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Blue Economy: Challenges & Opportunities                           

Fresh water management: Introduction to the domain (A UDA perspective)

By: Yukti Sharma

• Thoughts on Fresh Water Management, Water Quality Management, Water Resource Management and Sustainability. Issues of Fresh Water Management.
• Present situation covering persistence of difficulties in Fresh Water Management in India, GW Depletion, Plastic pollutions etc. and their resolution schemes.
• Brief about UDA framework based on technology, policy, and capacity building.
• Digital transformations, how it connects and may impact the governance mechanism.
• Tropical challenges in using Nordic countries equipment and related challenges
• Connection to UDA as to how it can solve the recent problems, and
• Way forward

The 6th standard science book by NCERT reads “Jal hai to kal hai” i.e., without water, there is no future. It then interestingly puts a fact that only 3% of the water on Earth is fresh water, out of which most of it is frozen in the polar regions as ice caps, and glaciers. There exist a series of early-stage messages in textbooks that have taught us about the importance as well as shortages pf water.

“These early-stage messages seldom repeat themselves in more practical sense to the authorities, when literate population of the country practice wastage and overuse of water.”

Manufacturing and maintenance of luxurious vehicles, brand new clothes, and various other goods and services leave a huge water footprint i.e., they consume large quantities of valuable fresh water. A lot of research on fresh water use and overuse is available which we need to explore and utilise that would lead to better management. Fresh Water Management deals with sustainably using our fresh water sources with respect to its quality as well as quantity.

The figure above explains a lot about the movement of water in the atmosphere. A couple of additional facts apart from the regular water circulation in each component has also been highlighted, for e.g., surface runoff and infiltration from the hills and lakes give a multidimensional view of water’s pathway. Ground water has always been important fresh water source, which nowadays has become extremely vulnerable due to rise in demand and climate change. The meeting of surface and ground water outflow with the precipitation in the oceans are also highlighted in the figure.

Water Resource and Water quality management are two distinct branches of water sciences when it comes to governance and policy making. Although they both need interlinking, they are also governed by different authorities. This creates a lot of discrepancies as the Ministry of Water Resource and Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change deal with the same issues of River management separately.

The impact of anthropogenic activities on the quality and quantity of fresh water have been a critical concern for our society. Water being the most basic requirement for all our needs has faced the maximum deterioration. Water pollution is a subject of concern as it has a varied list of effects on the ecosystem as well as livelihood.

Water pollution is defined in the Water (Prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1974 as Any contamination or undesired substance like sewage trade effluents or any other chemical liquid, solid or gaseous substance into the water body, to such an extent that its carrying-capacity is exceeded and it starts affecting the livelihood and ecosystem.”

The list of effects from water pollution can go on as there are numerous factors involved with the increase of undesired substances in water bodies. The whole ecosystem, air, land, marine environments are affected severely and with an interlinking effect.  Several compliances are in process based on pollution cases in NGT as well as High Court and Supreme Court which itself defines the history and criticality of the issue. One example is the O.A 1038, which has started the compliances of SPCBs upon the pollution problem that exist in their respected Severely/Critically polluted area. Some of the effects are shown in the table below:

Water Scarcity is a complex concept that must be defined based on local parameters. It is often linked with water conflict, legal rights, and availability of water. It has a varied list of definitions across the country. Water scarcity as linked with the concept of Fresh Water Management can be defined as “A situation where the availability of water decreases to an extent where there is not enough water to meet the needs of the increasing population as well as the ecosystem to function properly.”

Tragedy of the commons as the concept given by Ostrom is also connected to the concept of water scarcity. It rejects the notion that people can manage their own collective resources that are open to everyone. Ostrom argues that water as an open source is being exploited at a faster rate in the history. Ostrom suggests two solutions to it, that is regulating these resources by governing them and the other is privatisation. Here we are trying to understand the concepts rather supporting any one of it.  Because, the more we dive into the details of governance and legal rights of water, the more we need to define each concept, including the merits and demerits of the same.

Persistence of difficulties in Fresh Water Management in India


According to a UNICEF report (2019), 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed water services. 80 Percent of the waste water flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. Almost 2 billion people, live in countries experiencing water stress. Around two-third of transboundary rivers lack cooperative management framework, according to Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

India’s agricultural inputs and production techniques have changed considerably in the last decade. Growth of water intensive crops in water scarce areas have led to overuse of ground water, depleting the same drastically. 70% of the global water withdrawal is being done for agriculture according to FAO. A 2019 NITI Aayog report said that India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, and almost 600 million of its population is water-deprived. The report goes on to add that 21 cities including Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chennai shall probably exhaust their groundwater resources in 2021, which we are already at the verge of. 80% of marine debris are plastic, and about 100,000 marine animals and almost 1 million sea birds are killed every year by marine plastic pollution.

Game of Policies

Ironically, India’s National Water Policies, have been revised thrice in just a span of 25 years. First came up in 1987, which was reviewed and then updated in 2002 and again updated in the year 2012. After these amendments in National Water Policy, it was accepted even amidst disapproval from many states. The concept of water being an economic good has been highlighted in the latest Policy of 2012, but that too was not sufficient to have a significant effect on water exploitation. The National policy is expected to bring changes in the current issues, but that as well takes time. If we keep on amending our policies frequently, it will not probably help rather increase confusions and discrepancies. We are now heading towards the fourth revision of the National Water Policy, which is also ascertain to provide the best.

