Global Water System Project


  • The Global Water System Project, which was launched in 2003 as a joint initiative of the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) and Global Environmental Change (GEC) programme, epitomises global concern about the human-induced transformation of fresh water and its impact on the earth system and society.

  • The fact is that freshwater resources are under stress, the principal driver being human activities in their various forms.

Key Challenges

  • It is globally estimated that the gap between demand for and supply of fresh water may reach up to 40% by 2030 if present practices continue.
  • Water demand within the donor basin by factoring present and future land use, especially cropping patterns, population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation, socio-economic development and environmental flow are hardly worked out.

    Global Water System Project
    Photo Credit: Getty Images
  • There is concern about the present capacity utilisation of water resources created in the country. By 2016, India created an irrigation potential for 112 million hectares, but the gross irrigated area was 93 million hectares. There is a 19% gap, which is more in the case of canal irrigation.
    • In 1950-51, canal irrigation used to contribute 40% of net irrigated area, but by 2014-15, the net irrigated area under canal irrigation came down to less than 24%. Ground water irrigation now covers 62.8% of net irrigated area. The average water use efficiency of irrigation projects in India is only 38% against 50%-60% in the case of developed countries.
  • Even at the crop level we consume more water than the global average. Rice and wheat, the two principal crops accounting for more than 75% of agricultural production
  • Third, grey water is hardly used in our country. It is estimated that 55% to 75% of domestic water use turns into grey water depending on its nature of use, people’s habits, climatic conditions, etc. At present, average water consumption in the domestic sector in urban areas is 135 litres to 196 litres a head a day.
  • Apart from the inefficient use of water in all sectors, there is also a reduction in natural storage capacity and deterioration in catchment efficiency.

Way Forward

  • Designing a comprehensive mix of divergent views about water (along with ecological and environmental issues) held by stakeholder groups is necessary.
  • In this context, a hydro-social cycle approach provides an appropriate framework. It repositions the natural hydrological cycle in a human-nature interactive structure and considers water and society as part of a historical and relational-dialectical process.
  • The anthropogenic factors directly influencing a freshwater system are the engineering of river channels, irrigation and other consumptive use of water, widespread land use/land cover change, change in an aquatic habitat, and point and non-point source pollution affecting water quality. The intra- and inter-basin transfer (IBT) of water is a major hydrological intervention to rectify the imbalance in water availability due to naturally prevailing unequal distribution of water resources within a given territory.
    • Recently, inter-basin transfer of water drew attention in India due to a provision made in Budget 2022 for the Ken Betwa river link project which is a part of the National River Linking project (mooted in 1970 and revived in 1999).
    • There are several IBT initiatives across the world. One recent document indicates that there are 110 water transfer mega projects that have either been executed (34 projects) or being planned/under construction (76 projects) across the world. The National River Linking Project of India is one of those under construction. These projects, if executed, will create artificial water courses that are more than twice the length of the earth’s equator and will transfer 1,910 km3 of water annually.
  • Based on a multi-country case study analysis, the World Wildlife Fund/World Wide Fund for Nature (2009) has suggested a cautious approach and the necessity to adhere to sustainability principles set out by the World Commission on Dams while taking up IBT projects.


  • It is important to include less predictable variables, revise binary ways of thinking of ‘either or’, and involve non-state actors in decision-making processes. A hybrid water management system is necessary, where (along with professionals and policy makers) the individual, a community and society have definite roles in the value chain. The challenge is not to be techno-centric but anthropogenic.

Back to Basics

Global Water System Project

  • The Global Water System Project (GWSP) was a joint project of the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP), scientifically sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its four Global Environmental Change (GEC) programmes:
    1. International Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme (IHDP)
    3. International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP)
    4. World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).
  • Since 2004, GWSP spearheaded a broad research agenda and initiated new ways of thinking about water as a complex global system, emphasizing the links between natural and human components.
  • GWSP led the way to provide well-researched, integrative solutions, involving the biological and physical sciences together with economists and social sciences, to reduce the vulnerability of the Earth system and to give guidance to societies through assessments and future projections of the state of the global water system.
  • Research carried out by GWSP and its partners has uncovered several important results that inform a better global understanding of freshwater today.
  • Water Future has evolved from GWSP, based on the recommendations outlined in the Bonn Water Declaration, with a clear objective of promoting the adoption of science-based evidence into the formulation, implementation and monitoring of goals for sustainable development.

Source: TH

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