The Nature Conservancy India is working with partners to develop a framework for evaluating the consequences of alternative river actions on the health of the middle Ganga.
River Ganga The Nature Conservancy India is working with partners to develop a framework for evaluating the consequences of alternative river actions on the health of the middle Ganga. © Peter McBride

Build Healthy Cities

Restoring Wetlands in Chennai

Over the last century, India has lost more than 50% of its lakes and wetlands, and majority of the remaining are degraded and heavily polluted. As the country experiences one of the fastest urban migrations in history, its natural spaces are disappearing under rapidly expanding cities. The south Indian city of Chennai is no exception. Over the last decade, Chennai has lost more than 85% of its wetlands due to unplanned urbanisation. This is severely impacting the quality of life of its residents as they grapple with issues of water security, flooding and droughts, as well as the city’s environment and urban biodiversity. Extreme situations of streets and homes submerged under water, or people lining up around tankers to fill up a day’s worth of water have become a common phenomenon.

We are working with partners to develop and implement a science-led lake restoration plan and piloting our efforts on Sembakkam lake in Chennai. Our aim is to provide a field-demonstrated scientific lake restoration model to the city government, which can be replicated across the city. Our efforts focus on addressing threats such as pollution from sewage discharge and solid waste, excessive silt accumulation and spread of invasive species, degrading natural habitats for biodiversity, and more.

Partners: Care Earth Trust & Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai

An aerial view of Chennai, India.
Chennai An aerial view of Chennai, India. © Ram Keshav

Tackle Climate Change

Enhancing Drought Relilience for People and Nature

India is a region of extreme climatic conditions. More than 70% of its area is classified as dry land that is prone to droughts which occurs due to natural climate vulnerability, climate change and human interferences. Maharashtra is one of many states in India that is severely drought-affected every year. Water scarcity in the region impacts the livelihood of millions of people, particularly farmers. The state has experienced highest cases of farmer suicides due to crop failure and economic losses. Maharashtra needs a proactive water and land management strategy that helps build drought resilience among people and nature. 

We are working with partners to develop a comprehensive science-led drought resilience plan for the Devnadi watershed in the Nashik district of Maharashtra. By demonstrating success through this pilot initiative, we aim to support the government and other stakeholders by informing drought resilience efforts across the state.

Partners: Yuva Mitra 

More than 70% of India is classified as dry land that is prone to droughts which occurs due to natural climate vulnerability, climate change and human interferences.
Droughts in India More than 70% of India is classified as dry land that is prone to droughts which occurs due to natural climate vulnerability, climate change and human interferences. © Yuva Mitra

Provide Food and Water Sustainably

Ending Crop Residue Burning in Northwest India

15 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. Air pollution is among the top five health risk factors leading to premature mortality and morbidity in India. In recent years, crop residue burning has become a major source of air pollution in northwest India, where close to 23 million tonnes of rice straw is burnt annually. This contributes to nearly half of Delhi’s air pollution on some days of the winter months, taking air quality levels 20 times higher than WHO’s safe standard.

We are working with partners to promote the use of an agricultural technology – the Happy Seeder – which enables utilisation of rice residue in the field itself and eliminates the need to burn. It is a win-win for farmers and the environment as it is known to improve farm yield and soil health, while also reducing water use. We are working with farmers in selected districts of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh to address behavioural and financial barriers to the uptake of the Happy Seeder, and increase its use from a mere 2000 in a year to at least 50,000 units by 2022.

Partners: The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Borlaug Institute of South Asia (BISA), Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), and Tata Trusts.

Crop residue burning has become a major source of air pollution in northwest India, where close to 23 million tons of rice straw is burnt annually.
Crop Residue Burning Crop residue burning has become a major source of air pollution in northwest India, where close to 23 million tons of rice straw is burnt annually. © Natalya Skiba

Establishing India's First Water Fund

Water conservation efforts globally have proven that it is cheaper to prevent water problems at the source, than it is to address them later. A healthy, functioning watershed can cost effectively ensure long term water security for all the users living in the area – local communities, agriculture, cities, industries and nature itself. To enable conservation efforts at the watershed level, The Nature Conservancy has designed a financial and governance mechanism called the Water Fund. It involves a partnership between stakeholders in the watershed who collectively invest and implement watershed conservation activities designed to protect the quality and quantity of water available for people and nature.

We are working with partners to launch India’s first such initiative in the Ghod river basin in the Pune district of Maharashtra. The Ghod river originates in the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary – home to the endemic giant Malabar squirrel – and is the main source of water for more than 4.5 million people and 200 industries. We aim to bring together diverse stakeholders – relevant government departments, businesses and industries, utilities, and local communities – to collectively design, implement and secure funds for watershed conservation efforts.

