Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Field Experiences

Arranging for the field visit involved regular telephone communication in arranging time for meeting the concerned persons. The major challenge in the field initially was to be able to convey the details of the research, its objectives, rationale, research team and moreover the justification for selecting a particular site for the research purpose and then convincing the diverse community to participate on a regular basis in the research activities either in terms of household survey, focus group discussion or stakeholders meeting. A major constraint and that quite likely from the field, particularly from the local administrative bodies was the expectations and direct benefits in terms of financial or technical support to meet the immediate needs in the VDC. Hence explaining the details and the rationale while making them to visualize the changing urbanization patterns in the localities and making them understand the linkage of urbanization with the day to day changing water scenario which could be more severe under the changing climatic condition required admittedly has been extensive and repeated effort.

The grey documents maintained by the sites are in fact useful in developing acquaintances to the site which could even draw the interest of the locals to participate. The research team's understanding has been, these documents can be really meaningful to the research. However, with the experiences and moreover the prejudice of generalizing the cases of supplying information to the students for academic purpose but gaining nothing in return for themselves had caused hesitation among the local authority in sharing their resources. However explaining the research motives and assuring them to provide the finding details of the research and report for the use of VDC finally has been productive in getting them.

In the case of political lacunae, VDC is local authority and having formal approval from the local authority makes the research institutionally strong and enhances local credibility. However with limited staffs and multiple responsibilities assigned to the VDC Secretary, arranging time for the formal process of getting the formal invitation letter and distributing it to the concerned local key stakeholders was definitely an extra task for the VDC office, and therefore had no interest to get into the business.
The VDC Secretary in one of the site commented "I am over loaded, at times I even have to be a Judge".
However the stakeholders meeting has been an essential entry point in identifying stakeholders and bringing them to a common platform, understanding the diversified perception and interest and priorities. Under such context, the team provided well drafted invitation letter just remaining to be signed by the VDC Secretary and financial support for the letter distribution. The VDC authorities and communities also have to be definitely acknowledged for facilitating the research team by providing their time and VDC offices for the helping in identifying the stakeholders and arranging of the meeting venue.

The advantage gained from being finally able to involve the community and the local authorities has been in identifying the key- stakeholders and successfully conducting local key-stakeholders meeting in three of the four selected sites (Matatirtha, Lubhu and Dadhikot) leading to forming of Research committee involving local key stakeholders while are in the process for the fourth site- Jhaukhel.

Text Box: Case 3: Deviating Away From Agriculture
Some Narrations:

“Previously annual earning from paddy used to be Rs 8000 now we get much more in whole sum by leasing land for water”

“We used to get labour at 80 rupees but now arranging labour even at Rs 200 is  very difficult” (with increasing urbanization,   labour shifted into masonry works)

“Cultivating Taichin (variety of paddy) requires more water so I have shifted to mansuli. It requires less water”

“Here was small pond for buffalo wallowing but it has disappeared. Its no more essential and no one remembers it.” 

Among the four sites selected, my visit has been most frequent to Matatirtha. The experience in this site specifically ranges from being initially considered as student trying to do thesis. With frequent field visits, interaction with community and arranging for the Stakeholders meeting have involved numbers of visits to Matatirtha and where happily I am being recognized as researcher. When met by people, there are cases of people trying to get details on the ongoing activities and the plans for near future.
Text Box: Case 1: Lack of co-ordination resolved for better

During one of my field visits, women empowerment training was being organized in the VDC office under Women Empowerment Project of District Development Committee. This was the second of such training organized in the VDC. The first was conducted for Ward 7 while this was for Ward no1. Incidentally, I had reached there for the research purpose and was invited by VDC Secretary to participate in it. With no hint, I was proposed to give details about me and my project.  The words from the VDC Secretary were, "Tapai haru lai Madam le kai kura vannu huncha." It was a total astonishing to me. Having already in front of the mass, I started introducing myself and this turned to be an opportunity to explain about the research and understand the water issue there. An interesting thing was this ward falls in the water scarce VDC within the VDC and as per the participants, they had submitted formal application to the VDC office for extending household water supply to their ward. Having no initiative made by the local authority, complain was against the irresponsive attitude of the Local Government.
On confrontation platform that happened to occur, VDC Secretary explained there had never been registered such a formal letter. Explaining the situations of political lacunae as a major cause of the missing co-ordination , he suggested to have made follow ups rather that growing grievances. He further encouraged the Women Organization to take the initiative to re-initiate the process for which the participants seemed enthusiastic. 

