Water is the common bond: agriculture, basic human needs, climate change, the environment

BBC News reports on the current drought in India, a complicated and challenging issue.

Following two consecutive bad monsoons, India is facing one of its worst droughts.

Of its 29 states, nearly half were reported to have suffered from severe water crisis this dry season…

The federal government in Delhi has had to send trains carrying water to the worst affected places.

India has faced a water crisis for years. Its ground waters have depleted to alarming levels, mainly because of unsustainable extraction for agriculture and industries.

In response to the drought, the government is planning to create several linkages between rivers so that water can more easily be distributed to locations most severely affected by the drought. The Water Resources Minister, Uma Bharti, also suggests some forward thinking regarding the project:

“The water crisis will be there [in the future] because of climate change but through this [inter linking of rivers] we will be able to help the people,” Ms Bharti said.

“The public has welcomed it and they are happily ready to be displaced.”

Are you keeping tracks of the costs and benefits of this project so far? Physical cost of actually implementing the linkages, benefit of addressing the current drought (e.g. water for direct human consumption and helping agriculture), benefit of being able to address future climate-change-related water crises, cost of displacing people to make the river linkages…anything else?

Environmentalists have opposed the project, arguing it will invite ecological disaster.

Diverting the water will certainly impact ecological systems. And there’s one final curveball mentioned:

“It is even more impossible in the context of climate change as you don’t know what will happen to the rivers’ flows,” says Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People.

“The project is based on the idea of diverting water from where it is surplus to dry areas but there has been no scientific study yet on which places have more water and which ones less.”

So apparently there is uncertainty about where exactly more water is needed now, where there is surplus water now, and how this will change in the future. Undoubtedly there is political pressure to address the problem sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, because the issue is extremely complicated and there is a lot that is unknown, a quality economic analysis of the problem would take a lot of time, time which certain people might not be willing to wait for. A difficult problem to address…