Climate change, politics of water and marginalized groups

Climate change, politics of water and marginalized groups

By: H N Adam, S Bose, U Ghosh, L Mehta and S Shilpi
Climate change means that while water management is politically contested, the most marginalized and remote people are those most affected by the vagaries
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In the last three decades, climate change has introduced alarming water related uncertainties. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is placing scientific projections indicating an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts, heatwaves and extreme precipitation events.

This brings in uncertainty and unpredictability in the water cycle, compounding the challenges of water management. There is no consensus regarding the best solutions for governing and managing water. The diversity of institutional arrangements for managing water makes water governance a political matter, with inter-state water disputes, for example.

Climatic events such as droughts and extreme precipitation events are nothing new. Climate change, however, is contributing to changes in their intensity and predictability along with the ability of local people to cope with climate uncertainties.

Local responses include accessing traditional knowledge regimes, community institutions, social networks and shifts in livelihood strategies. Dominant approaches in development look towards controlling uncertainty instead of working with it.

As such its top down approach does not work often as could be seen the inability to cope with the recent flooding in Mumbai and Chennai. They also feature as elite-driven projects that exclude local people and marginalized communities.

In Mumbai, the backseat given to ecological and geographical aspects in planning along with the influence of the private in haphazard construction contributed to the flooding. In Kutch, the traditional practices of local people has been disrupted by erratic rainfall and rise in temperatures.

Top down approaches usually do not run the last mile, leaving behind people in remote areas, as shown by the lack of piped water supply therein. Similarly in the Sunderbans, naturally occurring water has become unsafe, coupled with the fact that most areas even lack adequate number of taps.

Those most affected by variable climate are the marginalized people, excluded from decision-making on resource use and access.

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