It is proposed to examine the impact of water stress and climate change in Bangladesh, China, India and Nepal and explore collaborative solutions to prevent future crisis. The project assumes significance in light of growing scarcity of water in India and China and future threats emanating from climate crisis for water scarcity and eco-systems in the entire region. The project is to be conducted through research and dialogue collaboration between experts from Bangladesh, China, India and Nepal. The findings and recommendations are to be disseminated widely to the policy community in the four countries and multilateral organisations.
In January 2008, the Strategic Foresight Group published Emerging Issues: Global Security and Economy 2011-2020. The report identified 20 issues that will shape the global agenda. Among them, water scarcity in emerging economies was identified as one of the five most significant issues that will have an impact on the world. The Himalayan region faces most serious threats of water stress, with implications for internal and cross-boundary development and security for countries in the region.
The demand for water in China and India is increasing thanks to consistent GDP growth rates of 10% and 8% respectively. Traditionally, agriculture has been the greatest consumer of water. In the case of Asian economies, water consumption of agriculture, industry and household sectors is expected to increase – thus all sectors providing impetus for a growing demand.
The gap between demand and supply is likely to worsen because of the impact of climate change on glaciers and precipitation in the Himalayan region. The Himalayan glaciers form the largest concentration of glaciers outside of the polar ice caps. Several environmental reports indicate that the Himalayan glaciers are melting at a fast pace due to global warming. In the short run, this phenomenon will cause floods. In the long run, important sources of water will dry out in industrialised and populated parts of Asia. Besides, the impact on precipitation is likely to create erratic and uncertain rainfall patterns influencing the flow of rivers in the future.
Early action should make it possible to find solutions to the anticipated problems. First, technology can help increase productivity and reduce water consumption. For instance, the saving in drip irrigation as compared to flood irrigation is substantial. Shifting to the former can raise productivity for varied types of crops between 25 and 200%. Also, industrialised countries have adapted technologies for efficient use of water. For instance, India needs 880 litres and China 370 litres of water to produce 1 dollar of GNP as compared to less than 4 litres in the United States and Europe. Third, water conservation strategies can help.
In addition to the strategies to promote efficiency and conservation on the domestic front, India, China and Bangladesh can benefit tremendously through collaborative actions. First, they can explore cooperation to control flood and to harness water for navigation and hydroelectricity. Second, they can combine their forces together to shift the technological base of their agriculture and industry to the one based on clean technologies and sustainable practices. If they succeed in doing this, they may be able to manage the climate risk and its implications for river flows. Third, they can join hands to demand technology transfer for cleantech and water efficiency technologies from the Western countries, where they will be in a much better position to negotiate on a collective basis than on an individual basis. Fourth, they can explore data sharing in mutually beneficial ways to address some of the problems mentioned here. Fifth, they can gradually look towards comprehensive sub-regional cooperation drawing lessons from other initiatives such as the Greater Mekong Sub-regional Cooperation Project. Such cooperation can create very unprecedented and innovative avenues covering a broad range of spheres including transport, energy, communications and as already pointed out, managing climate change.
In order to pursue the above objectives, SFG plans to create a dialogue mechanism involving policy leaders from China, India, Bangladesh and Nepal with a particular focus on developing cooperation in the Greater Brahmaputra River region, which is shared by these countries.
A constructive approach can lead to the development of the entire region and benefit several hundred million people in the relevant parts of Asia. SFG believes that successful execution of this project can provide a new road-map for ambitious cooperation in Asia which is bound to have positive impact on security and climate change of Asia and the world.
The process envisages the following steps:
Partnership: The project is seen as an exercise in partnership between SFG and its potential partners in Bangladesh, China, and Nepal, with intellectual and practical support from international institutions such as the World Bank. The project will maintain an open, constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with the Abu Dhabi Dialogue process launched by the World Bank.
Track- Two Dialogues: The project will be centred around periodic discussions between policy leaders in the concerned countries. It is envisaged that about 20 experts – approximately 5 each from China, India, and 3 each from Bangladesh, and Nepal along with 3 or 4 international experts, including those from the World Bank and other institutions. It is proposed to hold two rounds of discussions in 2009. The merit of continuing dialogue in 2010 can be evaluated at the completion of the second round.
Background Research at Strategic Foresight Group with input from experts in the countries covered by the geographical scope of the project – India, China, Nepal and Bangladesh to present concrete ideas for a collaborative approach which reflect intellectual common ground.
Collaborative Research: The partner institutions may identify areas which require significant collaborative research (such as impact of climate change on river flows, policy proposals for greater and comprehensive regional cooperation in various inter-connected spheres, etc.) between themselves, if necessary also including other institutions in their countries or from the international research community. They may then jointly approach international sources of funding and expertise to implement such projects.
Advocacy: The project will explore major breakthrough ideas. It will be necessary to have a strong advocacy component to promote discussion on these ideas among policy communities in the concerned countries as well as multilateral organisations.