A new study covering 13 towns across four countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region shows that Himalayan towns are facing increased water insecurity as a consequence of inadequate urban planning coupled with rapidly changing climate.
A research project produced by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its partners explores the connection between water availability, water supply systems, rapid urbanisation and consequent increase in water demand, and the overall effect on towns in HKH region.
In Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan, water insecurity is largely attributed to weak water governance, lack of urban planning, poor tourism management, and coping with climate-related risks and challenges. The report identifies that these towns are coping with short-term strategies but that these measures are not sustainable in the long-term. Beyond that, there are no long-term strategies for water sustainability in urban centres that are growing rapidly. There appears to be little to no capacity for planning and local governance.
The report indicates that urbanisation has attracted otherwise rural populations. The current estimate is that 2050, about 50 percent of the population will be living in cities, placing increasingly tremendous stress on already overworked water systems.
“There is a growing water crisis in mountains that have not yet hit our radar screens,” said David Molden, director general at International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu, as quoted in the Kathmandu Post. “From a study of 13 towns across four countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, it is evident that increasing urban populations, climate change, and the management of water resources, are presenting a real challenge to urban dwellers, with the urban poor and migrants often facing detrimental impacts.”
Water demand-supply gap ranges from 20 percent to 70 percent, and there is very high reliance on natural springs ranging from 50 percent to 100 percent for over 75 percent of the cities.
Extrapolating from this and using current trends as a base, it is expected that the demand–supply gap would double by 2050.
The researchers recommend a holistic water management approach that includes springshed management and planned adaptation in order to secure safe water supply in the urban Himalaya. The report also cautions that other options should be explored in the wake of rising water demand and use.
The study points towards five important issues concerning water insecurity in the urban Himalaya:
- Water needs to be sustainably sourced to bridge the gap between supply and demand. Sustainable sourcing could be achieved through increasing budgetary allocations for reviving and protecting springs, increasing water harvesting, and diversifying water sources.
- Water governance and management should encompass related issues and services beyond water utilities. A polycentric governance system – which would involve multiple governing bodies and institutions interacting with one another to ensure access to water – could be a more suitable water governance model in Himalayan towns and cities.
- The equitable distribution of water needs more attention. The poor and marginalized are most affected when water supply dwindles.
- Women’s multiple roles in water management need to be recognized, and their role in the planning and decision-making processes needs to be reviewed and strengthened.
- Mountain cities need to be viewed in the broader context of mountain water, environment, and energy. Climate change impacts on these sectors are presenting new and growing challenges to Himalayan towns and cities that require innovative solutions.