By Dr Nina Hall
In August 2016, India experienced ‘water riots’ in its southern city of Bengaluru. Much of the trouble stemmed from issues around access to water from the Cauvery River.
The river is a crucial source of water for agricultural, industrial and residential needs, but volumes are limited during the dry summer months. Bengaluru is not the only city facing major water challenges. Groundwater levels are dropping up to several feet a year in northern India, due to unregulated extraction by pumps, international river management disputes upriver, and climatic changes that have reduced glacier size and snow melt.
It was at this dynamic time that GCI‘s Sustainable Water team had arranged to visit India. Associate Professor Eva Abal and Dr Nina Hall were in New Delhi to attend the International River Symposium, an annual gathering of river managers, communities and funding agencies to grapple with the complexities of management approaches, health and cultural impacts of water, and to propose both technical and social solutions. Given the country venue for this year’s symposium, a significant part of the program focused on India’s water challenges – and responding initiatives – from a government, community and industry perspective.
The symposium also offered an opportunity to look towards future targets for river health – especially using the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to reopen conversations about water quality, quantity and security. As a sponsor of the symposium, UQ’s GCI built on this topic and hosted a breakfast panel event with representatives of river management from Sri Lanka, China, India, Australia and the Philippines on how their countries were responding to the ambitious but crucial goals. GCI launched their latest discussion paper on this topic during the symposium, ‘Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals for Water and Beyond’, with a companion piece published in The Conversation.
Following the symposium, Dr Abal led an Australian Water Mission to explore possibilities for collaborative water management projects and capability transfer with Indian partners from industry, government and civil society. This mission included two UQ representatives (Eva Abal and Nina Hall) and a representative from Australian water utilities, Unitywater (Partha Susarla).
Over several days, this Australian water mission held 12 meetings and seminars with 12 Indian water management organisations. This included a meeting with the TERI University’s Department of Regional Water Studies, the National Department of Science and Technology’s Water and Clean Energy Research leaders, WaterAid India, India’s Additional Secretary to the Indian Minister of Water Resources, and the main water utility for New Delhi, Delhi Jal Board, which provides up to 32 million people daily with water and sanitation services.
This mission raised significant interest in the water research capabilities of UQ to respond to groundwater mapping and regulation, integrated water resources management approaches, wastewater recycling innovations and operationalising the UN Sustainable Development Goals. GCI remains in close contact with these newly established partners, and together they are actively pursuing research project funding to build on UQ’s activities in India.
GCI appreciates the support of the UQ Global Engagement office’s seed funding support that made the Australian water mission a reality.
Above: GCI representatives at a high-level government meeting (L-R) Dr M Satyanarayana, Advisor to the National Water Mission of India, GCI’s Eva Abal, India’s Additional Secretary to the Indian Minister of Water Resources, UP Singh, GCI’s Nina Hall, and Unitywater Australia’s Partha Susarla. (Photo: Nina Hall)
Below: Agrasen ki Baoli: A 450-year-old ‘stepwell’ in downtown New Delhi (Photo: Nina Hall)