The site as per my field experience till date gives insight of the extensive political and power involvements, mainly in the periphery of water, which involves the water entrepreneur for commercial water extraction or the socially, economically and politically strong groups trying to suppress the local authorities regulatory mechanisms. The local authority in itself has its limitations and has not been able to vision and define strict actions to take regarding water management.
This is quite clear from a statement from one of the ex-vice chair person and Chairman of a drinking water scheme active in the VDC when questioned regarding the future strategy on regulating commercial well which was previously claimed to have been restricted, " Bahini, vai ra cha, vanai ra garai ma ta farak vai halcha ni" meaning "There will be difference in saying and doing." So it gives slight glimpse about their condition of not being able to clearly define their mission.

 And definitely, addressing the needs of water deprived population and bringing politically and economically strong water entrepreneurs under regulation while the VDC as local authority has weak economic and institutional reach is not a child's play.

Text Box: Case1: Power Rivalry- A live conversation

Chair person of Matatirtha Drinking Water Scheme and Source Conservation Committee is also a water entrepreneur with his water industry based on public water spring –Bhusunkhel. Having strong political, social and economic reach, 20 years back had arranged piped water supply from Bhusunkhel for his HH use but still has been operating the water industries. Moreover committee headed by him has been collecting tax from other mineral water industries based on the above spring and argues “Tax is paid to Muhan Samraxyan samiti, so no need to pay tax to VDC”. When proposed by VDC Secretary to pay back his expenses and he is to hand over the spring to VDC based on Local Self Governance Act, 1999, he directly refused claiming it to be result of his years long social contributions and left without completing the conversation….. 

Also a major point raised by the water entrepreneur in their conversation is," When other VDCs can take our water and benefit why can't we use our resources for our economic gain."
The pressure from the local communites is also feeble which can be interpreted from a very common narration" Aafno jagga ko pani bechna kasle rokne, hamle vanera hene ho ra! "Meaning- Who will intervene in selling water from a private land and who is going to listen to us anyway!"
This shows how the people have been trying to keep themselves away from activities around the commercial water extraction. The condition is such that a public water tap that was in operation from water spring in private land of an individual, after starting his own water business has halted the supply to this public tap which has forced people to explore for alternatives, however the impact is still to be looked into.

The water extraction on the other hand is growing continuously with 6 new water industries been added  within the last two years but neither the VDC office nor the water entrepreneur committee established in the VDC has maintained any document on it.

Diverse Perception on climate change needs to analyzed through Meteorological Data
The perception on climate change and even the water yield from the sources vary from person to While during scoping study, the local perception regarding declining water yield was shared by community people while in the recent field visits, some interviewed people in the locality have asserted the overall water yield from the springs in the VDC has not been reduced. Their logic says, the apparent decline is due to multiple drinking water schemes that have been extracting water for household distribution pointing " In the spring where it was said to have 8" water yield now 18" pipes have been laid so how will there be water in the spring?" This individual emphasized the climatic changing pattern has not been noticed yet in the VDC as the weather is cool and temperature rise is not prominent.

 An old man was so dissatisfied with the depleting river water quality and low water level who commented "Chara lai khana pani paani chaina" meaning- There is no water even for birds. As per him, water is diverted from the natural springs through pipes while the open water bodies are polluted by the effluents and sewage resulting disturbance to the natural ecology.

Among the elderly people a common observation is unpredictable rainfall and the decreasing rain is frequently narrated. A statement getting to hear in almost any conversation regarding rainfall variability is, "Aakash batai pani chaina, Bhagwan le nadiyko kasle k garna sakcha-There is norain, God has not given water, what can be done for it."

The rainfall variation is to some extent evident from the field visits while observation on temperature change has not been much perceived. Moreover the perception varies. Therefore the climatic perception has to be analyzed based on the meteorological data for scientific basis.

Posted by: Anushiya Shrestha



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Understanding climate change from a food and water security lens

- by Anjal Prakash

Participating in GWP Regional Workshop on Climate Change, Food and Water Security was an enriching experience. The workshop was organised at IWMI’s office in Colombo from 24th to 25th February, 2011. The concept note of the workshop throws some interesting questions linking food and water security with the issue of climate change.  

