Reviewed by Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Water, Ecosystems and Society: A Confluence of Disciplines by Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, Sage, 2009 (2nd ed.), 212 pp.

Jayanta Bandyopadhyay was the head of the Centre for Development and Environment Policy at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta. He has also been the President of the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, and held other academic and policy-making roles during his 35 year career as a senior water professional. In his recent book, he makes a strong case for changing the way water is managed in India, urging that basic ecosystem services be protected even as increasing amounts of fresh water are extracted from rivers and streams to meet growing agricultural, industrial and residential needs. It will not be easy to move away from the long-standing paradigm that puts development needs first.

His initial premise is that additional disciplinary diversity is crucial to generating the knowledge needed to achieve a better balance between human requirements and natural ecosystem needs. He is firmly convinced a new water systems management paradigm (that will take on-going ecological sustainability more seriously) will require a shift in the way economic analysis is used to value water and ecological services. Whether traditional economists will cooperate is unclear.

Dr. Bandyopadhyay devotes special attention to the river-link project developed by India’s National Water Development Agency. He names this the largest civil engineering project in the world. A more complete interdisciplinary analysis, and a more open scientific dialogue, he believes, would raise doubts about the social desirability and the ecological sustainability of the project. Moreover, it is not likely, he believes, to achieve the flood control objectives its proponents have in mind. Although Water, Ecosystems and Society is a small book, it raises large questions in a very compelling way.

The disconnect between water systems knowledge and water resource development is certainly not limited to India. And, interdisciplinary efforts to fill gaps in our eco-hydrological understanding of groundwater and surface water dynamics, as well as ways that the ecosystem services provided by water resources should be valued, ought to be at the top of our global research agenda. I would also agree that we need a much a clearer understanding of the ecological effects of extreme events like flooding, draught, and climate change, before the paradigm shift that Dr. Bandyopadhyay and others are advocating can succeed.

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