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Changing climate makes cell phones easier to come by than drinking water in South Asia

In South Asia, people have more access to cell phones than potable water. Water has become an increasingly scarce resource as climate change and excessive pumping lower water tables, glaciers that feed the region's rivers disappear, and more frequent and violent storms affect water's quality and quantity, said experts April 8 at the Cornell conference "Water in South Asia: Challenges in a Changing Environment."

Furthermore, water-related disasters alone have resulted in more than 250,000 deaths over the past 20 years and have affected at least half the population in South Asia, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka in recent years.

The conference, which was held in 102 Mann Library and attracted students and faculty members from the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Engineering, and Arts and Sciences and the School of Hotel Administration, allowed scientists and social scientists to examine the state of water resources in the region, water's role in the hydro-politics within and between countries in the region, and water management.

Panelists explained the effects of climate change on urban areas and planning, the political and social insecurities produced by a lack of drinking water and the effects of irrigation technologies on managing rivers and floods. Panelists included young talent in geography, city and regional planning, political science and anthropology as well as such established scholars as faculty members Gilbert Levine, Michael Walter and Norman Uphoff and experts from as far as King's College London.

In addition, graduate students affiliated with the South Asia Program produced a poster exhibit in the Mann Library lobby on such water topics as climate change, irrigation techniques that save water, water poisoning by arsenic in Bangladesh, water-related challenges in Nepal, rainwater harvesting in dry areas of India, equitable access to water in India, groundwater depletion in India, and the impact on livelihoods and food security by the floods in Pakistan.

The conference was organized by Cornell's South Asia Program, lead partner in conference planning for the Cornell-Syracuse South Asia Consortium National Resource Center, which is supported by the U.S. Department of Education. Conference co-sponsors included the Einaudi Center for International Studies, the David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell Cinema, the program in International Studies and Planning, and the Department of Government.

For more information on the South Asia Program's activities see

Bill Phelan is a program manager in the South Asia Program.

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John Carberry