Government of India launched Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) in 2019, aiming to provide 55 litres of water per person per day of prescribed quality to every rural household, through taps. Government also launched Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformations (AMRUT) in 2015 aimed at achieving universal coverage of water supply to 500 cities in 5 years. Not denying the fact that the taps came, water in those taps was somewhere hidden.

A prominent example of this is the city of Nagpur facing protests in non-monsoon season by the people for not having the basic right to get fresh water either because of no water supply in taps, or no taps either due to non-registration. There is a fact interesting to consider here that, the policies of supplying or providing facilities by the government are dependant on identity basis. There are a lot of tribal population that lack their identity documents itself. This issue also keeps them away from the facilities which are provided at governance level.

State of the art concept like conflict persistence, legal pluralism, water rights, forum shopping and institutional bricolage are seldom discussed, used in the policies or visible in the policy discourse. Conflict resolution is often studied with reference to solving the issues or treating the symptoms rather than understanding why the issue persisted in the area.

Relevance of the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA)

The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) framework gained substantial global relevance post 9/11. In India, its emergence in the strategic discourse gained significance post the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. As a result, MDA has been reduced to a security-driven formulation, significantly limiting its growth and sustenance.

Within the MDA framework, the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) framework challenges the conventional understanding of just being its underwater appendage. UDA is more critical as it integrates the four stakeholders (the security apparatus, blue economic entities, environmental regulators and disaster management authorities, and science and technology providers) and facilitates pooling of resources and synergises efforts for ensuring safe, secure, sustainable growth for all in the region.

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) holds significant strategic promise in the 21st century, where India needs to scale up its efforts to be seen as a global strategic player. The tropical littoral waters of the IOR, presents unique physical, economic as well as political challenges that needs to be overcome for sustainable growth. The Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) declaration by the Government of India is an ambitious vision statement, however, it does require substantial capacity and capability building to overcome the legacy issues. The continental mindset needs to be infused with maritime intent with a focus on policy, technology and innovation, and human resource development.

Digital Transformation in the areas of Health, IT, Business, Research have been talked about and are being implemented. Looking at water digitally is an intervention which shall be beneficial in terms of data interpretation, technologies and policies making. Being an individual, if we wish to bring about a change in our situations of water sustainability, we need to act urgent collectively based on the accuracy of data available. An integrated water management approach is helpful when it comes to managing society level issues. Bringing transparency to the management process is also less talked about.

River Information Systems are a combination of modern tracking equipment, related hardware and software designed to optimise traffic and transport processes in inland navigation. The system aims to streamline the exchange of information between various stakeholders of inland water transport. Although the system aimed at providing information about the real time conditions like wind speed, danger areas, fog, depth information, route details to operators etc., it can also be used to give real time information on other water quality parameters to different stakeholders involved.

Following picture depicts a few digital transformations that may be considered while designing or planning a policy as well as inserting any technology in the Indian scenario.

Governance inefficiencies in identification of the problem

Existing governance mechanism can be improved significantly through involvement of digital transformations. Data outreach of digital platforms reaching the stakeholders differently as per the requirement is itself an important step towards inclusion of technologies in policy making.

Another aspect that needs attention is the adaptation of technologies blindly by Indian states from Nordic and other technologies. Even though there are differences in the topography of the countries around the globe, we are bringing capital investment technologies to our country. These are not only ineffective, but a wastage of valuable resources that can be used soon towards better inclusions.

Collective action

A cumulative effort of all dimensions and stakeholders are to be investigated as depicted in the UDA framework for fresh water management as shown below. This approach will help in bringing out the interlinked issues as well as provide solutions to these persistent problems.

WQM*: Water Quality Management.  WRM*: Water Resource Management

UDA Framework for fresh water management will be able to cover outreach, engagement, and sustainability aspect of Fresh water system in the country. To see, to understand and to share, as the module of UDA suggests, will help identification, understanding and sharing of information available and to be made available to solve the issues that sustain.

Outreach to stakeholders will only be possible via identification and involvement of all on a single platform which can be made possible through UDA framework. Engagement of all stakeholders then, shall be helpful in overcoming the challenges faced by each hierarchy level of people as well as authorities so that water can be looked upon (as a whole) rather than distinct entities, just like the current governance look at it.

The topics covered in the article shall be dealt closely as it is very clear and evident that there are discrepancies that exist in the Fresh Water Domain in the Indian context. Looking at it with an integrated mindset is itself a bigger inefficiency to obtain and put forth faced by the authorities. It shall serve the purpose of “structured construct for different authorities to synergise the efforts.” In addition to this, a detailed paper is also being written to elaborate these concepts and explore how UDA can drive and address the Fresh Water Management dimension.

References from UDA:

  1. Water Quality Management – A New Perspective based on the Underwater Domain Awareness (UDA) Framework, Dr (Cdr) Arnab Das, MRC, October 2022.
  2. Water Resource Management: A UDA Perspective, Hema Thakur
  3. Water Quality Management Framework with sectoral approach for India, Yukti Sharma, November 2022.
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About The Author

Yukti Sharma, MRC Fellow

currently working as a Fellow at MRC, is a consistent and opportunist individual who did her Bachelors in Environmental Engineering from Delhi Technological University. She is currently pursuing MTech in Water Resource Engineering and Management. A keen learner and an excellent observer, she likes to be on the brighter side of things. She joined MRC to expand her learning to a higher, unmatchable levels, with the support and knowledge of the professional guides. She has done research on Evaluation of a Bio-signal ring in reduction of air pollution levels during her bachelors. She has two papers published in different international journals, one of which is Crimson Publications (RDMS). She is looking forward to work for the environment with the existing governance as well as define new meanings to the governance itself to act suitably on what is necessary.