Level of Conflicts

Village-level conflicts may take the form of petty fights among women fetching water, further magnified along lines of caste and class. Interestingly, research in Kathmandu suggests that water users also innovate institutionally to avoid conflict. For instance, women decide on the number and size of buckets to fetch water depending on available supply. Water users also pool resources to dig collective tube wells (in Hyderabad) or to collectively transport water over long distances (in Kathmandu). This sets the stage for research about the specific conditions under which conflict and cooperation arise in periurban water management. While some governments have responded to the challenges of building climate resilient infrastructure, its impact on improving periurban water security, preventing conflicts and promoting cooperation merits further investigation. The research project seeks to advance this knowledge while endeavoring to promote cooperation and avert potential conflict, thereby building water secure communities in the face of climate change.

Study sites

The four cities chosen – Khulna, Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Kathmandu – represent different contexts and driving forces shaping urbanization in South Asia. While they are very dissimilar in terms of geography and growth dynamics, they are, nevertheless, similar in the peri-urban issues they face.

Khulna is the third largest city in the country and has been identified as one of fifteen of the world’s (please clarify?) cities most vulnerable to climate change. Increased salinity in the groundwater due to sea water intrusion is leading to an acute water crisis in its urban and peri-urban neighbourhoods. Since urban wastewater gets diverted to peri-urban areas and surrounding rivers, the flood water is also heavily polluted with urban waste. Major surface water bodies are now water logged or extinct due to encroachment and solid waste dumping. The municipal corporation is now trying to import water from peri-urban areas of the city, which may hamper access of peri-urban residents to local water sources and infringe on their traditional rights to local resources. Simultaneously, water-related health problems and diseases too are on the rise.

Gurgaon’s growth has been led and characterised by a real estate boom since the 1990s. Several factors have contributed to the growth of the city; most importantly, the proximity to the national capital—Delhi, located about 32 km away. Steady population growth is exerting stress, both on surface and ground water supplies. Scientists at the Central Ground Water Authority have been warning that, at current rates of usage, the city will run dry by 2017. Supply augmentation by the urban planning authorities has come about either by building water treatment plants to supply water to the city or by tapping groundwater resources for urban, industrial and residential purposes. In the latter case, competition for groundwater sees a direct increase, while in the former, peri-urban residents lose access to water indirectly as the water treatment plants are built on lands acquired from them. Since rights to water are tied to rights in land, they also lose access to water sources (tubewells, village ponds) located on those lands.

Hyderabad has experienced an unprecedented growth in residential neighbourhoods, sprawling outwards in the direction of newly developing industrial zones, and educational and research centres, across high value land and along lines of high accessibility. However, this development has proved to be quite unsustainable and has turned out to be a serious threat to the city and its environs. Being located in a region with a hard-rock aquifer, Hyderabad has very limited percolation while water drawn from the aquifer far exceeds the amount that is actually recharged. The present rate of access to water varies depending on the socioeconomic conditions and physical terrain in the localities chosen for the study. Furthermore, with the privatization of water; identical tariffs being levied for both commercial and domestic uses; and differential water access in rich versus poor neighbourhoods, the potential for conflict between the core and newly developing peripheries of Hyderabad is increasing.

The urban fringe around the core areas of the city of Kathmandu, known for the production and supply of food grains and vegetables to the city, has undergone rapid changes due to urbanization and conversion of agricultural lands into residential neighbourhoods. The increasing magnitude of water being transported from the rural and peri-urban areas to the city through informal water markets has also resulted in reduction of supply for domestic and agricultural uses besides accelerating the degradation of traditional water management systems in rural areas. The whole equation of demand and supply of water from rural to urban areas is expected to change in conjunction with climatic variability and uncertainty. This will intensify the pressure on and competition for water resources in peri-urban areas by limiting the availability of water for use by peri-urban dwellers.


Water security is a complex socio-environmental problem at the intersection of social and natural systems. Thus, the approach is one that integrates scientific processes with insights from social and natural sciences (inter-disciplinary) in order to promote shared understandings between scientists, policy-makers, water users and the public (trans-disciplinary).

A sociotechnical paradigm is central to such an approach. The perspective it provides is of water systems as comprising both technologies and institutions that shape access to water, and technologies themselves as being socially constructed. The underlying premise is that, in adapting to peri-urban water insecurity, both technologies and institutions through which water is accessed get transformed, with certain groups benefiting more than others. This framework underpins the integration of the social with the technical in analysing water allocation and management.

The major results expected are:

Developing a detailed understanding of the factors and policies that shape conflict and cooperation in the management of peri-urban water insecurity induced by urbanization and climate change

Devising ways for mobilizing this understanding in support of pro-poor development and capacity-building. There are crucial interactions here with wider processes of resource governance, which can involve any of the following: legal means, policy implementation, the exercise of authority the threat of violence, deliberation and participation.

Research Outputs

The project envisages the following key outputs

Identify and analyse the dynamics that give rise to conflict or promote cooperation around peri-urban water insecurity, as shaped by urbanization and climate change

  • New insights about climate change, urbanization and their interaction, mediated by specific social and policy contexts, which define peri-urban water security in South Asia.
  • Insights on the role of conflict and cooperation in the context of water security, and options for increasing security by reducing conflict and stimulating innovative cooperation in peri-urban communities through climate-sensitive urbanization and sustainable financing
  • An interdisciplinary framework and tools that provide insights about water security and resilience of peri-urban communities in context of climate change and urbanization
  • Critically examine water and climate change policies and strategies at various levels, which shape access and use of water by peri-urban communities, and evaluate their influence on the potential for conflict and cooperation

  • Regional-level comparative analysis of water and climate change policies – and their impacts in terms of conflict or cooperation – across the four study sites
  • Defined pathways of conflict or cooperation, stemming from gaps in the climate change and water policies in the four study sites
  • Inform climate-, water- and urban policy implementation processes that affect the management of water resources, and promote peri-urban water security through technological and institutional innovations, as well as social learning, cross-country learning and international collaboration, in order to create opportunities for increased cooperation and reduced conflict.

