Vaishali Kushwaha, a PhD candidate in the Law and Public Policy Program, has been awarded the Hong Liu Asian Studies Research Award for her dissertation research on water supply sustainability in rapidly urbanizing India.
The award, given by the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures at Northeastern University, supports Asian histories, cultures, societies, and politics related research and related activities undertaken by faculty and/or PhD students.
With support of the Asian Studies Award, Kushwaha will conduct field research this summer in Ahmedabad. Her research uses principles of ecological economics to study the complex problem of urban water supply in Indian context, especially the issues of sustainable scale, ethical distribution and efficient allocation.
Rapid urbanization and population growth has created serious problems for the urban water resources in India. Indian cities are in a challenging situation of needing to improve access to water for its growing population, while facing increasingly severe water and resource constraints and limited institutional and financial capacities. Climate change is adding further complexity and uncertainty to freshwater availability.
“Ideally, socio-economic systems are both supported and restrained by the water resource system,” Kushwaha said. “But given the growth of populous urban centers in arid and semi-arid regions of India, it is evident that urbanization in India is going to be driven by a complex set of drivers, and not water availability.”
Kushwaha is investigating the case of Ahmedabad, one of the fastest growing cities in the semi-arid region of India. The city has a long history of droughts but has consistently improved water supply, and about 85 percent of the households have individual water supply connections and receive two hours of daily water supply.
As of 2010, 90 percent of Ahmedabad’s municipal water was supplied using surface water drawn from Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River, one of the largest dams in the world. But a large portion of the city’s residents still depend on private water supply to meet their needs, especially during water scarce periods.
“This leads to the question that if the city’s heavy dependence on single source of water supply is reliable? With increasing water demand, will Ahmedabad’s water resources be able to sustain its rapidly increasing socio-economic growth?” Kushwaha said. “Is there a way to articulate urban water supply sustainability for Ahmedabad, and more generally in Indian cities context? How can the city simultaneously optimize between competing sustainability objectives surrounding scale, equity and efficiency?”
Kushwaha’s research objective is to design a theoretical framework for urban water supply sustainability and operationalize it using a multi-criteria decision-making approach. She will analyze Ahmedabad’s socio-economic growth that local water resources can support, and articulation of city’s water supply sustainability using the concept of uneconomic water. Kushwaha will also develop a system dynamics model to integrate the water supply sustainability objectives and simulate scenarios of water resource constrain, urban development and policy alternatives.
During her two-month long fieldwork in Ahmedabad, Kushwaha will be affiliated with the Centre for Water and Sanitation, at the prestigious CEPT University. She said she aims to collect primary data and evidences for proposal refinement, hypothesis testing and model building.
Kushwaha believes that her research focus and field work is timely as the city of Ahmedabad and Gujarat State are heading for water scarcity during summer months. Her work provides a unique and replicable urban water supply sustainability framework rooted in ecological economics.
“The interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach to analyze urban water supply is unique to the study area – city of Ahmedabad – and therefore a significant contribution to the emerging area of sustainable urbanization in India,” Kushwaha said. “By using systemic approach and dynamic modeling to stimulate the socio-economic and water resource relationship, this study will provide a useful decision-making tool for the city’s urban planners and policy makers.”
Click here to learn more about Kushwaha’s research.