Picture courtesy: Ambika Sharma
The opening paragraph of the concept note reads “South Asia, together with Sub-Saharan Africa, is among the areas expected to be hardest hit by climate change. It will likely have profound effects on food and water security. Greater frequency of extreme events, warmer temperatures, increased incidence of temperature related diseases and pests, and increased risks and uncertainty are already evident. Severe flooding in 2007 along the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers affected over 13 million people in Bangladesh; flooding in Pakistan in 2010 severely affected 20 million people. India has likewise suffered numerous events of extreme rainfall, flooding and droughts. In addition the rise of sea level is a real threat to low lying areas in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The economic cost of the 2007 floods in Bangladesh was over $1 billion; in Pakistan it was nearly $10 billion. But the human suffering has been immeasurable. Millions of tons of food production have been lost in the process, adding unknown numbers of food security-related deaths to the thousands of deaths directly related to the flooding and its aftermath, including the spread of disease. Climate science and the projections of its various impacts are at an early stage of development in the region. Yet South Asia is among the most data rich regions of the developing world and is well endowed with considerable analytical capacity for providing policy inputs - a capacity that has yet to be fully mobilized for effective policy and institutional responses”.

So what are the challenges? That South Asia contains a third of the global population, as well as three quarters of the world’s billion poor and that its challenges are numerous – is the central theme of the workshop. Agriculture sits at the centre of these challenges – the concept note reads. Agriculture in south Asia is not only uses the largest proportion of surface and groundwater; it is also most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
South Asian agriculture has the lowest water productivity and its increased dependence on groundwater has thrown new challenges. Apart from the domestic issues, there are also concerns that are common across boundaries. There are issues around trans-boundary water management to which the region has to answer to sooner or later. Therefore collaborative riparian management will be crucial for settling many of the water-induced conflicts in the region; greater ‘hydro-diplomacy’ – both internally and across national borders – will need to balance the region’s growing water needs with larger security concerns.

On the preset of these issues, the workshop focussed on five major areas –

[1] To bring together knowledgeable professionals and experts specializing in regional, cross-sectoral work to identify the current state of knowledge: what we know and need to know to address the complex challenges – country by country and across the South Asia region that is related to climate change, food and water security; 
[2] To distill lessons from the existing knowledge to share with policy makers in the region;
[3] To identify means of effective dissemination of the existing knowledge pertinent to the regional issues, including the outcome of the workshop to all concerned stakeholders;
[4] To plan for the establishment of a long-term virtual platform of professionals that will comprise a South Asian Climate Change, Food and Water Security Platform/SA Network as part of the GWP-SAS network;
[5] To find means to operationalise the Platform/SA Network including agreeing on organisational arrangements with national, regional and international partners in support of a shared five year work plan and fund raising strategy, that will delineate areas for further research, analysis, periodic expert meetings around specific issues, training, publication and dissemination strategies—country by country and cross country.

Opening the meeting, Prof. Tushaar Shah commented that south Asia’s cup of woes is full. The region has about 35% global population but 75% of the world’s poorest billion. There are extreme pressure on land and water in the region. Groundwater exploitation has been one of the most significant leading to issues of water quantity and quality. IWRM approaches have been one of the significant achievements but application of this in South Asia has been poor because of a number of reasons. ‘The workshop will analyse the current knowledge and thinking on climate change, food and water security in the region’, Prof. Shah said.

The workshop keynote speech “What Does Climate Change mean to South Asia’s Water and Food Security?” 12th Five Year Plan Approach and Beyond was delivered by Mr. Mihir Shah, Member of India’s Planning Commission. In an interesting and most informative session of the workshop, Mr. Shah called for a different approach to incorporate climate change issues in India’s planning as it throws newer challenges. He said that water balance studies show a comfortable picture till 2050 but this means that one has to relook at the assumptions made while making the model. The groundwater balance has been showing signs of decline from 1990. Groundwater contributes to about 60% of irrigated agriculture in India and about 80% of the drinking water needs. Both drinking water and irrigation tap the same aquifer. Apart from the issue of water, sanitation is a major problem in India. Huge amount of solid waste that is generated per day goes as waste as wastewater recycling is very poor in India. 

Recently some emphasis has been given to dry land agriculture. He called for a move away from rice and wheat centric approaches, to pay more attention to the organisation of dry land agriculture. This is more because a large area in India is still under dry land agriculture and it is important to focus on understanding these areas from a food security angle. The national rainfed area authority has been looking at these issues. Closing the session, he emphasised that India needs a National Water Commission, that would monitor compliance with the national water strategy.

The sessions focussed on variety of issues ranging from Modeling, Climate Change, and Policy Making, Responses to Modeling Results from Multiple Perspectives, Learning from Irrigation System Management Experience in South Asia, Groundwater Management to IWRM in South Asia. The workshop discussed and deliberated on interesting set of questions related to the science of climate change and its applications with an understanding of food and water security.

