Water is the most vital component of the abiotic environment without which life cannot exist. Nearly three-fourths of the earth’s surface is covered with deep water (oceans and lakes). However, less than 2.5 percent of it is freshwater of which more than 69.5 percent is frozen in glaciers, polar ice caps, snow and permafrost, and more than 30 percent constitutes the groundwater. Less than 0.3 percent of all freshwater on the earth (i.e., less than 0.0072 percent of the total water) is utilisable by humans for their diverse needs. Only a small fraction of total water circulates through the hydrological cycle operating between oceans, atmosphere and the earth’s surface. Water returning to the earth as precipitation either infiltrates into the ground, or is stored on the surface, or runs off on the surface.
The movement of water over land creates different kinds of water-dominated habitats – the rivers, lakes and wetlands -the inland water ecosystems. Humans depend most on the water that ‘flows’ annually over the land. This inland water (lying above the mean sea level) is generally fresh or brackish and sometimes also saline. It sustains a significant proportion of the Earth’s biodiversity which contributes more to the human food and nutrition than the intensively managed agriculture. The 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 inland 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.
The Centre for Inland Waters in South Asia focuses on all aspects of the inland waters, especially Rivers (naturally flowing water (lotic) systems), Lakes (bodies of relatively still (standing or lentic) waters localized in a basin that is surrounded by land) and Wetlands (areas of land which are either permanently or seasonally water-saturated or submerged under shallow water, and usually dominated by characteristic vegetation). Springs, hyporheic (subterranean) systems and other aquatic habitats are also covered.
This page is intended to serve as an inventory of all water bodies in India (and neighbouring countries of South Asia). The inventory is planned to include all available information on all aspects of these water bodies and will gradually be transformed into a GIS-based Decision Support System for their management, conservation and restoration.
Individuals working with any water body anywhere in the Indian subcontinent are invited to contribute data, maps, figures, photographs and publications which will be placed on the web duly and fully credited to them.