Does China Stack up Better Than India on Water Governance Parameters?

Improving water governance holds the key to improving water security in developing countries. Comparative empirical studies on water governance are rare, and there is little academic consensus on the scope, definition and measurement of water governance.

China and India are both facing a water crisis because of overconsumption, pollution and inefficient use. In China, major watersheds have shrunk by more than half from 50,000 in the 1950s to less than 23,000 today due to a rapid rate of urbanisation.  Severe pollution is another common major problem for both countries. For instance, in China, water from one of its major rivers – the Yellow River Basin – has been badly polluted by more than 4,000 petrochemical firms, rendering the water quality unfit for even agriculture.

In India, the Ganges River is one of the most polluted in the world. The lack of sanitation in much of India has severely polluted its groundwater.

China has tried to manage the water crisis by building dams and hydropower projects. Indeed, the country has about half the world’s dams.  India has had limited success with dams due to the democratic nature of such a process where the concerns and outlooks of some stakeholders have to be accounted for.

This paper compares water governance between China and India regarding water laws, policies and administration based on a survey of 182 water experts (93 from China and 89 from India) and 19 provinces/states.

The authors conclude that the water governance in China is consistently stronger compared with India across 17 indicators of water governance. China has more nuanced water laws, stronger legal accountability of water sector officials has a greater scope of private sector participation and greater integration of water laws with other laws.

These variations in water governance in China and India could be due to differences in political, legal and administrative systems as well as levels of economic development. For example, integrated river basin management is made more feasible in China because of its strong central government compared with a more fragmented and decentralised system such as India. It also matters that China’s top political leadership have been trained as water engineers.

This summary is based on the paper Water governance in India and China: comparison of water law, policy and administration. The paper is part of a special issue of Water Policy; Comparing Water Resources Management in China and India: Policy Design, Institutional Structure and Governance.

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