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Gender, Water and Climate Change.

Aquifer : “Aquifers come in many shapes and sizes, but they are really a contained underground repository of water” – Steven Philips, Hydrologist

An Aquifer is a porous soil or rock that holds groundwater and is sufficiently permeable to yield significant volumes of water. It is a rock layer that contains water and releases it in appreciable amounts. The rock contains water-filled pore spaces, and when the spaces are connected, the water is able to flow through the matrix of the rock. An aquifer also may be called a water-bearing stratum, lens, or zone. The groundwater contained in aquifers is one of the most important sources of water on Earth.

Threats to Aquifers : Excessive drilling of borewells coupled wth excessive mechanised pumping, has resulted in many aquifers drying up, and being declared as “dark zones”. The most critically affected states are:  Rajasthan, Gujarat, parts of Andhra Pradesh and western Madhya Pradesh. The groundwater table in these areas has fallen below 300 m, and drought has become a yearly phenomenon.

Another major problem due to the abstraction of groundwater from the fossil aquifers resulted in chemical reaction of water with the rocks ushering in another contaminated water. The aquifer waters became contaminated with high levels of arsenic and fluoride from the rocky layers.


Catchment:”The purpose of the stream flow and erosion study in its broader sense is to determine the principles underlying the relation of forest and vegetative cover to the supply and distribution of meteorological water.” – Charles Hurst, pioneer in Forest Hydrology.

The surface area from which runoff flows, sometimes via drainage systems, to a river, dam or wetland. A catchment area is a hydrological unit. Each drop of precipitation that falls into a catchment area eventually ends up in the same river going to the sea if it doesn’t evaporate. However, it can take a very long time. Catchment areas are separated from each other by watersheds.

Management problems of water catchment areas: Catchment areas can face a various number of problems, such as the decreased quality of water running through the catchment area because of activities such as industrial discharging and incidents of pollution. Another major issue faced by people living around catchment areas is the possibility of flooding, depending on the amount of water which is caught and the amount of water that flows in the catchment basin, resulting in an increased surface water level.


Conservation: “If conservation of natural resources goes wrong, nothing else will go right.” – M. S. Swaminathan, mind being the Green Revolution in India.

The preservation and careful management of the environment and of natural resources. Water conservation means using less water or recycling used water so that it can be used again. Water conservation activities are designed to reduce the demand for water, improve the efficiency of its use, and reduce losses and waste. A key to water conservation is getting people to recognize the value of water and not using it as if it were a free good.

Why conserve water? : Our lives, along with the lives of all things living, are inextricably linked with water. Out of the 70% water that is available on earth, only 0.33% is fresh water, and can be used to fulfil our needs. Since the availability of water is already so limited, it is of utmost importance to conserve it for the future. Measures to conserve water can be taken simply on individual levels, to ensure that water isn’t wasted under any circumstances.


Fresh Water: “Fresh water is commonly defined as water containing less than 1,000 parts per million of dissolved salts.” – David S. Jenkins, Scientist.

Water with a low salt content; generally less than 1000mg per litre. It is naturally occurring water, which can be found in ice caps, glaciers, rivers, lakes, or in the ground as ground water. This term specifically excludes seawater.

India’s Fresh-Water: India’s sources of fresh water are groundwater and rivers. The current groundwater level in India is around 162 million cubic metres, but is decreasing steadily. India also has 12 rivers flowing across the country, serving as sources of water for nearby areas.


Groundwater: The water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers. Groundwater is a source of recharge for lakes, rivers, and wetlands, and is used extensively for irrigation and consumption.
Groundwater supplies are replenished or recharged by rain and snow melt that seeps down into the cracks and crevices beneath the land’s surface. In some areas of the world, people face serious water shortages because groundwater is used faster than it is naturally replenished (overexploitation). In other areas groundwater is polluted by human activities. Groundwater contamination occurs when man-made products such as gasoline, oil, road salts and chemicals get into the groundwater and cause it to become unsafe and unfit for human use. Materials from the land’s surface can move through the soil and end up in the groundwater. For example, pesticides and fertilizers can find their way into groundwater supplies over time. Road salt, toxic substances from mining sites, and used motor oil also may seep into groundwater. In addition, it is possible for untreated waste from septic tanks and toxic chemicals from underground storage tanks and leaky landfills to contaminate groundwater.

