Climate-resilient water management: an operational framework from South Asia

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Countries in South Asia already face considerable water management challenges: water resources are overexploited and depleting fast, and institutions are struggling to manage and allocate water effectively. Climate change will exacerbate existing problems through irregular rainfall patterns and increased incidence of floods and droughts.

The Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme has been actively working in five South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan) to help governments plan for, and manage, the impacts of climate change in the water sector. ACT has championed a Climate-Resilient Water Management (CRWM) approach as a way of increasing the resilience of water systems on which billions of people rely.

This learning paper outlines the core elements of the CRWM framework and provides examples from ACT’s work employing the framework across the region. The methodology has been deployed in South Asia, but will be of relevance to practitioners and policy makers working in water resource management around the world.

Key Messages (in brief)

Climate change will increase water-stress in South Asia through irregular rainfall patterns and increased incidence of floods and droughts. This climate-driven water scarcity could reduce GDP growth rates in South Asia by as much as 6%.

This conceptual framework for Climate Resilient Water Management (CRWM) clearly distinguishes CRWM from traditional approaches to water management. It highlights for the first time the practical considerations in operationalising a CRWM approach and has been successfully tested in South Asia.

The framework distinguishes Climate-Resilient Water Management (CRWM) activities as different from conventional water management because they have to adhere to three main criteria:

  1. The best available climate information and data have to be used to go beyond business as usual;
  2. The principles of resilience, such as using ‘buffers’ and having flexibility and adaptability are systematically integrated; and,
  3. A sharp focus on reducing the vulnerability of poor and marginalised communities.

Embedding the three conceptual tenets of CRWM across broad areas of intervention helps to operationalise the concept of CRWM. Based on ACT's activities in South Asia, water management interventions are sorted into three broad categories:

  1. Water resource management (including assessment, supply augmentation and demand management);
  2. Management of extreme events (floods and droughts); and
  3. Creating an enabling environment (through mainstreaming climate impacts in sectoral and cross-sectoral policies, among other governance instruments). 

The main challenges and learnings from implementing CRWM interventions in the region include the need to:

  • Move beyond ‘business as usual’ to integrate the best available climate data and information in managing water resources; 
  • Adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to mainstreaming the risk of climate change in programmes and policy. Successful water management under uncertain climatic conditions needs adaptive planning and inputs from multiple stakeholders from diverse disciplinary backgrounds;
  • Map and lock into existing government priorities at different levels to secure political will;
  • Firmly acknowledge that CRWM is political as opposed to being a purely technical or scientific paradigm;
  • Frame and communicate about climate change using language and concepts that are relatable and impacts that are tangible.

Government officials are already aware of unseasonal, more intense and frequent, instances of drought, monsoon rains and floods, and urgently seek ways to address the impacts citizens face. This presents an opportunity and entry point to engage policy makers in the CRWM process.


Climate-resilient water management: an operational framework from South Asia English

Document links last validated on: 16 July 2021

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