize the importance of specific disaster monitoring systems, such as monitoring for GLOFs in Bhutan and Nepal. Nepal specifically recognizes the importance of village-level early warning systems for floods (including GLOFs) and landslides. Three countries—Bangladesh, India and Nepal—propose establishing ‘Centers’ or ‘Networks’ for research into the impacts of climate change.

Probably the biggest gap in water instruments is the absence of agreed water policies and legislation in Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka2 . Consequently, these countries lack a coherent response to water problems and are reliant on subsector instruments or the policies of water-related sectors such as environment, energy and agriculture. All countries have a national climate change instrument, with India and Bhutan developing instruments for adaptation in the water and natural resources sectors, respectively.

All countries have established coordinating institutions, although the composition and authority of these bodies varies considerably from there being no inter-ministerial coordinating body in Sri Lanka to a National Water Resources Council in India chaired by the country’s prime minister. However, the climate change documents, while detailing many aspects of water management, pay little attention to cross-sectoral coordination of water-dependent institutions despite its importance to adaptation in the water sector.

While all countries, except possibly Bangladesh, have plans for further developing water storages, this will only provide adaptation if the design and operating rules are cognizant of climate change.
Most South Asian countries, with their many large and small transboundary rivers, recognize the need to take a regional approach to climate change adaptation. Some water resources issues, such as preparing for and managing large regional flood events, are best tackled cooperatively because they affect transboundary regions; others, which are essentially local or national in nature, such as arsenic contamination of groundwater and protecting against the effects of GLOFs, can still benefit from a cooperative approach through sharing information and solutions. While Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan all advocate regional data sharing and cooperation in their water instruments, transboundary information sharing is focused on rivers and makes little mention of sharing information on transboundary aquifers.

Afghanistan, Bhutan, India and Nepal have adopted basin-level water planning and management. Bangladesh agrees, in principle, with this approach, but points out that it means greater cooperative management of the Ganges River Basin.

There is an emphasis on technical methods for improving water-use efficiencies, although nontechnical methods can be effective and are often cheaper. Conjunctive use and reuse of treated wastewater are also proposed to augment irrigation water supplies, although the latter carries considerable public health risks unless stringent water quality regulations and guidelines are in place and enforced. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have special provisions in their water policies to protect groundwater quality, while India has also developed a draft model bill for groundwater. India has a clear strategy of rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge using treated wastewater to remediate overdrawn aquifers.

While all countries support community-level participation in adaptation activities in their climate instruments, it is, however, often seen as a top-down activity. Nevertheless, Nepal has now instituted about 90 Local Adaptation Plans of Action, while Bangladesh is recognized for its local responses to climate-induced disasters and Sri Lanka has proposed a small grants program for local community adaptation activities.

There is widespread agreement about the importance of building an understanding of climate change and its implications for water resources among the public, as well as among sectoral groups and decision makers. There is also a need to build a wider understanding among the public and decision makers that some climate change impacts are regional in scope and can best be tackled through regional cooperation.

This analysis also suggested several topics that could be developed under the second phase of this project to assist South Asian countries in climate change adaptations (Box ES.1).