A 2012 report by the world bank notes that India is the largest user of groundwater in the world (“using an estimated 230 cubic kilometres of groundwater per year – over a quarter of the global total”). More than 60% of irrigated agriculture, and 85% of drinking water supplies are dependent on groundwater. Groundwater in India is a critical resource, and it is being overexploited.


Climate Action: Climate action refers to the recognition of the ill effects of climate change, and then taking active action to improve the conditions and the impact that climate change has on the world. Climate action is also goal 13 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
September 20-27 2019, is known for being the week of global climate strikes. As we deal with devastating climate breakdown and hurtle towards dangerous tipping points, young people are calling on millions of us across the planet to disrupt business as usual by joining the global climate strikes on September 20, just ahead of a UN emergency climate summit, the urgency of the climate crisis requires a new approach and a just response centred on human rights, equity, and justice.  Greta Thunberg’s lone protest caught the world’s attention last year, and has spread to millions of school children who are sounding the alarm.


Image: map of India, depicting the Thar Desert.

Desertification is defined as a process of land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas due to various factors including climatic variations and human activities. Or, to put it in another way, desertification results in persistent degradation of dryland and fragile ecosystems due to man-made activities and variations in climate. Desertification, in short, is when land that was originally of another type of biome turns into a desert biome because of changes of all sorts.

Lands turn to desert due to a number of reasons, but much of the desertification that is occurring around the world today is caused by human activity on lands that are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and improper agricultural methods.

Some of the causes of desertification include :

  1. Overexploitation of groundwater
  2. Deforestation
  3. Unsustainable farming practices

Rajasthan is one of the driest states in India, with nearly 70% of the area classified as semi-arid and arid. It is currently experiencing drought conditions, and as a result, is overly dependent on groundwater to meet agricultural and personal drinking needs. A report by the Central Arid Zone Research Institute, has revealed that in the past two decades Rajasthan has been undergoing significant desertification, and the biggest contributing reason to this desertification has been water erosion.


Food Security :Food security, as defined by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
Over the coming decades, a changing climate, growing global population, rising food prices, and environmental stressors will have significant yet uncertain impacts on food security. Adaptation strategies and policy responses to global change, including options for handling water allocation, land use patterns, food trade, postharvest food processing, and food prices and safety are urgently needed.


Transboundary: Transboundary waters are those which that cross at least one political border, either within a nation, or an international boundary. UN Water defines these bodies as: “the aquifers, and lake and river basins shared by two or more countries”. In an era of increasing water stress, how we manage these critical resources is vital to promoting peaceful cooperation and sustainable development.

Image: Indus River, a transboundary river flowing through both India and Pakistan. India is the Upstream Riparian, and Pakistan is the downstream riparian

263 transboundary lake and river basins cover almost half the Earth’s surface. 145 States have territory in these basins, and 30 countries lie entirely within them. There are approximately 300 transboundary aquifers, helping to serve the 2 billion people who depend on groundwater. Cooperation is essential, especially in areas vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and where water is already scarce.

Two of the most important transboundary rivers in India are the Indus and the Brahmaputra. The Indus river flows between India and Pakistan. The Brahmaputra River flows between China, India and Bangladesh. A third important and transboundary river, is the Kosi river between India and Nepal. Centre for Social Research has worked together with The Asia Foundation, on a transboundary river project focusing on the river Kosi.


Civil Society: The World Health Organisation defines Civil Society as a space where collective action takes place, on the basis of shared interests and values. Civil society is separate from governmental organisations as well for-profit organisations such as corporates, and is thus known as the “third sector”.