Partners: ITC Ltd.

Protect Land and Water

Renewable Energy and Reforestation by Design

By 2030, India is committed to achieving 40% cumulative electric power generation from non-fossil fuel sources and simultaneously creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 – 3 billion tonnes of CO2 eq. However, achieving both these goals requires land, which is a limited resource in a country that supports 18% of the world’s population on just 2% of the world’s land area. Our analysis reveals that India would need close to 12.5 million hectares of land alone to achieve its near-term target of installing 175 GW Renewable Energy (RE) capacity by 2022 - a size equivalent to the country Austria. If India advances RE with the singular aim of maximizing resource potential, this could threaten more than 1 million hectares of forest land and 5 million hectares of agricultural land by conversion. The good news is that India has 12 times the land needed to achieve its solar and wind goals by using degraded lands with low social or ecological value.

We are working with partners to enhance a decision-support tool – DARPAN – already being used by planners to site RE projects, by adding socio-ecological criteria to the selection of RE sites. This will enable planners to avoid lands with high conservation and social values and select degraded lands for setting up RE projects. Our aim is to help India rapidly transition to a low carbon economy by using science-based tools that help de-risk renewable energy projects by proactively siting them in places with low socio-ecological values.

Partners: Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (C-STEP); and Foundation for Ecological Services (FES)

By 2030, India is committed to achieving 40% cumulative electric power generation from non-fossil fuel sources.
Windmills near Ahmednagar By 2030, India is committed to achieving 40% cumulative electric power generation from non-fossil fuel sources. © TNC

Restoring River Ganga

The River Ganga, a revered symbol of spirituality, culture and life in India, is struggling against the pressures of over-extraction of water and pollution from growing cities and industries, among other challenges. Reviving the Ganga for the benefit of people and biodiversity is a national priority for India.

We are working with partners to develop a framework for evaluating the consequences and trade-off of alternative river management actions on the health of the middle Ganga (Haridwar to Varanasi). This will help organize available research and data in an easy, accessible form which will enable policy-makers to make informed decisions about how much water to allocate for specific uses without adversely impacting the river’s ecology. With the right commitment and partnerships, and promoting solutions inspired by sound science, India can aspire towards a healthy Ganga.

Partners: Center for Ganga River Basin Management and Studies (CGRBMS), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), WWF-India

The official start of the Ganges River where two other rivers, the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, converge.
The Ganges River The official start of the Ganges River where two other rivers, the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, converge. © Ian Shive

Restoring River Narmada

Narmada is India’s 6th longest river flowing a distance of 1300 kms through the Central Indian highlands - a globally significant biodiverse region that supports more than 17% of India’s tiger population. The river provides water, food and livelihood to more than 25 million people and its river basin is home to some of India’s most well-known protected areas and wildlife. Like all rivers in India, Narmada too faces threats due to human pressures and restoring it is a national priority. A river’s riparian zones or riverbanks play a critical role in providing benefits to people, wildlife and the river itself.

We are working with partners to scientifically restore 100 km of riparian areas along Narmada and its tributaries to enhance the river’s ecosystem services for people and improve habitat for wildlife. We have conducted a basin-wide survey to identify the most disturbed areas along the Narmada and its tributaries, so these can be prioritised for restoration. We have also identified more than 200 native species of trees, herbs, shrubs, climbers and grasses that are best suited for reforestation in the region and provide benefits to people, biodiversity and river hydrology. Our efforts seek to improve water quality, enhance natural habitat for biodiversity and generate nutritional benefits and jobs for local communities.

Partners: Environmental Planning and Coordination Organisation (EPCO), Government of Madhya Pradesh; and regional NGOs    

ICASS - Indian Collaborative for Applied Sustainability Solutions

India’s success to balance economic development and environmental conservation depends on its efforts to incorporate sustainable and scientific solutions into policies and business practices. For this, India’s leaders need the support of its environmental and academic institutions to translate complex research into an actionable format that can easily be used by decision makers. With a vision to foster relationships and promote greater coordination and communication between India’s decision makers and academic community, we aim to launch a programme called ICASS – Indian Collaborative for Applied Sustainability Solutions - in partnership with the Tata Trusts. This initiative will connect India’s sizeable body of scientists and institutions with its decision makers, businesses and civil society, thereby increasing the likelihood of defining policies and programs guided by scientific and scalable solutions for sustainable development.

Partners: Tata Trusts