IIT Guwahati: Scarcity to security: IIT-G researchers devise ways to address water crisis

GUWAHATI: The Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT-G) researchers have paved the way for better water management policies in India through Virtual Water Analysis (VW).

Professor Anamika Barua from the department of humanities and social science at IIT-G, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Zaragoza, Spain, used ecological economics to study the socio-political factors governing the ‘Virtual Water Flow’, an emerging concept at the science-policy interface, with particular reference to India. “Virtual water flows assessment is aimed to induce sustainable use that can lead to water security,” explained Prof Barua.

The research team found that some VW flows between Indian states are unsustainable as water through agricultural products flows from highly water-scarce states in the North to other highly water-scarce states in the West and South. Such unsustainable flows are driven by a larger population and by arable land. In contrast, sustainable flows, from low to high water scarcity zones and states can help combat water scarcity. Their work showed that in states with chronic water scarcity, planning and implementation of sustainable agriculture are crucial for achieving water and food security.


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“It is also found that the pressure on freshwater resources in water‐parched states can be reduced by diversifying the production areas through the use of VW flows analysis to produce agro‐climatically suitable food grains,” an IIT-G spokesperson said.

The concept of VW was first conceived in the 1990s to understand how water-stressed countries could provide their people with essential items that are water-intensive products like food, clothing, and shelter, which can define its trade characteristics. To understand the issue better, an IIT-G spokesperson pointed towards a country with limited water resources that would rather import water-intensive cotton than use their precious water in cultivating it.

Considering the water scarcity in many parts of India and the complexity of water management, the research may come handy in bridging the knowledge governance gap to mitigate water scarcity through VW flows assessment.

“The integration of scientific knowledge with policies for enhancing sustainability continues to be challenging in India because of the slow-paced exchange between science and policy spheres,” said lead researcher Barua.

The study addresses this science-policy gap on water scarcity by first analysing the water flows hidden in agriculture products moving between the various states of India. This is then linked to the regional water scarcity situation and some existing elements of water policy to understand the gaps in knowledge and governance to mitigate water scarcity in the country.

“A deeper policy engagement would be particularly relevant for the sustainable future of developing and emerging economies grappling with the challenges of water scarcity and fragmented environmental governance systems,” she said, adding that the VW flow analysis can help in framing evidence-based water policies and in establishing the link between the hydrological-economic-institutional aspect of water scarcity.

The results of this unique research have been published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Journal of Water Resources Research and Journal of Water. Along with Barua, and her research scholar Mimika Mukherjee, the papers have been co-authored by Prof Rosa Duarte from the economic analysis department of the University of Zaragoza, Spain, and Dr Suparana Katyaini, School of Livelihoods and Development, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad.

The IIT-G study is linked to UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 on ensuring sustainable production patterns and to SDG 6 that aims to increase water‐use efficiency across all sectors to substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity by 2030.

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