  • Improved uptake of research findings by development of “science – policy stakeholder” interfaces in relation to water management in peri-urban sites
  • Participatory peri-urban water management action plans and pilot interventions for all four study sites, jointly developed and implemented by research team and communities
  • Accessible knowledge products consisting of new frameworks and tools for policymakers, researchers and civil society to reduce conflict and promote cooperation in peri-urban water security

    Increase the consortium partners’ capacity to study the dynamics of peri-urban water security concerns through south-south and north-south collaboration and exchanges

  • Improved, comprehensive understanding of peri-urban water security among all project staff involved in interdisciplinary research
  • Progressive academic curriculum incorporating lessons on peri-urban water security so that, in the long term, such issues are integrated in the larger developmental discourse
  • Effective sustainable partnership with large consortium comprising multiple stakeholders across three countries
  • Enhanced South Asian peri-urban water management expertise, which is capable of being “marketed” internationally
  • Use research outcomes and lessons to sensitise state actors, professionals and communities; embed knowledge in academic curricula; and build a critical mass of people who are sensitive to peri-urban water security

  • Capacitated state regulatory authorities that can identify, analyse and deal with the problem of ensuring peri-urban water security
  • Empowered peri-urban community members – including women and other vulnerable groups – who are aware of their rights and can access, manage and use their water resources effectively, through formal and informal institutions
  • Multi-stakeholder platforms with a clear, shared agenda for dialogue, which can identify and subsume divergent interests in order to work actively towards better service provision for communities

  • Novel Aspects

    Knowledge, Research and Innovation

    • By focusing on peri-urban areas in relation to climate and urbanization in four sites located across hydroecologically and socioeconomically diverse areas, the project will investigate an under-researched theme. This will substantially increase knowledge on the complex relations between water management, climate change and urbanization, which are mediated by policies and social institutions.
    • The project’s focus on insecurity and vulnerability, and options for reducing conflict and strengthening cooperation to create equitable and sustainable trajectories for peri-urban water use, will add another important dimension while offering a more nuanced understanding of drivers of conflict and conditions for cooperation.
    • The sociotechnical approach to studying peri-urban water insecurity itself gives rise to innovative solutions, since it simultaneously considers the social, technical and environmental processes that interact to enable or hinder access to water resources.


    • The proposed research will contribute to innovation at the interface between science, policies, institutions and peri-urban water use.
    • The analytical activities are explicitly designed to enable participatory assessments, engaging local actors to reflect on their experiences of institutional transformation. A novel aspect is to inform policy-making institutions and other stakeholders to influence and promote policies for what is now clearly a developmental-institutional gap, namely, the increasingly water-insecure conditions of peri-urban communities.
    • Inter- and trans-disciplinary research together consider the complex ways in which material (resources, infrastructure, technology) and social (variables like class, caste and gender that block or allow resource access) factors interact, presenting a novel approach to the issue.
    • Another innovative aspect is that the project will involve rural and urban policy-makers, planners and service providers from the beginning, contrary to conventional approaches to development that create a dichotomy between rural and urban.
    • Policy advocacy will be designed to fit into ongoing campaigns of the consortium. Partnering with several activist groups across the project sites will help to disseminate the research outcome to a larger societal and political audience.

    Capacity Building

    • Establishing explicit links between research and findings in order to increase the capabilities of water users will enable them to collectively design and implement approaches leading to sustainable and equitable water governance.
    • The project will create strong links between capacity-building and development activities in order to bring about peri-urban conflict resolution. This will involve developing the capacity of consortium partners; sensitizing state and non-state actors, professionals and communities; and developing academic curricula around peri-urban issues. Such links and exchanges are highly innovative in the field of water resource management and policy, generally considered a highly compartmentalised field characterised by top-down decision-making.

    Policy Relevance

    India, Bangladesh and Nepal have developed their own national plans or strategies for climate change. Research, however, shows weak uptake of these plans and policies in mainstream development projects. This is particularly so in peri-urban contexts that have historically received scant policy attention on account of the conventional fragmentation between rural development and urban planning. This, coupled with the absence of platforms for dialogue and negotiation for planning water resource use across rural and urban areas, has led to a steady expropriation of water from rural to urban settings, engendering peri-urban water insecurity.

    Three main sets of policies will be reviewed:

    • Climate change adaptation and its financing
    • Water use, allocation and management
    • Urban planning

    The strategy for the uptake of research results will be to use the research to inform policy and intervention through the project period. During the project, a wide range of stakeholders will be brought together to sensitise them to peri-urban water security issues – as shaped by urbanization and climate change – as well as to foster dialogue among all rural and urban actors to promote cooperation in the management of peri-urban water resources.

    A good start has been made with the organisation of three workshops in the region as part of the proposal development process. By engaging in action-oriented research and involving relevant stakeholders throughout the project period, the attempt will be to bridge the often observed dichotomy between policy formulation and implementation. Comparative research in the region will create a space for mutual learning through the formulation and dissemination of best practices in policy and intervention.