University of Newcastle to help India tackle water scarcity; teams up with IIT Delhi and SPA

University of Newcastle to help India tackle water scarcity;  teams up with IIT Delhi and SPA
Pritha Roy Choudhury | Apr 10, 2019 - 9:54 a.m. IST
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The University of Newcastle upon Tyne led Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)

join hands with IIT Delhi & School of Planning and Architecture to work on new approaches to tackle challenges of water security and sustainable development. The 20-million pound project will utilise experts, researchers and students at all levels including, undergraduates, postgraduates and those involved in doctoral and post-doctoral studies.


Prof. Richard Dawson, Professor of Earth Systems Engineering, the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in conversation with Pritha Roy Choudhury throws light on the 5-year project and the way forward...


Q. What is the project ‘Water security and sustainable development’ all about?
 A. The project seeks to develop new approaches to tackle the challenges of water security and sustainable development. A large part of the world's population lives in areas threatened by water security. So we would be working on bringing in people,  the communities, businesses together and find ways to tackle the water security issue.

Q. Why have you chosen India as one of the countries to address the challenge?
 A.  India has some of the substantial water security challenges among all the countries in the world, because of its size and population. There are the infrastructure challenges, drinking water challenges and some other challenges such as flooding like the one in Kerala, not so long ago. We see challenges in terms of enduring provision of water in sanitation for the population as well as that for supporting agriculture and again that of groundwater pollution damaging some of the water supplies that are available. Also, we recognize the real willingness of the people who want to do something about that. Having challenges is one thing but political and institutional desirous of tackling the big water security challenges, that is an important part of the program – working with people who want to address these problems.

Q. Where is the project being implemented?
 A.  There is a sort of two types of focus we have here. We recognize that a lot of big challenges are within the urban environment in terms of delivering water to people and those they work within Delhi itself. We certainly will be able to cover in depth the whole of Delhi. So, my colleagues in India are going to work in identifying a particular colony or suburb within Delhi and the specific community to focus on. It will be in the context of the wider Yamuna river catchment. It is important to recognize that a lot of the water security challenges we face within cities in delivering water to the taps, requires looking beyond the immediate and as far as the infrastructure is concerned looking on what is going on in the wider catchment areas in terms of the water availability, the activities that are contributing towards pollution. We are working on Yamuna river catchment and then looking at a particular suburb or colony within Delhi itself.


Q. What is the role of ‘IIT Delhi’ and ‘School of Planning and Architecture’ in the project?
 A.  IIT Delhi will be leading on the implementation of a lot of technical aspects in India, School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi will be leading on a lot of social aspects. Both are experts in what they do. We had a number of research collaborations with both IIT and School of Planning and Architecture with IIT on the technical side and with SPA on the social science side. We at Newcastle work on systems thinking, thinking on interdisciplinary research across social and technical aspects and so that is one of the works we are doing. We do also have a number of skills and other expertise, a point of view of looking at the impacts of climate change on water security and also some particular expertise in public health space as well.


 Q. Could you elaborate about the team, the number of students involved in the project?
 A.  At the moment, the team in India across IIT and the School of Planning and Architecture and Newcastle, we are a team of 15 heading the project. It is a five-year project. Students will be involved at all levels – under graduation, post-graduation and doctoral studies so that the project gives them practical exposure to the problems and help develop clearer concepts.


Q. If you can talk about the methodologies you are adopting for addressing this challenge?
 A.  One of the key innovation for this program, what we are trying to do is develop what we refer to as a ‘systems approach’. We just do not focus on one particular component of water supply and quite often we find people focusing on the technology or the pipes or one aspect of the engineering, the economics of water, the management of lands in the catchments. But underneath, behind other facts, there are the whole host of activities that are relevant to water security. So, they have to think about finance, the infrastructure for cleaner water. How community engagements, choices and individual make about water or contributes in different ways to overall water security.  All these different integrating aspects relevant to water is a big kind of contribution we think.  We also have to think about the activities, in our catchment area, management of lands in our catchments within our cities. Peoples attitude towards the water, it also has a spiritual and cultural value. So we need to understand how water is managed, the governance around water.   Why we have to do this is because of the scale of investments in this research program. So overall it's a research program worth 20 million pounds in the UK, in India, with some other partners. We are a very good international team and collaboration that are going to deliver in this research program. Of course, we still need to have the detail, the modelling of rivers, understanding how water flows through the Yamuna in the urban drainage network. 


Q. What is the evaluation methodology?
 A. We are currently designing that because we have to ensure that the monitoring and evaluation is collecting data throughout the projects, monitoring what we do and monitoring who we are talking to and trying to access whether people, decision makers for example in the Delhi Jal Board, engaging in the projects, whether they are taking on board lessons, whether they are absorbing the ideas. When it comes to training, whether we have successfully trained people to use our tools and also to explore whether policies, procedures and practice are changing as a result of the work we are doing.  So we are looking at a range of different kind of indicators across the project. We will be monitoring the project formally every year. And we will have a big mid-project review. We will also be monitoring ourselves to see the progress of the projects.


Q. What is the final goal you are looking at?
 A.  At the global level, we want to show to the rest of the world, about the impact of the implementation of the ‘systems approach’ across the four countries – India, Columbia, Ethiopia, Malaysia. So what we really do is we are going to show how to bring people together, the communities, businesses together to tackle water security as a team to try and build the water security infrastructure there. And also develop tools and methods that will actually help implement this idea. 


Prof. Richard Dawson, a climate expert, has also been appointed on the Committee on Climate Change Adaptation. Prof.Dawson has spent the last two decades researching and analysing climatic impacts on the UK’s catchments, cities, and infrastructure. 

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