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Twinning European and South Asian river basins to enhance capacity and implement adaptive integrated water ressources management approaches

Final Report Summary - BRAHMATWINN (Twinning European and South Asian river basins to enhance capacity and implement adaptive integrated water resources management approaches)

Considerations over climate change (CC) raised concerns over a wide spectrum of drivers which could influence global, continental and regional hydrological domains in terms of their natural environments and related socioeconomic growth. Integrated water resources management (IWRM) was subsequently developed as a strategy to address complex hydrological issues related to the impacts of CC as it considered both the processes in natural environment (NE) of river basins and the socioeconomic evolution of its human dimension (HD).

On the other hand, mountains are ecosystems of important spiritual, cultural and historical value, while alpine mountain chains provide significant amount of freshwater in both humid and arid downstream areas. Nevertheless, CC resulted in global reduction of glaciers and permafrost, impacting the hydrological dynamics of downstream basins. Modified discharge regimes could pose hurdles in the implementation of IWRM plans both in rural and urban domains and increase degradation of vulnerable ecosystems through floods, droughts and erosion.

The main objectives of BRAHMATWINN project were to enhance and improve capacity to support sustainable IWRM in river systems of alpine mountain massifs, in order to cope with impacts from likely CC and to transfer professional IWRM experience and informatics tools based on case studies. Two twinning European and Asian river basins, namely the upper Danube river basin (UDRB) and the upper Brahmaputra river basin (UBRB) were selected for experimentation, and specific sub-catchments were used as a reference in both cases.

The project applied an integrated approach in order to undertake the following activities:

1. Downscaling of existing climate models to account for CC at a regional scale and analysis of the results. The influence of large scale circulation uncertainties was minimised through application of adequate data elaboration techniques. The models indicated temperature increase in both cases, while clarified precipitation patterns were not defined. Nevertheless, the results provided a comprehensive scenario framework within which adaptive management options for sustainable IWRM could be developed and evaluated.

2. Comprehensive analysis of the NE in the twinning basins, which comprised terrain analyses, glaciers and permafrost, land use and land cover (LULC), groundwater and eco-hydrological wetland studies. Its findings improved the insight of NE in all cases; nevertheless groundwater assessment required further validation.

3. Flood related vulnerability analysis with respect to the socioeconomic development of HD. The applied methodology was based on the selection and quantification of appropriate indicators. Project findings in the context of socioeconomics, hazard impact and governance were taken into consideration.

4. Evaluation of the stage of IWRM implementation and regionalisation by means of water resources response units (WRRU). The criteria on which assessment was based were the efficiency of surface and subsurface water resources management, the potential for sustainable recharge in terms of quantity and quality and the protection of users and society against destructive flood and drought hazards.

5. Hydrological modelling of the river basins' water balance for the time series provided by the climate models. Information on soil physics and plant parameters were derived by literature and verified in the field.

6. Identification of integrated indicators and probable scenarios, in order to quantify the principal environmental, social, economic, and governance aspects related to CC impacts and IWRM. Thus, the process of IWRM strategy development was facilitated. The Integrated Indicators Table (IIT) was completed based on problem analysis and creative system modelling. Future scenarios were modelled using adequate decision support system (DSS) tools.

7. Development of adaptive IWRM options to mitigate obvious CC impacts, taking into account stakeholders' preferences. An existing methodological framework was utilised for managing participatory modelling and decision processes. It occurred that proper planning was the most promising response in terms of effectiveness against vulnerability due to flood risk. Governance frameworks were also projected in the scenarios and evaluated for their suitability.

8. Implementation of existing geo-informatics tools and enhancement of the system towards an integrated land and water resources management system (ILWRMS). The developed ILWRMS supplied users and decision makers with a sophisticated integrated information system which firstly presented BRAHMATWINN results and obtained data and, secondly, offered options for future decision making support.

The assessment and analysis research studies undertaken as part of BRAHMATWINN provided numerous insights into how ongoing CC is likely to influence IWRM natural and socioeconomic dynamics and impacts. Furthermore, it significantly increased existing knowledge on the selected catchments, which were extensively analysed, and provided useful conclusions for both European and Asian alpine basins.