Girls in Samerth carrying water; Girls in Samerth carrying water;

WASH Basins India, Mumbai

How do you help marginalised communities manage water resources safely and sustainably?

As part of our Global Challenge initiative, which supports projects aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we are working with partners to ensure the sustainable management of water resources for some of India’s most marginalised communities.

Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh states are populated by a number of tribes with poor socio-economic indicators including education, healthcare, income and access to basic services including water, sanitation and roads.

Despite these regions being rich in natural resources such as forestry and minerals, communities suffer from a lack of engagement with the state government, in part due to their geographical remoteness and difficulty leveraging government funds. Both regions already face over-exploitation of groundwater due to poor water resource management, and a changing climate will create additional pressures in years to come.

While there are many institutions and organisations involved in water resources allocation in India, there is no nationally consistent or fully effective approach to sustainable water resources management.

Together with FRANK Water and their India Partners, People's Science Institute (PSI) and SAMERTH Charitable Trust, we are addressing this challenge by helping to integrate the principles of integrated water resource management, and particularly information sharing at the different levels of governance, in order to help foster a consistent approach to water resource management.

Project Summary

8,500+ individuals will directly benefit from sustainable, safe water

40+villages will be supported in developing water security plans

The time is now ripe to theorise from practice and develop robust implementation frameworks that will work across diverse groundwater typologies and socio-economic scenarios to promote better groundwater management. ” Gazala Paul Samerth, India Partner

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)

IWRM is at the heart of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Target 6.5 of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 calls for the implementation of IWRM at all levels by 2030. 

IWRM is defined as promoting “the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems” by the Global Water Partnership.

WASH Basins is a collaborative project between Arup, FRANK Water and two India-based partners. Together, we are developing an India-specific toolkit for embedding IWRM principles to support sustainable and inclusive water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. As part of this, we are working with marginalised communities in India to help them understand the issues and develop their own answers to securing safe, clean drinking water and sanitation, addressing the UN SDG 6. 

The toolkit will empower communities and local government to jointly manage water resources in a way that meets the real needs of the local areas – whilst responding to the needs of the national and international context, including river basin and aquifer pressures, as well as climate change.

The desired outcome is to optimise the availability of water and maximise sanitation and hygiene education in marginalised Indian communities, with a particular focus on the needs of women and girls.

Our work so far

Through research, field visits and partner discussions in 2018, Arup and FRANK Water have found a mixed level of understanding in India of the relevance of IWRM at District and Gram Panchayat levels, and a misalignment between national and state level IWRM policies and frameworks. We have also experienced a general lack of awareness of the significance of IWRM in relation to sustainable, long-term water and sanitation service provision.

Our work so far has also identified a theoretical and practical disconnect amongst governmental and non-governmental organisations, and community organisations, with regards to the application of IWRM and the provision of WASH services. IWRM-related frameworks are often seen to be at odds with, or disconnected from, the pressing need for expanded access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene amongst the world’s most vulnerable communities. By working together, we plan to contribute towards bridging this gap at multiple levels of governance.

We have developed a six-stage ‘water security’ process which brings together key steps for sustainable water supply, sanitation and resource management. An important aspect of this process is the use of digital tools for data collection, analysis and sharing. The process is supporting the improved delivery of existing plans by local NGOs and state governments in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and will inform the development of the WASH Basins IWRM toolkit.

Measuring the impact of sustainable water allocations

Following the introduction of the toolkit, data will be gathered on a number of SDG-aligned indicators including the percentage of population using safely managed drinking water and sanitation services, along with health data.

We will jointly share outcomes and learning points of the project with wider networks and communication channels. All partners in the project have links with NGOs and state governments, and have a track record of successfully advocating for changes to government programmes. The findings will enable, in the long term, a route to replicate the project to scale up the benefits of sustainable water resource management.

Our commitment to sustainable development

The WASH Basins project is part of Arup’s Global Challenge, reflecting our continued commitment to delivering excellent projects which have social value. 

Through the challenge, we have agreed to award grants of up to £1 million per year for five years to projects aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Global Challenge aims to have a positive impact on the communities by forming strong partnership approaches with organisations. We have focused on SDGs where we can deliver the greatest impact, based on our skills and experience. 

Key to all projects under our Global Challenge is developing models that can be shared and replicated. This project will develop and strengthen local institutional structures and communities to operate and maintain a village level water supply systems and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services. The concept of sustainable, multi-stakeholder mapping, usage and maintenance of local, state and national water resources is a central element of this work.

Beyond India, the project has potential to offer real value at a larger scale in other global regions which face similar challenges.

Read our WASH Basins literature review