River deep, mountain high

01 March 2012 | News story

“Across the Himalayan region in India, people are noticing drying springs. For hillside communities, this is a silent catastrophe. Where will people find the water they need? Women and girls walk long distances to fetch water, up and down steep slopes, with heavy loads, taking hours out of every day.”

These are the words of Ganesh Pangare, leader of an IUCN project to restore water flow in the Balkila watershed which lies in India's Uttarakhand State, below the towering peaks of the Himalayas. The river basin is home to small farming communities whose way of life is rapidly changing. The economic engine of the north Indian plains is pulling people to the large cities, just as the effects of decades of natural resource over-use are becoming apparent. Added to this is the stress of climate change.

Just why the springs are drying up is not a simple question to answer. Changes in precipitation patterns may be one factor, but locals also point a finger at the decline of the watershed’s forests. The Forest Department of the Uttarakhand State is now responding by promoting soil and water conservation with local farmers, and communities are replanting local species, like the deodar (cedar) and oak lost in past decades.

IUCN is taking action, with the support of mobile phone company Nokia, to restore the springs that are vital to community life in the watershed. The aim is to improve local livelihoods through involving communities in more sustainable water management practices.

“Coping with change will mean that communities in the Balkila, as in all high mountain regions around the world, will have to ensure they organize themselves to adapt,” says Dr Mark Smith, Director of IUCN’s Water Programme.
 
“New kinds of cooperation are needed, to manage watersheds and solve local water problems, but also to make sure people have livelihoods that are resilient, and can cope with new social, economic and environmental realities.”

For more information contact:
Ganesh Pangare, ganesh.pangare@iucn.org