FEATURE: RURBAN solution might be the answer for India’s water management

Source(s): Climate and Development Knowledge Network

By Bedoshruti Sadhukhan

Indian city managers have struggled, until now, to approach water resources management in an integrated way. This is always a challenge given that resources often lie beyond jurisdictional boundaries of cities – but poses particular hurdles for adapting to climate change effectively. A new platform and set of tools developed by ICLEI-South Asia called ‘RURBAN Platform’ seeks to help city managers work in a more collaborative and ‘climate-smart’ way. 

Water management in Indian cities is still in silos

Integrated urban water management is being increasingly discussed in India, although the concept is still in its nascent stages of implementation.

In India, water is a state subject, which means that irrigation and drinking water are all largely the responsibility of the state (regional) governments — although there are some central policies on water, water management, distribution, transmission, supply, power development. At city level, the local governments are mainly responsible for water supply and distribution, waste water treatment and disposal and storm water drainage.

Local governments’ responsibility has traditionally been limited to the supply and distribution of drinking water as allocated by the state government. This includes laying pipes, setting up treatment plants, managing distribution, and ensuring operation and maintenance on a regular basis.

As a result, even today, the municipalities’ water department consists of more civil engineers than water managers. In some states, there are parastatal bodies (autonomous or semi-autonomous government agencies) that look at water supply and sewerage management.

Typically, there are different engineering departments to look after water supply, waste water management (or sewerage/sewage management) and storm water or drainage as it is generally referred to. Traditionally, the three sectors have been planned for separately.

Most of the time, departments do not consult each other during the planning process, and this affects the overall development of the city as well as management of the available water resources. Generally, the larger overview lies with the administrative head of the local government municipal commissioner or Executive Officer of the local authorities, and since they are regularly transferred, planned development of all sectors becomes a challenge.

This approach to development planning in silos by different departments is exactly what needs to be addressed in municipalities for sustainable development of cities.

Integrated Urban Water Management is one of the means of dealing with this. It brings together all these departments to work together, plan together and develop the sectors together, so that each can feed into or link with the others. This is larger than just resource management and use, it is also an issue of improving governance mechanisms.

The RURBAN solution

Water resources for cities often lie outside the city boundaries. ICLEI’s work with different Indian cities on water management issues has made it abundantly clear that integrated urban water management concepts and principles cannot be effectively implemented by local urban bodies because of their limited jurisdiction over water resources, if they continue to work alone.

Our initial efforts demonstrated this. At first, we developed the AdoptIUWM toolkit as a means of developing integrated urban water action plans – and we worked with different partners to apply the toolkit in five Indian cities. But in each case, the application was limited and a number of necessary interventions on managing water resources could not be implemented by the city governments because the water resources for the city lay outside city boundaries.

These observations showed that we need to move towards catchment level management of water resources. This approach looks at all the demands placed on the water source and manages them without adversely affecting any one community. For this, we need to think beyond city boundaries. Catchment management can only be achieved through effective partnerships among water users.

Keeping this in mind, the concept of a RURBAN platform was developed through a project supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canada, called the Integrated Rural Urban Water Management for Climate Based Adaptations in Indian Cities or IAdapt Project.

The RURBAN Platform is a multi-stakeholder forum that brings together urban and rural stakeholders, both government and non-governmental, to work collaboratively on water management. Although tried and tested in Indian cities, the concept is equally applicable in other South Asian countries as well.

The idea is to work together on shared resources, so that no particular stakeholder is affected adversely or disproportionately. The platform provides a supportive environment and guiding principles to facilitate debate, negotiation and collaboration on integrated water management in the context of a changing climate. It considers the needs of all sectors – water, waste water, storm water, industry, agriculture, public health, economy and ecology – and ensures that no one group is adversely affected. The platform benefits both rural and the urban stakeholders by securing existing water resources against climate change.

Participants in the RURBAN Platform in the project cities are adopting the 5 step IAdapt Framework as the basis for data compilation and participatory catchment-wide planning.

This framework guides cities to incorporate climate risks in water management and enables them to collaboratively plan and manage their water resources keeping in mind future stresses from not just populations, but also the climate. It also supports planning by looking at water beyond the boundaries of the city and going into the catchment level and develop catchment management plans for water resources. This plan consists of climate adaptive interventions for water management at the catchment level, using locally relevant climate information and sectoral data on water, waste water, and storm water. The catchment management plan prepared for Solapur city under the project has already been approved by the local government and will now be incorporated in municipal budget lines.

Formalising the RURBAN platform

Traditionally, in India, city development planning has been done by engineers, who have looked at engineering solutions to all development problems. It is only in recent times, that engaging with stakeholders, citizens involvement is becoming more and more common. Climate change is relatively new to most of the city engineers and planners, and there is a definite lack of capacity among local authorities in developing plans while looking at climate risks. RURBAN platforms engaging various stakeholders, with different strengths, could be a useful mechanism to promote climate adaptive planning. They can be involved in the implementation and monitoring of toolkits like the IAdapt Framework that gives step by step guidance to local governments for climate responsive planning of resources.

Although many cities are working on climate change of their own accord, most cities are yet to start looking at climate change and resilience in an integrated manner and take a holistic approach to planning. The national government is now encouraging cities to look at climate resilience while making their development plans or master plans, and has also developed the ClimateSMART Cities Assessment Framework to incentivise a holistic, climate responsive development in the 100 Smart Cities under the Smart City Mission.

Formalising the RURBAN platform can institutionalise collaborative planning mechanisms in the local authorities that will go a long way in supporting integrated resource management and can go beyond water resources to other issues as well.

In the city of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, the RURBAN steering Committee has been formalised by the District Collector through a government order, paving the way towards a more formal means of communicating between rural and urban local governments to plan for their shared resources. If other Indian subnational governments follow suit, it could significantly change the way water resources are managed in cities.

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