Navigating ebbs and flows: ACT’s approaches in climate-resilient water management (CRWM) in South Asia

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A farmer uses a pond to wash his team of bullocks.    Photo: Valery Shanin/Shutterstock

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ater resources and the climate are deeply intertwined. Energy trapped in the atmosphere and oceans speeds up hydrological cycles, resulting in intensified shortages and excesses of water – floods and droughts. The higher variability in overall precipitation and uncertainty affects multi-annual water storage.

ACT works on addressing the impacts of climate variability in the water sector by developing data-driven policy recommendations for governments. ACT is currently working on water resource management (supply augmentation and demand management) and management of extreme events, and enabling a supportive policy environment for climate-resilient water management.

ACT’s projects help governments exploit technical and policy entry points for the improved management of water under climate change. These include the improved management of data from automated weather systems in Bihar, enhanced flood forecasting in Odisha, water demand estimation under climate change in Pakistan and flood resilience planning in Assam, among others. Additional systems and policy-oriented projects include climate-proofing of existing State Water Missions in Assam and Bihar, and the development of Nepal’s National Adaptation Plan with the active collaboration of diverse sectors including water.

Today, on World Environment Day, we at ACT are taking an opportunity to reflect on our work on climate-resilient water management and suggest five best practices for climate-resilient water management.

1.    Robust engagement

Multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary stakeholders must be engaged in policy processes. This is the hallmark of ACT’s work in the water sector, as it ensures transparency, inclusivity and accountability.

ACT’s multi-stakeholder engagement approaches include:

  • Ongoing dialogue with noted experts to ensure alignment with other organisations, government initiatives and technical advances working on water resources in South Asia
  • Ensuring gender-sensitive outreach to take women’s voices into account in preparing for climate change impacts
  • Appointing local climate champions with diverse institutional and academic backgrounds to help embed and disseminate locally relevant information to increase awareness.

2. Addressing government priority areas

Working closely with its primary partners, state and central governments, ACT has linked government priorities to mainstreaming climate change action through:

  • Long-range planning exercises at the initiation of project work in all locations to identify points of alignment between the governments’ water resource management and development priorities, as well as their climate change adaptation needs
  • Working on government demand–led projects by selecting areas of work based on government interest and eliminating work streams without sufficient buy-in from government.

3. Navigating political boundaries

Photo: Don Mammoser /

Working on transboundary water issues is potentially politically contentious. ACT has succeeded in avoiding politicised aspects of the water debate by:

  • Providing policy options for best management with currently available information and decision support. ACT strictly provides scientific assessments and policy options that will help governments improve resilience to climate change on the basis of best available information
  • Not making value judgements about particular water uses or allocations. ACT strictly connects decision makers with the best available scientific evidence and appropriate policy or management options.

4. Addressing data challenges

Data fragmentation, lack of data and difficulty in accessing existing data are some of South Asia’s greatest climate action challenges. ACT’s work demands both data acquisition and analysis.

ACT’s data collection approach includes:

  • Initiation and support for climate change cells and knowledge management centres that will aggregate data and facilitate its incorporation into policy. ACT has initiated or supported climate change knowledge management centres in Kerala, Bihar, Nepal and Assam. All these are working actively with Ministries and Departments of Water to support mainstreaming climate change in water resource management initiatives
  • Linking existing data with policy, building upon the existing investment in data collection and ensuring its uptake into policy processes
  • Evaluation of data requirements for decision making prior to collection, to determine whether additional data will indeed improve policy-based decision making
  • Building strategic data partnerships to aggregate, collate and align data gathering needs among the existing constellation of actors engaged in the same areas to avoid duplication and harness economies of scale.

5. Ensuring additionality

It is vital to ensure that the action on climate-resilient water management is not ‘business as usual’, and that it brings elements that are additional to existing approaches of managing water resources.

ACT ensures that the following four principles of additionality are apparent across all its work.

  1. The ‘precautionary principle’ states that climate change will bring unexpected changes. Therefore, any infrastructure or planning processes should account for a greater degree of precaution by integrating higher rather than lower risk in water management in general
  2. Climate change must be explicitly taken into account. ACT works with the best available climate data to influence the policy solutions it provides through the use of scenarios, modelling and trend analysis. This ensures that our interventions are not ‘business as usual’
  3. Maintain flexibility, adaptability and response capacity to account for a greater degree of uncertainty. As we cannot fully prepare for all eventualities that climate change will induce, programmatic interventions to enhance climate resilience in the water sector must account for residual risk. This can be done by privileging flexible and adaptable systems over static solutions
  4. Focus on the poor and marginalised. As there is usually a high degree of overlap between vulnerability to climate change and poverty, ACT’s interventions for climate-resilient water management firmly focus on the poor and the marginalised for effectively targeting those most affected by climate change.

These five best practices are helping our programme ensure that South Asia continues to grow, prosper and develop despite the deleterious impacts of climate change on its precious water resources.

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