About the Centre
Water occurs in abundance on the Earth but less than 0.0072% of the total water can be utilised by humans for their diverse needs. Yet, humans depend most on the water that ‘flows’ annually through the rivers, lakes and wetlands. This inland water, fresh, brackish or sometimes saline, sustains a significant proportion of the Earth’s biodiversity which contributes more to the human food and nutrition than the intensively managed agriculture. These inland water bodies also provide a wide range of ecosystem goods and services. However, the inland waters (aquatic ecosystems) are poorly understood, most abused and highly impacted directly and indirectly by all kinds of anthropogenic activities, both on land and in water. Economic globalization and global climate change have further threatened these ecosystems.
South Asia is unique in its geological history, physiography and climate. It has the world’s youngest and tallest mountain range – the Himalaya, and the largest river delta (Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta). The highly unpredictable monsoons, interacting with the physiographic features, result in such large spatial and temporal variability of precipitation that the region has places with the highest (Meghalaya) and among the lowest rainfall. South Asia harbours about 15% of the global plant diversity, about 10% of the global animal diversity and about one-third of the world’s human population which has used, managed and transformed the landscape for many millennia.
The enormous diversity of aquatic ecosystems, both natural and constructed by humans over millennia, is closely integrated with the people’s social and cultural ethos, food production and livelihoods. Intensive agriculture, urbanisation and industrial development to meet the needs and aspirations of the growing human population in a globalising world, have stressed greatly the limited land and water resources. All inland aquatic ecosystems are threatened with unprecedented hydrological alterations and the onslaught of all kinds of wastes. Despite the water being the most critical resource for any human activity and the looming impacts of climate change, the aquatic ecosystems receive very little attention from researchers, resource managers and policy makers. A holistic ecosystem perspective for their conservation and management that integrates rivers, lakes and wetlands and their multiple concerns related to biophysical and social science research, education, training and capacity building, economics, policy and law, and Institutional aspects has never been pursued in the region.
Institutes devoted exclusively to research and management of inland waters have existed in many countries for several decades. The need for a similar national or regional institute for South Asia has been felt strongly for many years at several levels. The XI Plan Working Group on Biodiversity Conservation in the Ministry of Environment and Forests recommended the setting up of an Institute of Inland Aquatic Ecosystem Studies, and the Jaipur Declaration of the 12th World Lake Conference (2007) also called for the setting up of an Asian Centre of Excellence to promote research, training and education for sustainable management and restoration of lakes and wetlands. These recommendations were never followed up further.
In 2009, the National Institute of Ecology in India decided to take the initiative to develop a Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia but could not follow it up due to lack of resources. In 2010, the Pragya Education and Environment Trust decided to take up the cause and establish the Centre with its own facilities in village Peera near Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh).
The Pragya Education and Environment Trust has constructed a small building (about 350 m2 covered space) for housing the library, laboratory for biological and analytical work, and computers, a meeting room for seminars and workshops, and administrative office. It is located only 2 km from the Khajuraho Railway Station and 6 km from the airport). The area lies in the basin of and near river Ken, and there are scores of large and small reservoirs and tanks – many of them being centuries old. The Trust has also land to develop facilities for mesocosm-level experimental studies.
The Centre will function in cooperation with institutions, individuals and organisations worldwide. It will cover Rivers, Streams, Springs and Estuaries; Lakes and Reservoirs (including Saline Lakes, High Altitude Lakes and Shallow Lakes); Ponds and Fishponds; Lagoons and Backwaters; Wetlands including Marshes, Swamps, Floodplains and Mangroves; and Groundwater Ecosystems.
The Centre will pursue a holistic river basin approach to the issues of inland aquatic ecosystems, emphasising upon the land-water interactions, and will promote a participatory management that enhances livelihoods, health, and poverty alleviation of the communities dependent upon these inland aquatic ecosystems.
An International Advisory Committee has been formed to advise and guide the programmes and activities of the Centre.