Shifting Grounds: sustainable water management in the Ganges Delta

In and around the rapidly growing cities of the Ganges Delta in India and Bangladesh, there is a serious threat of groundwater shortages. The Negotiated Approach is intended to offer a fair and sustainable solution.

The delta zone of the Ganges in India and Bangladesh is urbanising rapidly. This is exerting increasing pressure on groundwater and local authorities are finding it impossible to manage their groundwater resources fairly and sustainably. That leads to water scarcity, falling groundwater levels and pollution, with the result that the poorest groups in particular are in danger of losing their access to clean drinking water. In the Shifting Grounds research project, Both ENDS and local partners are studying the situation and trying to find a solution through what is known as the Negotiated Approach.

Four communities, two countries, one river delta

Through the Shifting Grounds project, we want to acquire an insight into the impact of various institutions and factors on sustainable water management. To achieve that, the TU Delft, SaciWaters and the Bengali BUET University are conducting scientific research in peri-urban communities in the Ganges Delta: two in India near the city of Kolkata, and two in Bangladesh near the city of Khulna. Khulna and Kolkata are perfect for an institutional comparison: both are situated in the delta and they share the same culture and language, but are in different countries with different administrative systems.

The project is mapping out the quality and quantity of groundwater in both areas and examining how they are affected by the encroaching cities, what users rely on the groundwater, how institutions like drinking water companies manage it, and how users and institutions interact.

The Negotiated Approach: participation in water management

The communities and local authorities are looking for new or modified institutional structures to improve the management of groundwater reserves. Both ENDS believes that the Negotiated Approach offers a solution: this is a method of participatory water management in which all stakeholders have a voice at the table.

The main role for Both ENDS in the project is to implement and coordinate the Negotiated Approach. We are doing that together with our Southern partners, JJS in Bangladesh and The Researcher in Kolkata, who act as facilitators. We hold workshops and presentations in the communities for all water users and institutions.

Local capacity building

The project devotes considerable attention to strengthening the local population by exchanging the knowledge acquired by the researchers. Workshops are given on 'negotiating capacities' to strengthen the position of local stakeholders in their discussions with national policy-makers and enable them to argue for institutional changes in groundwater management. In that way, they can defend their right to water and ensure that groundwater reserves are managed and used more fairly and sustainably.

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