08 October 2012

Monday Infographics: Indian Rivers Inter-Link

ResearchBlogging.orgThis started as a regular, relatively brief Monday infographics post, and turned into a full blog post (with references!), so please enjoy the contextual material. For this week's infographic I drew from two sources to give you some sense on the scope of one of the largest water transfer efforts in the world.

The single largest national water transfer project on Earth is likely in China. That effort, comprised of several transfer components built over many years, is currently nearing completion and is called the South-North Water Transfer Project. The SNWTP is intended to bring water from the (relatively) moist and humid south, especially the Yangtze River basin, to the semi-arid (and more politicized) north including the Bejing and Shanghai metropolitan areas. That infrastructure project was initiated and directed over the past couple of decades under a more command-type economy, at which China remains relatively adept.

India is different, however. The world's largest democracy (1.2 bln as of 2011) must collect approved taxes and pass spending bills in order to support such projects. With the Indian parliament as a sometime-hindrance to infrastructure renewal (just as in the United States, though with four times as many people to support and protect), many have linked this tendency to "fall behind" with the blackout earlier this summer that affected as many as 650 mln citizens. Although some pointed to water management at the country's numerous hydroelectric stations as contributing to the emergency, there remains some difference of opinion regarding the underlying and proximate causes of the blackout itself.

Nevertheless, the close ties between water and energy across India are clear, so much so that India could serve a far better example than the US or China of the "true nexus" still to be addressed in international human health and security efforts. The monsoon season remains of paramount importance to water supplies throughout India, and some have suggested that water infrastructure could provide the "next big failure" to watch out for on the subcontinent. The India Meteorological Department maintains a great website for tracking the current monsoon season, with lots of historical information available for review and comparison. However, Indian monsoon forecast skill remains low, is complicated by the thorough coupled nature of the land-atmosphere system in that part of the world, and is made only more uncertain by impacts of climate change in tropical regions. While drought may not be as big a problem for India as it once was, there are numerous immediate reasons for concern:

Overall, India is arriving at an increasingly difficult position (to put it mildly) with regard to providing water (and energy, and food...) for its people:

From the Columbia Water Center.

In order to address the overall distribution of water across the subcontinent, numerous projects including dams, canals and pipelines, and interbasin transfers has been underway for more than 40 years. More recently, the National Water Development Agency has outlined an omnibus National Perspective Plan, more commonly called the "Indian Rivers Inter-link," a project encompassing at least 30 projects passing water through numerous river basins in order to better distribute water supplies. The scope of the project is massive:

Based on materials provided by India's National Water Development Agency.

As the legend goes, the much-touted Indian railway system was originally designed during the British colonial era to provide for rapid redistribution of crop products and stored grains in times of drought and famine, easing significantly the burden of monsoon failures on much of the nation. To be honest, though, my history education didn't cover as much outside of the "Western world" as I would have liked, so your input and correction is welcome here. Will the Indian Rivers Inter-link eventually provide even better water and food security to the Indian people?


Jain, S.K., N.S.R.K. Reddy, and U.C. Chaube, 2005: "Analysis of a large inter-basin water transfer system in India." Hydrological Sciences Journal, v. 50, pp. 125-137, doi: 10.1623/hysj.

Kumar, R., R.D. Singh, and K.D. Sharma, 2005: "Water resources of India." Current Science, v. 89, pp. 794-811, available in pdf.

Krishna Kumar, K., M. Hoerling, and B. Rajagopalan, 2005: "Advancing dynamical prediction of Indian monsoon rainfall." Geophysical Research Letters, 32, paper no. L08704, doi: 10.1029/2004GL021979.

Turner, A.G., and H. Annamalai, 2012: "Climate change and the South Asian summer monsoon." Nature Climate Change, v. 2, 587-595, doi: 10.1038/nclimate1495.

Wang, B., Q. Ding, X. Fu, I.-S. Kang, K. Jin, J. Shukla, and F. Doblas-Reyes, 2005: "Fundamental challenge in simulation and prediction of summer monsoon rainfall." Geophysical Research Letters, v. 32, paper no. L15711, doi: 10.1029/2005GL022734.

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