WATER-RELATED INDICATOR                           DEVELOPMENT               IN     SOUTH        ASIA:
Binay Shah and Srijan Aryal

Water Resources Engineers & Planners, Integrated Consultants Nepal (P) Ltd. (ICON)
P.O. Box 3839, Kathmandu, Nepal. Tel: 977-1-4470933, Fax: 977-1-4473544
Email: Binay@icon.com.np, Or bshah@ccsl.com.np

Within South Asia, there is significant variation in the incidence of poverty across countries (World
Bank 2003). Available data on the incidence of poverty indicate that it is highest in Bangladesh and
Nepal, followed by Pakistan. Poverty reduction is the major agenda pursued by all Governments in the
region, although with varying degree of success. With rudimentary secondary and tertiary economic
base, primary, or natural resource base still overrides the agenda for poverty reduction. Water occupies
a dominant role in the poverty reduction (WWDR: 2003). Enhanced water use for drinking water and
sanitation; irrigation; environmental sustainability; power and energy have proven potentiality to
translate into poverty reduction and greater economic growth. The paper explores the potential for
water resources development in the region, water related indicators and data as an impediment and
finally the “incentive” for developing robust and reliable water-related indicators with regional
cooperation. The paragraphs below outline the structure of the paper and the area of focus within.

Water-related indicators demonstrating these poverty reducing phenomena are, to some extent,
available with various institutions in the SA countries. However, the quality, reliability and ease of
accessibility has remained a major area of concern for planners, developers and professionals working
in the sector. When the concern for developing a regional vision for water use and development is
growing in South Asia, lack of comparable variable and objective tracking system to assess progress
has complicated realization of this goal (Kathmandu Post: 23 June, 2003. Although initially pointed out
in the GWP led vision for SA water development in early 2000 and discussed during the second world
water forum, much less progress has been accounted at operational level (GWP: 2000) The lack of
progress is well documented in the recently formulated Water Resources Strategy – Nepal, January
2002, which specifically states that a major regional issue is, “Absence of mechanism for
institutionalized cooperation between riparian countries”.

Prevailing situation on indicators:
Beside obvious developmental and welfare concerns, as some of the largest transboundary river basins
in the world fall in this region, regional cooperation in water resources development and sector specific
development in hydropower, flood control and irrigation becomes inevitable. Definitive and reliable
water-related indicators require an adequate network of hydro-meteorological stations; flood
forecasting and warning systems, geo-seismic data and related information. Availability and reliability
of such information at the regional level can greatly define the prevailing scenario in South Asia.

Some of the basic water related indicators describing the water resources situation in the region are
described in the table below to develop a regional focus:

 Country       Total       Per Capita        Irrigated    Access to Drinking Access to Sanitation
               Annual      Available         Land (%)     Water (%)          (%)
               Water       Water                          Urban     Rural    Urban     Rural
               Resources Resources
               (AWR) – – cu. m.
               cu. Km.
 Bhutan        95          45,564            -            86            60          65           70
 Bangladesh    1,211       8,308             49           99            97          82           44
 India         1908        1891              44           92            86          73           14
 Nepal         210         9122              52           85            80          75           20
 Pakistan      255         1805              -            96            84          94           42
 Sri Lanka     50          2642              100          91            80          91           80
Source: Asian Development Bank, 2002

Water-related indicators on environmental sustainability and the ecosystem, water related risks
(drought and floods), water and energy also need to be extensively assessed and their implications on
economic growth including poverty reduction needs to be highlighted. Economic losses due floods and
droughts in the last decade (1990 – 2001) have been phenomenal in the region. Countries like India ($
4604 million), Bangladesh ($ 3204 million) and Pakistan ($ 1823 million) have suffered colossally.
Similarly, in spite of the huge potential for harnessing the hydropower available in the region, the per
capita consumption of electricity (energy) is one of the lowest in the world. In fact, a major portion of
the regional domestic energy requirements is still met by natural fuelwood, which has a potential to
become a major environmental problem for the region. Other water-related indicators indicate that
there is still a lot work to be done for irrigation development and sanitation.

Now the problem:
A major impediment identified by professionals working in the water resources sector is lack of
consistent data and indicators in the region. Water-related indicators like effective irrigation coverage,
safe drinking water and access to sanitation facilities, energy consumption, etc. are not consistent and
do not truly reflect the existing scenario. This has often led to a situation whereby a clear picture to
make logical investment decision is not possible.

Unavailability of adequate information and its sharing has also led to numerous disputes between
neighboring countries in the SA. A recent example is Nepal’s concern for construction of small flood
control embankments built by India in the bordering districts. Albeit this is a minor problem, the issue
is larger – uncertainty of the situation due lack of data sharing or even availability and lack of regional
water perspective with the Governing institutions.

Although there exists a huge potential for investments in water resources development, third country
investors are always wary of the kind of data and indicators available in this region. Poor quality
information increases the potential risk of the investor and they tend to shy away from the region. In
addition to these inconsistent and unreliable policies for water resources development in the region has
also been a big impediment. The Dabhol Power Company in Maharashta is a classic example of this

Some regional level efforts under the auspices of SAARC is presently underway. In addition to this bi-
lateral efforts are also going on, but these are mostly “diplomatic” and lack sincere commitment. The
situation sometimes gets complicated further when one party is genuinely interested, while the other
tend to act passively toward the initiative. Although in the past there have been examples of joint water
resources utilization (Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh), the experiences have not been considered
successful and still require confidence building fixes of various shorts. Therefore, the need of the hour
is to generate data and develop indicators for a broader information sharing purposes, rather than limit
to a particular project or intervention.

In this regard, the role of international agencies especially under the UN umbrella need to act as a
catalyst to improve the quality of the data, its reporting mechanism with proper "benefit-perspective
(Bait)". Does a country gets benefit or incentive in developing an effective system, or for that matter,
developing an indicator to monitor the water-related situation and progress in the region – is a question
we have to seriously delve into.

The paper will conclude by identifying some of the key lessons based on the past interventions and
ongoing efforts for tomorrow’s effort in South Asian water. The paper will reflect the need for :

   •   Developing uniform reporting standards.
   •   Taking a progressive approach and starting from the basic indicators
   •   Identifying benefits of information generation, processing and reporting
   •   Developing a common water resource information collection format
   •   Undertaking diplomatic effort through, regional bodies like SAARC or UNESCAP
   •   Establishing some kind of regional mechanism for data handling, data-pooling, processing and


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