Climate change is affecting water supply in India

Drier in dry areas, wetter in already wet areas. This just about sums up the future water supply situation in India at the end of the century. In areas that are already experiencing water shortages, adaptation to climate change is very important for sustainable development and combatting poverty.

Rajasthan is an area in the northern part of India that is currently experiencing water shortages. Researchers from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, SMHI, have – together with Indian researchers – studied how a change in climate can affect supplies of water.

The study shows that by the end of the century, India could be experiencing up to 50 per cent changes in precipitation levels, ground humidity, snow depth, run-off, irrigation requirements and in the return times for droughts and high water flows. Maps show that the current pattern is accentuated in future climate conditions, so that dry areas will become drier and wet areas wetter.

“The change is of roughly the same magnitude as in previous calculations for India, but the spatial distribution is different, especially for the southern and north-western parts of the country. This shows that the new resolution in the climate models is of significance for impact studies,” says Ilias Pechlivanidis, a researcher in hydrology at SMHI.

New detailed regional climate simulations

The project is the first of its kind in which researchers have used new detailed regional climate simulations from the CORDEX Project over the southern parts of Asia. The results have been compared with those of earlier studies of the region performed by other research groups.

“The project focuses on one specific area, the Luni River, but we set up the hydrological calculation model, HYPE, for the whole of India. This means that we can use the system on future projects and test hypotheses for the environment in India,” says Berit Arheimer, Head of SMHI’s hydrological research unit.

The results of the project were presented at a conference held in Rajasthan. The climate impact studies, as well as the conference itself, were financed by Sida.

The key to climate change adaptation

Now SMHI’s research staff are continuing their work together with Indian researchers from the Central University of Rajasthan and have initiated the planning of a new project with a focus on climate adaptation linked with a changed water balance and extremes. The proposal also builds on the new calculation system and responses from representatives of sectors that are affected by climate changes.

“Adaptation to a changed climate requires cross-sector cooperation at all levels of society. The local influence of players who are involved in planning and decision-making is of course necessary, but regional and national demands for the consideration of climate variability and changes are also necessary,” says Lotta Andersson from the Swedish National Knowledge Centre for Climate Change Adaptation at SMHI.