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Insights into Editorial: Water Governance: Challenges and the Way Forward





Water Governance poses one of the biggest challenges in modern-day India that looks out for definitive solutions.

Every place and every community have their unique stories and problems associated with water, wherein the governance addresses complications of the governor than the benefits of the governed.

How this scare water resource is to be allocated? How to generate livelihood in the food-energy nexus? How to keep the order of the biosphere balanced.

Key aspects of water governance:

The key aspects of an effective system of water governance in a water blessed country which includes a comprehensive policy followed by an Action Plan to formulate the policy.

Need to emphasized on the importance of resource literacy on water and building institutions in line with framed policies.

Experts prescribed the top-down approach and definition of ‘per capita availability’ to be rechecked and substituted with a bottom-up approach and relevant definitions, that is, a more localized treatment of governing water.

Some lacunas present in the state of water governance that needs to be addressed:

Problem: Lack of reliable information and doctored data which is unfortunately aided by the conflict of interest among governing bodies like the Central Water Commission (CWC), Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), the regulators, the financial agencies.


  1. Suggestion is to bring transparency and bridge the information gap, by putting data into public domain right away.
  2. Localised storage options, flood management, optimal use of reservoirs, river management – its flow, pollution and biodiversity, catchment management via enhancing water recharge, studying the flow of sediments.
  3. Management of agriculture – regulation of water-intensive crops and cropping pattern, regulations for groundwater consumption.
  4. An Urban Water Policy focusing on Water Smart cities, corruption-free quality and pollution management and a check on climate change induced by anthropogenic activities that causes harm to water resources are some of the governance tools to sought-after.

Water Governance implementation challenges in the main themes:

These governance challenges can affect the implementation of the SDG water-related targets to a lesser or greater degree depending on the water management function. For example :

Drinking water and sanitation (targets 6.1 and 6.2):

  1. The lack of capacity, in particular at sub-national levels, represent an important obstacle to meeting current and future demands.
  2. The World population will grow to around 9 billion by 2050, with rapidly increasing proportion living in urban areas.
  3. These socio-economic and demographic trends raise important challenges for countries and cities to mobilise the infrastructure, expertise and competent staff necessary to ensure the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation.
  4. Knowledge and know-how may also be needed to develop innovative approaches (be it technical or non-technical) to water service provision in light of growing demands.
  5. In addition, insufficient or inadequate funding can also be an important challenge: countries will be expected to mobilise substantial financial resources to build and maintain new networks, replace and modernise existing water infrastructures and ensure the performance of service provision.

Water resources management (targets 6.4 and 6.5):

  1. The management of water resources is an issue particularly sensitive to the question of scale.
  2. The mismatch between administrative limits and hydrological boundaries can lead to local actors (e.g. municipalities) placing their own interests ahead when designing and implementing water resources management policies and strategies, rather than integrating the needs of the river basin and aquifers.
  3. Managing water resources efficiently can also be hindered by diverging interests between urban and rural areas for example, or between up-stream and downstream regions.
  4. This can hinder the water-use efficiency across sectors and prevent the adoption of convergent objectives for sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity.

Water quality and wastewater treatment (target 6.3).

  1. Ensuring good quality level for water requires collective and co-ordinated actions across actors and sectors. It is as such particularly sensitive to sectoral fragmentation, which can hinder collective efforts to reducing pollution.
  2. Eliminating dumping, minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater, and increasing recycling and safe reuse.
  3. Meeting water quality targets can also be hampered by limited enforcement.
  4. A lack of accountability and transparency in complying with existing standards for quality and wastewater treatment, in particular when governments do not have the capacity to monitor their performance and civil society is not fully engaged to hold them accountable.

Risk management related to disasters and climate change (target 6.6).

  1. Inadequate information production and sharing for what concerns meteorological and hydrological data is an important obstacle to managing the risks related to extreme event and global warming.
  2. Often, countries deal with data scattered across various sources (scientific, institutional, etc.) which hamper a common understanding of the risks and exposure to natural disasters such as droughts and floods.
  3. It results in the absence of common frame of reference regarding safety measures and levels of risks and different levels of knowledge and awareness across actors.

Articulating the best practices of water governance:

  1. An example of a World Bank project in Andhra Pradesh where they educated and equipped the local community to understand their water budget and how the water levels have been changing, and what should be the appropriate cropping patterns.
  2. A ‘River Parliament’ in a village in India wherein the locals came to meet once a while to discuss water management.
  3. Durgashakti Nagpal’s (IAS) view and experience as a civil servant on water governance highlights the communities affected by water insecurity and are at the frontlines of vulnerability.
  4. Pointing out the problem in citizen participation, they maintains that due to the non-realization of the urban dwellers that water management is their problem and view that they are not part of the governance, they don’t get actively involved in water governance.
  5. There is a need for a ward level committee to educate the citizens about the source of water, the importance of conservation, and how they can play a role in the management and, subsequently, governance.
  6. The demand for a more significant role of citizens is something that should not be ever negated.
  7. While emphasizing dams and the ‘development’ role, experts criticized that the 5000 dams were being constructed across India without civil consent and opinion, which has only done more harm than good, especially to the vulnerable groups.
  8. There is a need for post facto assessment; the capacity to learn lessons and change accordingly is also what the governing institutions should bring about as a character.
  9. An example of how NDMA should have an ‘independent credible assessment’ as to what happened and who should be accountable of and the shortcomings that made the disaster turn into a calamity.

Further, highlighted that official buildings should first equip themselves with a rain harvesting system before making it mandatory for private institutions and facilities.

On the untreated sewage, advocated for the formulation of a decentralized system of sewage management in the urban localities and a transparent committee that will monitor and evaluate the progress.


Diagnosing these governance challenges in each water-related area and the extent to which they affect the capacity of countries to achieve the water goal will be a critical step in the SDG implementation process.

Urban agriculture can benefit from treating grey water, thus creating a social responsibility scheme of ‘water responsibility’ in CSR lines for the industries who generate toxic effluents.

A range of tools can provide guidance to move away from silo vision to create a new scenario for development and sustainability in the water sector.

Thus, there needs to be a National Urban Water Policy that will fit and come under the ambit of another comprehensive National Water Policy.