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The Green Revolution in India, during the second half of the last century, was critical in transforming agriculture, preventing famines, feeding an increasing population, and contributing to livelihood opportunities for rural communities as well as to a growing Indian economy.

However, it also had negative side effects when it comes to the management and use of water resources. This is just one example of what happens when we do not adopt an integrated and holistic approach when trying to solve problems of our society, but try to fix them one at a time. Compartmentalized thinking, management and governance are still prevalent in many countries around the world, and India is not an exception.

Lately, for example in the recent negotiations at the World Summit (Rio+20 Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, the so-called water/food/energy nexus has received a lot of attention. This is one example of how different actors realize the need to get out of their respective closed cells of decision-making, interacting with other sectors, trying to find solutions that address multiple challenges at the same time.

The time has come for a Blue-Green revolution that takes an integrated approach to both land and water challenges at the same time.

The situation

India is facing a water crisis already today. Not everywhere, and not all the time, but in far too many places, and far too often. The effects on agriculture are already visible, and experienced by many small farmers. Cities are expanding their water footprint, transporting water from longer and longer distances, thereby also creating tensions with the rural communities who depend on the same water for their livelihoods. The increasing needs of the growing industrial sector become a challenge. Competition over the scarce resources is increasing, with potential conflicts between sectors, segments of the society or between states as a result.

Groundwater, the main resource for both irrigation and domestic use, is already overexploited in many regions, and the groundwater levels are dropping at an alarming speed.

Abstraction of water from rivers, dams and lakes has also increased. On top of this, we notice what most likely will be the effects of climate change, such as changes in the patterns of monsoon rains, all in all leading to an increasingly unstable and erratic availability of the resource.

This is not only affecting families, and their economies and living conditions in cities, but also the operation of manufacturing companies.

The future

India’s population will continue to increase in the years to come. As a result of this, recent estimates indicate that the available amount of water per person per year will half, in for example the Krishna, Indus and Ganges river basins, between the years 2000 and 2050, if population growth follows the official UN predictions.

Agriculture is already today, by far, the most important water consumer in India and elsewhere, in many cases representing up to 90% of the total abstraction. The water required to produce food for an average Indian today is about 2 cubic metres/day, compared with many European and North Americans diets that might require up to 5 cubic metres/day because of their consumption of more meat. However, also in India, we can expect that diets will change as a result of increased wealth, leading to consumption, for example, of more dairy products or meat.

On top of this, we have expanding cities, where the water consumption for household use is increasing, the expanding industrial needs, and the effects of climate change that inevitably will affect the water security.

Competition will increase.

The need to involve the private sector

The private sector represents an important actor in water in India today. (Normally, when private sector and water are discussed, the focus in on the water supply and sanitation sector. Here, however, that is not the focus. I only refer to the private sector as user of the water resource). Every small farmer is, in essence, a small family business. And even if many of them are subsistence farmers, many do sell their products on some kind of market, or even to a company that might transport and sell it elsewhere, or further refine or develop the product into a commodity that is sold in stores or markets in other parts of India or being exported. Somewhere down the value chain of the agricultural product, there is a business, small or large.

In addition, we also have all the large-scale farming, where bigger businesses are involved, the manufacturing companies outside of the agricultural sector that need water for their production, the energy sector that requires water for its operation, among others.

Since decades, a well established principle for the management of water resources has been that all stakeholders should be consulted in the decision-making process, by governments.

However, in many places, this kind of platform is still lacking, including in India. I do believe that it is time to establish platforms at both national and state levels, where the government can sit down and discuss how the challenges that have been outlined in this article can be addressed. All stakeholders, including business, civil society representatives and non-governmental organizations, should be invited to sit at that table. Only then can we ensure that we reach decisions that will not have negative and unforeseen side effects, decades from now.

The situation is far too serious to ignore this opportunity.

Anders Berntell is executive director at 2030 Water Resources Group, International Finance Corporation, US.

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