Importance of Civil Society: The Civil Society seeks to organise itself to advocate for the rights of its citizens, which may vary from economical, social, and political rights. The Civil Society finds itself as an agent of lobbying with the government, and also one which checks the government within a democracy. Thus, for a democracy to flourish, the participation of the Civil Society is of utmost importance.


Global Warming: Global warming is a resultant of climate change, and can be understood as the steady rise in the temperature of the earth. Due to global warming, there have been various changes in climate patterns across the world, resulting in heat waves and droughts. Global warming has also resulted in the melting of ice caps and glaciers and a rise in sea levels.

What causes Global Warming?: The two main reasons behind global warming are deforestation and the production of greenhouse gases. Trees help in the regulation of the climate, as they absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Due to global warming, there is a lack of trees, because of which carbon dioxide isn’t sufficiently absorbed. Greenhouse gases include Carbon Dioxide, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide, which together trap radiations produced by the earth, in turn trapping heat in the atmosphere, causing the overall warming of the earth.


Paris Agreement: Held on 12th December, 2015, a Conference of the Party by UNFCCC was held in Paris, where the Paris Agreement was signed. This Agreement tied its signatories to the aim of trying to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. All the signatory countries also agreed to deal with the impacts of climate change effectively.
NDCs or Nationally Determined Contributions were a main part of the Paris Agreement, where all parties were expected to report yearly about their emissions, along with implementations to deal with climate change. The Agreement allows the developed nations to help developing nations to reduce their emissions. It is a transparent way to keep a check on the countries’ climate action.


UNFCCC: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international environmental treaty adopted on 9 May 1992 and opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June 1992. The main objective of the UNFCCC is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

The signatories to this convention meet annually for a Conference of Parties (COP) to assess issues surrounding climate change. The current number of signatories to the UNFCCC is 197. In these Conferences of Parties, important agreements for dealing with climate change were signed, such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.


Kyoto Protocol: The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” The goal of the Protocol was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5% against levels of 1990.

Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol: In 2012 at the Doha Conference, a few amendments were added to the Kyoto Protocol, such as the revision of the listen greenhouse gases, as well as the extension of the commitment period of the signatories. It also included an agreement to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions to 8% against the levels of 1990.


Sustainable Development Goals: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. There are a total of 17 SDGs, ranging from No Poverty, Gender Equality, to Climate Action and Life on Land.

SDG 5: The 5th SDG is Gender Equality, which aims at ending all discrimination against women and girls for a sustainable future. It believes that empowering women and girls helps economic growth and development, and is also a basic human right.

SDG 6:The 6th SDG is Clean Water and Sanitation, which acknowledges the fact that water scarcity is an issue faced by 40% of the world’s population. Thus, it aims to make safe and affordable drinking water available to everyone by 2030.

SDG 13: The 13th SDG is Climate Action, which recognises the climate crisis that the world is facing, and the urgent need to deal with it. The goal of this SDG is to mobilize USD 100 billion annually to address the needs of developing countries to adapt to climate change and invest in low-carbon development.


Dams: “Dams are Temples of Modern India” – Jawarlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India.

A Dam is a wall built across a river that stops the river’s flow, and collects the water, especially to make a reservoir that serves as a water resource for an area. Reservoirs created by dams not only suppress floods but also provide water for activities such as irrigation, human consumption, industrial use, and navigability.

History of Dams in India: The Kallanai Dam oldest dam in India was built in 2 A.D., by a Tamil King called Karigalan of the Chola Dynasty. Since then, many dams were built across the country, like the Veeranam Dam in the 11th Century, and the MudukMaur Dam in 16th Century. During the British era, new dam technology was introduced to the country, and thus dam building escalated, resulting in the most advanced dams in the world. After India’s independence, in the Five Year Plans adopted by Jawaharlal Nehru, a four-dam project was given special emphasis.  In recent years, the building of two dams, namely, the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Tehri Dam have sparked controversy because critics say that dams are built for the wealthy and the powerful, whereas the poor remain displaced.