About two third of the world’s population live under serious water shortage for at least one month of the year, and half a billion face severe water scarcity every year (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2016). Escalating water insecurity under rapid urbanization, climate change under current water scarcity with water governance is a global concern (Flörke et al., 2018). Moreover, the current population growth in expanding cities will increase the water demand, resulting in over-exploitation of surface water and ground water resources (Hoekstra et al., 2018) and therefore ensuring the cities have an ample source of water becomes exceedingly necessary (Padowski and Jawitz, 2012). This problem is critical as by the end of 2050, around 66 % of the world population will be residing in urban areas with high proportion to the Asia and Africa (UNDESA, 2014). With a population of 1.3 billion and an anticipated growth of 1.7 billion by 2050, providing clean and safe water to vast majority of populace in India is difficult (Kumar, 2019). The problem is severe as climate change has already impacted the water accessibility and is most likely to exacerbate water availability and accessibility in the future (IPCC, 2012). Water crisis is already recognized as one of the global high-risk issues (WEF, 2017) and the urban areas of the remote and fragile Himalayan mountains are facing acute problem for water supply through municipalities (Singh et al., 2020). The increased water demand due to increasing ecotourism (Cook and Bakker, 2011) coupled with climate change (Singh et al., 2020) would further broadened the water crisis in cities of the Himalayan region.
In the Himalayan region of India, urban growth is instrumental towards the improvement of infrastructure in the remote areas (Tiwari and Joshi, 2016) however, the haphazard urban growth in the fragile mountains is instrumental for disturbing the ecosystem thereby disrupting the hydrological regimes causing depletion of natural resources, drying of springs and reduction in ground water recharge (Tiwari et al., 2018). Moreover, majority of the population in Himalaya for water depend on groundwater either from nearby spring or through digging wells and bore wells and majority of urban areas are lacking the infrastructure for satisfying water demand of the population from municipal sources (Singh et al., 2020). Change in the water demand and supply due to urban sprawl; land-use changes due to population expansion and impact of climate change are projected to further threaten the water sustainability (Schnoor, 2015).
Excessive reliance on ground water in the Himalayan region will have deleterious consequence keeping in view the inherent fragility of aquifers in mountainous regions and thus, mountain-specific urban planning and accountability of the stakeholders is required to address the grim future of water resources (Singh et al., 2020). Because of vast socioeconomic, geographic, and meteorological differences existing among cities, a generalised national level water policy may not be appropriate to streamline the water infrastructure for distribution and supply of water to the urban population. Therefore, a systematic assessment of criticality of water under the current pace of urbanisation and climate change at the city level is required with consideration of stakeholders’ perception at spatio-temporal scale matching with municipal water infrastructure schemes (Dong et al., 2020). Vulnerability analysis tends to be a reasonable approach for assessing the crisis as the information provided may be useful for the policy makers in decision making for addressing the water crisis (Pandey et al., 2015).
Vulnerability is defined as the extent to which a system is susceptible to, unable to cope with the adverse effects (Thornes, 2002) and encompasses three dimensions namely exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity (Sharma and Ravidranath, 2019). Though various vulnerability assessment frameworks exist for assessing climate change and water vulnerability, there is no specific methodology with adequate indicators for assessment of water vulnerability at micro-level for the hilly region. Those prevailing methodologies applied at macro level will not be suitable for micro-level household analysis since factors and characteristics differs at the micro level framework (Pandey et al., 2014). Vulnerability may be accessed through a composite index, which is a unit less relative construct for measuring the susceptibility of the system, using various relevant system specific indicators of the three dimensions of vulnerability (Abson et al., 2012; Giri et al., 2021). However, conceptualizing vulnerability and choosing appropriate indicators are key challenges for vulnerability assessment (Fussel, 2007). Therefore, site specific micro level operative model framework for water crisis management is required to formulate in order to create awareness among the policy makers and authorities to plan their responses in implementation of water management policies (Nguyen et al., 2020). Moreover, results of such evaluation at the city level would add value to local level water planning, which is essential to strengthen the local governance ability for facilitating the informed decision making by the policy makers (Ojha et al., 2020).
Hill town and cities are degrading in variety of aspects such as micro climate, vegetation, recharging of aquifers, water table and leading to affect the environment of the town and city and also the surrounding regions (Kumar and Pushplata, 2013). Therefore, an evaluation for water vulnerability under current stresses was attempted in Nainital city which surrounds the Nainital lake in the lower Himalayas, to supplement information about the water management. Nainital lake is the major source of water supply for drinking and other domestic purposes in the town of 40,000 local inhabitants and tourists including recreational activities (Purushothaman et al., 2012). Moreover, various anthropogenic activities such as illegal construction, litter, domestic discharge, and recreational usage of lake is detrimental for the lake’s quality and quantity (Purushothaman et al., 2012). The current scenario of water issues in the city and differential distribution of water in the different wards was evident from the interview and the field survey conducted during the year 2020–2021. The study hypothesised that the municipal wards have differential vulnerability and are governed by physical and infrastructural resources besides population density. The study objectives were to estimate ward-level vulnerability and identify adaptation mechanism at stakeholder levels. The study was primarily based on remote sensing data for majority of the key indicators and the results are also represented using GIS maps for better visualization and understanding besides primary information were also collected from the local population to understand the coping mechanism. The key indicators for evaluation were less in number and easily assessable and primarily based on secondary sources and therefore facilitating to the dynamic nature of vulnerability. The results will support the decision makers to re-orient policies with inclusion of more pronounced role of public and therefore implying appropriate measures in various wards to reduce the water vulnerability. The proposed theoretical framework in this study can be used in future studies focussing on micro-level water vulnerability assessment through customised modification.