Groundwater Depletion: The Silent Threat to India's Sustainable Development
Sujalam Sufalam Jal Sanchay Abhiyan is a state-level program aimed at conserving water resources and improving groundwater levels. The program includes activities such as desilting of canals and ponds, deepening of lakes and reservoirs, and construction of check dams and recharge wells.
Did you know that groundwater is the unsung hero behind India's food security and sustainable development? With over 80% of the country's irrigation needs being met by groundwater, it's a crucial resource that also supplies drinking water to more than half of India's population. But, here's the catch - groundwater depletion has become a major concern in recent years, leading to severe water scarcity and poor water quality in many regions. That's why protecting this precious resource has become an urgent priority for India's sustainable future. Let's work together to safeguard India's groundwater resources!
Groundwater depletion is a severe issue in India, which is grappling with the highest rate of groundwater extraction in the world. The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) conducted a study that reveals groundwater levels in 65% of the wells monitored in India have been declining at an average rate of 0.33 meters per year over the past decade. This is a serious concern, as the depletion of groundwater resources is likely to have significant consequences for the environment, economy, and society.
According to the CGWB study, over 80% of the groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation, and this has led to a considerable decline in water tables in many regions. The situation is particularly alarming in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan, which are the breadbasket of India. These states are heavily dependent on groundwater for irrigation, and the overexploitation of groundwater resources has led to soil salinization, reduced agricultural productivity, and a decline in water tables of more than 20 meters in some regions.
The depletion of groundwater resources has far-reaching impacts on the environment, economy, and society in India. In addition to soil salinization and reduced agricultural productivity, it can also lead to the deterioration of water quality, subsidence of land, and seawater intrusion in coastal areas. The consequences of groundwater depletion are not limited to the agricultural sector but also impact the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on groundwater for domestic and industrial use. Moreover, the growing crisis of water scarcity due to groundwater depletion also exacerbates social inequalities in India. The most affected regions are often the ones that have lower access to other sources of water and are economically disadvantaged. The depletion of groundwater resources can also lead to conflicts over water resources and even social unrest.
Reduced Agricultural Productivity: Groundwater depletion has a direct impact on agricultural productivity, as farmers are forced to rely on increasingly scarce and expensive sources of irrigation water. This has led to reduced yields, crop failures, and reduced income for farmers.
Water Quality: As groundwater levels decline, the concentration of pollutants in the groundwater increases, leading to a deterioration in water quality. This has significant implications for public health, as contaminated water can cause a range of water-borne diseases. Increased
Energy Use: As groundwater levels decline, farmers are forced to rely on more energy-intensive sources of irrigation, such as diesel-powered pumps. This has significant implications for energy security and the environment, as it increases the use of fossil fuels and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Social Conflicts: As water becomes increasingly scarce, there is a growing risk of social conflicts over water resources, particularly in rural areas. This can lead to tensions between different user groups, such as farmers, industries, and urban consumers.
Jal Shakti Abhiyan is a flagship program of the Indian government aimed at improving water resource management across the country. The program focuses on water conservation, rainwater harvesting, and groundwater recharge, among other things. As part of the program, the government has identified 1,592 "water-stressed" blocks across the country, where groundwater levels are critically low, and has launched various measures to address the problem.
Protecting India's Groundwater Resources To address the challenge of groundwater depletion in India, there is a need to adopt a multi-pronged strategy that includes:
Promoting Sustainable Groundwater Management Practices: There is a need to promote sustainable groundwater management practices that focus on reducing water demand, improving water use efficiency, and promoting the recharge of groundwater resources. This can be achieved through measures such as rainwater harvesting, watershed management, and the adoption of water-saving technologies.
Encouraging Crop Diversification: There is a need to encourage crop diversification to reduce the dependence on water-intensive crops such as paddy and sugarcane. Promoting the cultivation of crops that require less water, such as pulses and oilseeds, can help reduce water demand and improve agricultural productivity.
Promoting Water-Saving Irrigation Technologies: There is a need to promote the adoption of water-saving irrigation technologies, such as drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, and laser land levelling. These technologies can significantly improve water use efficiency and reduce water demand.
Strengthening Groundwater Governance: There is a need to strengthen groundwater governance through the development of effective regulatory frameworks, institutional mechanisms, and monitoring systems. This can help ensure sustainable groundwater management and prevent overexploitation of groundwater resources.
Raising Awareness and
Capacity Building: There is a need to raise awareness and build the capacity of farmers, policymakers, and other stakeholders on the importance of sustainable groundwater management practices. This can be achieved through the dissemination of information, training programs, and awareness campaigns.
In conclusion, the issue of groundwater depletion in India is not just a problem of declining water tables, but it has far-reaching consequences for the environment, economy, and society. The overexploitation of groundwater resources has led to soil salinization, reduced agricultural productivity, deterioration of water quality, subsidence of land, and social inequalities. Addressing this issue requires collective action from policymakers, farmers, and the public to adopt sustainable groundwater management practices to preserve this vital resource for future generations. Sustainable water use practices such as rainwater harvesting, water-efficient irrigation systems, and the adoption of crop varieties that require less water can help to alleviate the problem of groundwater depletion.
Furthermore, it is essential to raise awareness and encourage behavioral change among farmers and the public to conserve and manage groundwater resources sustainably. By taking a holistic approach to groundwater management, we can protect this vital resource and ensure a sustainable future for all.
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Authored by Ajay M Reje, a final year research student at Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, MAHE. His area of interest lies in the SDG’s, Water-Energy-Food Nexus, Climate change and environment in the Asia-Pacific.