Activities per year
Over 400 million people are reliant on the critical economic, cultural and environmental functions of the River Ganga in India. The degradation of the river system over many years has affected flow, water quality, ecology and ecosystems, but also impeded development. A number of unsuccessful efforts have been made to clean and rehabilitate the river in recent years. To facilitate better targeting of scarce resources, new approaches require understanding of the interactions between the many services provided to those living in the catchment. Ordinarily, they also require a strong data and evidence base, monitoring, methods and tools to permit the integrated analysis required.
The River Health project seeks to apply such an approach in order to understand the impacts of poor water quality on the population of a representative section of the river, the Ramganga. The river has few barrages but is moderately industrialized and densely irrigated. Major towns and industrial areas in the basin discharge industrial and domestic pollution into the river, with diffuse pollution the result primarily of agricultural runoff and lack of sanitation. In order to understand these impacts, a broader understanding of societal Vulnerability is needed. Improved understanding of the impacts of water quality on those particularly vulnerable to it ultimately allows for the identification of hotspots where specific risks coincide with especially vulnerable communities and the potential impact is therefore at its highest.
In order to achieve this, a bio-physical and socio-environmental systems approach was undertaken to map water quality, ecology and ecosystem services. An assessment of livelihood and health vulnerability to pollution and the river management context was also made, with the role of governance and infrastructure financing evaluated in order to understand vulnerability as comprehensively as possible. Finally, the sensitivity of the catchment to a range of interventions (e.g. STPs) was developed through a Bayesian Belief Network (BBN). Such approaches are extremely challenging due to disparities in quality and the availability of relevant data. Very good data is available with respect to Vulnerability, but very little exists in public in relation to Hazard and Risk. The BBN approach in this instance allows a more systems-level approach to be taken and facilitates a degree of cross-sectoral (and cross-scale) analysis that has proven elusive until now.
Linking risk with vulnerability on the Ramganga is highly novel as it potentially allows decision makers to identify where interventions should be targeted to maximise impact in an environment where financial capacity may be low. It also recognises that relevant interventions are not limited to infrastructural development but that the quality of governance may also be of some importance. The findings demonstrate a methodology that allows for the development of a comprehensive understanding of human vulnerability using the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. They also permit the construction of a risk framework that when combined with vulnerability can identify hotspots where the livelihoods of populations are under a magnified level of threat. Finally, the project highlights how additional factors such as governance and the availability of financing, may exacerbate or alleviate these levels of vulnerability. Crucially, the approach adopted can be applied in any basin in any national context.
Land use data from the census allows natural capital to be connected to ecosystem services, and facilitates the development of socio-ecological systems. This could potentially allow for vulnerability to be determined by livelihood type, providing a further layer of understanding about vulnerability beyond the spatial. Further elaboration and validation of ecosystem services by stakeholders is needed. An increased role for stakeholders will be critical for further development not only in relation to ecosystem services, but also for ground truthing vulnerability findings at the appropriate administrative levels and informing the factors that influence governance implementation quality. The vulnerability work identifies key differences in susceptibility across the five capitals and spatially. When overlaid with risk maps, the most significant areas of vulnerability can be identified, where the risks of pollution impacts are most severe and the vulnerability of riverine populations greatest.
Despite the current lack of data, this approach allows for the completion of preliminary risk maps by stakeholders in the most adversely affected areas, further limiting the optimal placement of water quality sampling points. A sampling strategy based on these would allow regulators to better target their monitoring regimes and ensure they achieve the maximum benefit from investment in monitoring technology. If this was tied to a further iteration of the BBN approach, revised in tandem with relevant institutional stakeholders so that policy-relevance is assured, more effective understanding of cross-sectoral drivers could be created to inform decision making.
Recent government reports have recognised that problems associated with limited data availability and quality are pervasive. These can affect not only the success of infrastructure projects, but also the effectiveness of regulatory frameworks and evidence-based decision making. Research indicates that monitoring and enforcement may be problematic even where point discharges and abstractions are regulated, the little infrastructure that does exist may not be appropriate or simply not operate effectively. Neither groundwater extraction nor diffuse pollution are regulated, and institutional fragmentation undermines compliance and enforcement. There is a clear and urgent need to control discharges of pollutants from point sources through more effective monitoring and more creative application of a wider range of sanctions.
More broadly, the governance frameworks relevant to vulnerability are of a higher quality than those relating to Risk. This means that although vulnerable populations are potentially better able to enforce their rights if breached, the most vulnerable are also the most likely to be adversely affected by the poor Risk governance framework, thereby exacerbating their vulnerability. Further work on urban vulnerability would enhance understanding as to how the lack of coordination between rural and urban governance affects the impacts of pollution from one to the other, and the inability of states to spend project funds on major sanitation projects.
The importance of these financial issues is enormous from the perspective of both risk and vulnerability. As regards risk, failure to spend funding committed to, for example, the construction of sewage treatment plants or sewage connections between houses and treatment plants negates the benefits of both. The same is true of rural and urban drinking water provision. A more effective balance of funding between large-scale projects and capacity building in existing institutions needs to be made. States appear unable to use financing effectively and remedying this is likely to take a long time. Investing in existing institutions such as the Pollution Control Boards, and enhancing their monitoring and enforcement capabilities is critical.
The project has broken new ground by shedding light on the multiple ways in which those living in the Ramganga basin can be affected by pollution. It has examined the extent to which they are not only vulnerable to its immediate impacts but also how effectively they are able to recover from these effects using judicial and administrative solutions. The cross-disciplinary work has transcended existing research and provides potentially valuable new insights for regulators in terms of better targeting of resources. Additional work is needed to fill in the gaps from the data and stakeholder perspectives. This will allow more integrated connections between governance, management and infrastructural interventions to be made that directly address human vulnerability not only in the Ramganga but in basins in and beyond India.
|Publisher||River Health Project|
|Commissioning body||Scottish Government|
|Number of pages||430|
|Publication status||Published - 3 Jun 2019|
- Water quality