Woman washing laundry

Water supplies in South Asia are threatened by climate change and urban sprawl. © SaciWATERs

Water is scarce for residents on the edge of South Asia’s rapidly expanding cities. Research teams across the subcontinent are working with communities to secure their access to this vital resource as cities grow and climate changes.

South Asia is rapidly urbanizing. The cities of India alone are expected to swell by more than 200 million people in the next 15 years and Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is the world’s fastest growing megacity. As the region’s cities spread out, consuming more land and water, the communities around them experience severe knock-on effects.

Water is becoming particularly scarce for those living on the outskirts of cities in ‘peri-urban’ areas. Climate change compounds the problem due to its unpredictable effects on hydrology across the subcontinent, which range from relentless drought to melting glaciers and erratic monsoons.

Local organisations grouped in the South Asia Water Consortium (SaciWATERs) are conducting research to better understand the growing threats to water security in peri-urban areas and to help these communities adapt. Teams are studying water security in four very different sites within three countries, chosen to reflect South Asia’s wide range of social and environmental conditions: Khulna in Bangladesh; Kathmandu in Nepal; and Hyderabad and Gurgaon, both in India.

The research, funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), is providing a better understanding of peri-urban environments and how they function. Researchers are learning about the unequal impact development and climate change have on different social groups, from uninsured tenant farmers in the booming Delhi satellite town of Gurgaon, to women in Khulna who must travel farther to collect clean water. It is clear that gender, caste, and class inequality all affect water availability in these regions.

The teams are sharing their insights with the world through a website, blogging, and social media. Armed with their growing understanding of the factors that contribute to water insecurity in each area, their next step is to develop solutions that will engage marginalized groups, governments and the private sector to work toward ensuring clean water for all.

For further information contact:

Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé
International Development Research Centre, Canada
Email: ibourgeault-tasse@idrc.ca