However, the issues that were missing from the scene were an understanding of gender and equity. South Asia not only houses the poorest in the world; its social hierarchy is also the worst. There was only one session on social equity by Hamberto Pena, TEC committee Member of GWP.  In his opening remarks Dr. Pena said that the content and scope of social equity in the context of water remains fuzzy. His presentation however deliberated in detail on the issue but there was little discussion in the context of south Asia.  Gender and equity were missing from the scene and schema of things to an extent that we can’t even say that they were integrated into the session as cross cutting themes.

A gender audit of the workshop would throw more light to the way the workshop was planned. There were very few women professionals who were invited to present the work. Not that there aren’t many women water professionals in South Asia and the world (some of them were also in the audience) but just that this awareness hasn’t fetched much knowledge in many workshops I have been attending in the region.

Overall, the workshop focussed on many new challenges on food and water security in the wake of climate change but it did discount on issues from gender and social equity. South Asian Water sector is divided into many camps ranging from purely technical to a social and a political understanding and approaches. What is required is a merger of some of these conflicting views as water is a uniting factor. At this juncture, we need more dialogue between different views to come to a holistic understanding of water. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

               Linear Park - An initiative to save the Peri-Urban River in Khulna 

River Moyur in Khulna has been central to providing very important ecological services to the urban and peri-urban communities. However, due to dumping of urban and industrial wastes during the recent decade, this river has lost its natural beauty and hence its ecological services. Besides illegal encroachments on the river bank, agricultural practices and unplanned infrastructure development (e.g. bridges and regulators) have also affected the natural flow regime of the river. In Khulna, river Moyur is the only source of freshwater for both urban as well as peri-urban residents which is why the civil society, Local Government and Non-governmental Organisations have been trying to save this important river. One of the recent attempts at protecting the river involves the development of land for the construction of a linear park along its western course by the Khulna City Corporation (KCC). In order to understand people’s perceptions regarding this park, a daylong survey was conducted and several interesting and varied stakeholder opinions were observed. 

River Moyur in Khulna is being badly polluted due to urban waste dumping and encroachments.This has increased the vulnerability of the poor urban and peri-urban residents living close to the river course.   

Markets such as these meat shops have developed on
the river at Gallamary Kacha Bazar causing serious
degradation of the river. Local marginal people have
been losing ecological services from the river.
Medical waste from this clinic is dumped 
in the river near Gallamary  bridge site at
Khulna. Unnecessary infrastructure like iron
pipes in the middle of the river channel cause
siltation and blockage in the natural river flow. 
Clearly there is an uncertainty regarding the reason this park is being built for. One of the respondents included a rickshaw puller who claimed to have been displaced without fair compensation for the construction of the park. Many believe that the linear park will be a good recreational space for the people residing in nearby areas since currently there is no such place around. “It would be a perfect area for morning walk and nice place to rewind in the evenings, but strong maintenance and security would need to be ensured,” said Mr. Latif, a banker. Although she has not heard anything about the park, Mrs. Jannat Ara, a house wife, feels that it would be a good place for recreation but she worries if there is going to be adequate security for women. Mr. Bappy, a student of Khulna University believes that the Linear Park must be built to save the Moyur River as well as to ensure that the river side is developed in an environment friendly manner. “This river must be saved for the sake of our existence, the park will lessen the pollution along with being a safe place for public use,” he said. A student of Khulna University’s Fisheries and Marine Resource Technology Discipline, who resides near this area believes that the park will not only enhance the beauty of this entire residential area but will also reduce the pollution load in the Mayur River. She believes the aquatic environment of the river is in dire need of being saved and development of the Park will be a great step towards environmental sustainability. Many small-scale businessmen, especially those who have been dislocated greatly oppose this idea since it interferes with their businesses and they complain about not having being given proper rehabilitation. 

A group of motor drivers at Sondanga bus stand (close to the river) allegedly stated that the new Kachabazar in the Sonadanga area has worsened the environmental condition of the Mayur for which they had requested KCC authority to shift the bazar from this area. They believe that shifting this bazaar is more important than constructing this park immediately.

Apart from these specific issues, people have general concerns on how the park would be managed once it is constructed. Mr. Shadan Mallik, a banker, says, “This is a welcome step, but the river must be protected from encroachment, as well as the drains that empty wastewater into this river must be to a shifted to a suitable place outside the city.”

 Text and Pictures - Uthpal Kumar
 Edited by - Vasundhara Dash