Technical Report on Issues Related to Water and Agriculture in South Asia

Report / Paper

Technical Report on Issues Related to Water and Agriculture in South Asia

AUTHORS: Global Water Partnership South Asia (GWP SAS)


February 2012

Report Summary

As defined by the South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), South Asia consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It is also the home to about one-fourth of the world’s population, supported by an unequitable share of natural resources demonstrated by having only about 4 percent and 4.5 percent (UNEP, 2008) of the world’s land area and annual renewable water resources respectively.

In South Asia, about 70 percent of the population, and about 75 percent of the poor, live in rural areas. Increase of agricultural productivity has helped to improve the food security and increased rural wages in this region. Corresponding to agricultural growth, the rural poverty rate has declined significantly.

However, the South Asian economies are heavily dependent on water, especially the monsoonal patterns and water supplies from glaciers and snowmelt. Almost 95 percent of the withdrawn water is consumed by the agriculture sector, a much larger proportion than the average global agricultural water use. The surface and groundwater withdrawal as a percentage of internal renewable water resources is approaching the limits of sustainability.

The water and agriculture sectors are likely to be the most sensitive to climate change-induced impacts, reducing the food production and increasing the food prices. With the limited land and water resources and huge population, and constraints imposed by topography, soil conditions, aridity and considerably large disaster-prone areas, the region has become one of the most vulnerable regions of the world to climate change. The sustainability of the investments in water and food security and poverty alleviation is threatened by the impacts of climate change. Most threatened in the agriculture sector are the rain-fed farmers and the farmers and dependent on small reservoirs and small diversion schemes.

There is the necessary political recognition of the impacts of climate change, and the special vulnerabilities resulting from poverty, illiteracy and social inequities, which serves as a good foundation for adaptation strategies. However, inadequate policy support is observed in several countries. Whenever water policies are available, sometimes the phenomenon of climate change is not well integrated into the policy framework, especially in the development policies. This would increase the vulnerability and contribute to the future water stress. There are improvements needed in water regulations as well.

Transboundary and regional co-operation in water resources management is vital for most of the countries asa large proportion of water resources in some countries are generated outside their borders. A proper conservation of natural resources is required to ensure sustainability of water resources. There is an untapped potential of hydropower development in the mountainous countries which require co-operation for beneficial exploitation. The research and development in water resources management and climate change adaptation is also inadequate due to funds and other constraints such as inadequate access to data. Therefore, the data and information exchange and access, at national and sub-regional level has to be improved considerably.  The regional strategies in adapting to climate change should focus on the common priorities, while keeping the flexibility to address the country-specific peculiarities.

Recharging underground water aquifers, rainwater harvesting, inter-basin transfers from surplus to deficit areas and master plans to manage large river basins are the possible climate change adaptation strategies that have been highlighted.  Incorporation of climate change into development and sectoral policies is considered very important for the resilience to the impacts of the climate change. The benefits of such interventions should reach the individuals. As such, there is a need for increasing the resilience of the communities.