Protecting “The Brook”


And out again, I curve and flow

To join the brimming river,

For men may come, and men may go,

But I go on forever.

The famous lines of the poem, ‘The Brook’ remind us of the beautiful river with sparkling water reflecting the rays of the sun on the bright sunny day and of our innocent childhood when we used to sit on its bank lost in the beauty of nature. Where are these rivers? Why the rivers we see these days do not sparkle as they used to? Why do not they “make the netted sun dance”.

Rivers worldwide are in the dire stage, exposed to dangerous pollution levels from direct discharges, waste dumping and climate change.  Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison highlight that 80 per cent of the human population lives in areas where rivers water are highly threatened, posing a significant threat to human water security and aquatic biodiversity risk. The problem of the crisis is even severe in India. A report by federal government think tank NITI Aayog highlights that 21 Indian cities would run out of groundwater by 2020, including the capital city of India.

While we will not deny that climate change has exacerbated the global water crisis, affected the monsoons and dried up the water bodies. We argue that it certainly is not solely responsible for the crisis. India is a privileged country, blessed with the gift of monsoon and numerous freshwater sources like lakes, rivers, wetlands, and others. As a human virtue, we often take gifts for granted, so it is valid for natural resources. A report by Vivekananda International Foundation highlights that 30 per cent of the Himalayan rivers are biologically dead, i.e. their water is unfit for aquatic biodiversity and human consumption. Also, the cities are witnessing depletion in the groundwater due to excessive extraction and lower replenishment rates. At this rate of diminishing water resources, the day is not far when the second most populous nation of the world will be left without water or, in other words, without “consumable” water.

The water crisis in India is not a result supply issue; however, it is primarily a management issue. The rivers carrying freshwater are polluted by releasing untreated sewer, the rainwater received are lost to the sea. Thus, it presents a unique position; we have enough water supplies, yet we are distressed.

While we are done defining the question, what can be done to attenuate the existing situation? We would discuss the solution for the current water crisis from a naturalist perspective, emphasising that nature with technology can help us swim across this crisis.

There is a growing consensus that climate change will aggravate climate risks globally, and resources are the only effective ways to adapt to these changes. With the natural resources in a dire state, we already have our one guards fallen. To reduce the risk, we emphasise using a mix of grey and green structures for climate resilience. To support the idea, we emphasise the need to include Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) for effective resource management and reduce water stress in Indian cities.

How can NbS help in designing water resilient future cities? To give an illustration, the USA implemented an ambitious experiment of introducing beaver to a high mountain watershed experiencing drier summers and wetter winters. The introduction of beavers resulted in an improved watershed in the region. It successfully demonstrated the case of NbS solutions for effective climate adaptation.

In a similar context, we emphasise introducing green and grey infrastructures in the urban areas for reducing water stress in Indian cities. The restoration of the urban forest with species capable of more significant water infiltration and storage and grey structures like rainwater harvesting systems for groundwater recharge can significantly reduce the urban water stress. Besides this, a green and grey combination can also be introduced to restore the urban rivers. These steps will increase the urban centres’ resilience and offer various ecological, social and economic services.

While there are enough literature and projects to back the effectiveness of NbS in various urban contexts, their fundamental requirements and characteristics differ from grey infrastructure and make them less appealing to decision-makers. The added uncertainties like time scale of the benefits, spatial scale and diffused benefits also discourage the use of NbS by decision-makers. However, we argue that the use of NbS alongside the grey can offer a range of benefits that can be physically effective, cost-efficient and multifunctional. In addition to this, the introduction of NbS can also be economically beneficial. It can potentially create jobs much in the same way as the development of grey infrastructure does.  According to an OECD report, nature-related jobs provide direct employment to more than 120,000 workers and generate a US dollars 15 billion economic development in the US.

A practical entry point of inclusion NbS in policy frameworks could be National and State level climate action plans. In addition to inclusion in climate action plans, implementation of pilot projects, progress recording, and deployment of an effective financing strategy can potentially leverage the inclusion of NbS in urban planning and development.

In a rapidly urbanising and developing India, a nature-based solution can help us address the growing water crisis and help rivers natural recovery. It would also help us build a climate-resilient future with sustainable river systems that could be beautifully depicted as “For men may come, and men may go, but I go on forever”.

Tarun is an intersectional environmentalist, working as a research assistant for ICRIER, New Delhi. He can be reached at [email protected]




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