Groundwater supplies depleting at "alarming rate" in India

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NEW DELHI, India, March 8, 2010 -- Nearly a third of groundwater resources in India are in a semi-critical, critical or overexploited state, a report from the World Bank has revealed.

Although groundwater use has been steadily increasing in India over the last four to five decades, estimates suggest that by 2025, up to 60% of India's groundwater blocks will be in a critical condition.

Currently, groundwater supports approximately 60% of irrigated agriculture and more than 80% of rural and urban water supplies, according to the World Bank.

The report, Deep Wells and Prudence: Towards Pragmatic Action for Addressing Groundwater Overexploitation in India, showed that 29% of groundwater blocks are semi-critical, critical, or overexploited, and the situation is deteriorating rapidly.

Alarmingly, almost 54% of groundwater blocks in the six states of Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu are nearly depleted.

The report showcased a community groundwater management model adopted in Andhra Pradesh, which is said to have produced the first global example of large scale success in self-regulation of groundwater use.

Sanjay Pahuja, lead author of the report and World Bank’s senior water resources specialist in India, said: "At the cost of Rs 1lakh per village per year, communities in drought-prone areas of Andhra Pradesh have shown the first large-scale example of self-regulation of groundwater. The farmers have as much as doubled their farming incomes, while bringing their groundwater use close to sustainable levels."

Pahuja added: "That means farmers in many cases have voluntarily reduced their water use, and still safeguarded their drinking water supply and crops. This has been made possible by an exceptional program of farmer education which has created `barefoot hydrogeologists’. This approach is immediately replicable in other hard-rock areas, which account for two-third of groundwater settings in India. There are similar other measures which should be immediately taken up to start addressing the critical threat of groundwater overexploitation."

Going forward, the World Bank's report said that pricing measures, including volumetric charges, taxes, and user fees, can act as incentives to conservation and more efficient allocation of water resources, provided they address concerns of equity and affordability to the poor. However, it added that implementation is a "major constraint".

Community groundwater management, where primary users of groundwater are charged with implementing management measures, was recommended to help with the situation.

Other recommendations included developing the capacity of groundwater institutions and integrating groundwater in urban supply planning. 

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