Resilient water management in India through adaptive policy analysis

Over the last decade, uncontrolled growth has transformed rural villages around major cities in India into urban fringes, also known as peri-urban areas. There has been rapid construction of homes and factories and the growing population and industry create an increasing need for water. The original water infrastructure in these agriculture-dependent villages is ill equipped to cope and this is creating tensions. Leon Hermans and Sharlene Gomes from the Faculty of TPM are researching how access to water in rural-urban fringes has changed and are taking stock of vulnerabilities and opportunities for adaptive water management.

Straightforward solution

Hermans: “Our research is focused on peri-urban villages around the cities of Kolkata, Pune and Hyderabad. In each city, we are studying two villages with different problems. From a geographical perspective, the cities also have different climates and therefore face different hydrological challenges”. The research is focusing on three important aspects: drinking water, water as an income source (used for agriculture and industries, for example) and the changing institutions for managing both types of water supply. “Our early observations show that the public water management system is unable to cope with the explosive growth. In some of the villages, this has led to the emergence of private bottled water plants with wells as their source. Of course, this has an effect on the availability of water, especially if it’s in short supply,” says Hermans. In other villages, chemicals from emerging industries have polluted the surface water to such an extent that farmers are no longer able to work the land. This is depriving the original residents of their source of income. “Legislation in such areas to control the discharge of polluted water is not always being applied, which is enabling these kinds of practices to develop. The fact that the issue is so complex and varied also means that there is no straightforward solution that can be copied everywhere. At the same time, that’s also what makes our work challenging,” explains Hermans.  


Hermans: “We are involving local players in the project to gain a good understanding of the situation on the ground. We learnt from our previous project in India, Shifting Grounds, that change happens gradually, one bit at a time, because trust takes time to develop. However, on the plus side, we already have good and positive contacts from that earlier project”. The researchers are also collaborating with other universities on this research. This can make effective coordination challenging, especially in such areas as data collection. Ultimately, they are also working with local parties to chart transformation and adaptation pathways towards a resilient form of water management. “Involving local parties in the process is essential because they are the ones who will need to put things into practice,” Hermans points out.

The role of TPM

The project's researchers are analysing how different institutional and social structures have an impact on water management. The key contribution made by TPM researchers Gomes and Hermans is to combine multi-stakeholder analysis, which explores the various interests of the parties involved, with insights from adaptive water management, a relatively new area of research. The aim is to combine these in a new methodology that can provide better guidance for policy choices relating to water management in the future. Hermans: “In the Netherlands, we have already gained a lot of experience in adaptive water management in order to ensure we are better prepared for the future. Our challenge now is to apply this approach in an Indian context”.

About the researchers
Leon Hermans is an assistant professor with a background in policy analysis. Sharlene Gomes is a researcher and doctoral candidate with an interest in water management challenges involving urbanisation in developing countries. Both of them work in the Multi Actor Systems (MAS) department.
More information about the project can be found here