Water is a prime requirement for all aspects of life. It is imperative to make certain that adequate supplies of water of good quality are maintained for all the needs of the entire population of this planet while preserving the hydrological, biological and chemical functions of ecosystems, adapting human activities within the capacity limits of nature and combating vectors of water-related diseases. Innovative technologies, including improvements in the indigenous technologies, are needed to fully utilize the limited water resources and to safeguard them against pollution.
The fast growing population, rapid urbanization and industrialization, coupled with spatial and temporal variations in water availability, water quality problems, etc. demand an integrated approach to water resources planning and management.
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is based on the perception of water as an integral part of the ecosystem, a natural resource and a pivot for socio-economic development, whose quantity and quality determine the nature of its utilization. To this end, water resources have to be protected, taking into account the functioning of aquatic ecosystems and the Perenniality of the resource, in order to satisfy and reconcile needs for water in human activities. In developing and using water resources, priority has to be given to the satisfaction of basic needs and the safeguarding of ecosystems.
The holistic management of freshwater as a finite and vulnerable resource and the integration of sectoral water plans and programmes within the framework of national policy are of paramount importance for action. Therefore, effective implementation and coordination mechanisms are required to remove impediments for promoting integrated water management.
Integrated water resources management, including the integration of land and water related aspects, should be carried out at the level of the basin or sub-basin. Four principal objectives to be pursued are as follows:
• To promote a dynamic, interactive and multisectoral approach to water resources management, including the identification and protection of potential sources of freshwater supply that integrates technological, socio-economic environmental, ecological and human health considerations.
• To plan for the sustainable development and rational utilization, protection, conservation and management of water resources based on community needs and priorities within the framework of national water policy.
• To design, implement and evaluate projects and programmes that are socially appropriate and economically efficient within clearly defined strategies based on a participatory approach.
• To strengthen or develop as required the appropriate institutional, legal and financial mechanisms to ensure that water policy and its implementation are a catalyst for sustainable social progress and economic growth.
In a nutshell, the centrality of sustainable management of water resources encompassing ecological, economic and ethical sustainability therefore hinges on a holistic and integrated approach involving engineering, socio-economic and environmental aspects. All the problems need to be looked at in their totality.
Development of hydropower, lowering of ground water table and devastations faced by people due to floods have to be examined in an integrated manner. Similarly, traditional system of water management through ponds and small tanks should be integrated with canal and pumped ground water irrigation. An integrated approach would minimize the conflicts among the multiplicity of agencies working in the water sector, each having different goals, motivation and dynamics.
The rationale of the future strategy is to meet the challenges in such a manner that development is sustained and the growth process does not disturb the delicately balanced environmental and ecological equilibrium which are predominantly water centric. Therefore, project-centric development that was aggressively pursued during the early plan periods for catering to specific needs should be replaced by IWRM that is better suited under the present circumstances for optimizing the water resources allocation among competing multi-sectoral water demand/uses. It is evident that suitably prioritizing the water demand from the socio-economic environmental point of view and simultaneously maintaining harmony among the different users, be it sectors or regions, should form the core of any long term vision that is being formulated for the water resources development and management.
*Inputs from the Ministry of Water Resources