India Digs Deeper/Wells Drying Up

Often Parched, India Struggles To Tap Monsoon
Update dated 10.2.06.
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India Digs Deeper/Wells Drying Up

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
Published: September 30, 2006

TEJA KA BAS, India — Bhanwar Lal Yadav, once a cultivator of cucumber and wheat, has all but given up growing food. No more suffering through drought and the scourge of antelope that would destroy what little would survive on his fields.

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Thirsty Giant

Second of three articles.
Articles in this series examine India’s growing water crisis.

A previous article looked at urban water and sanitation problems.

Sunday: Floods and how to harvest ample rains.

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Part 1: Water Woes in India
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Part 2: Water Woes in India

Today he has reinvented himself as a vendor of what counts here as the most precious of commodities: the water under his land.

Each year he bores ever deeper. His well now reaches 130 feet down. Four times a day he starts up his electric pumps. The water that gurgles up, he sells to the local government — 13,000 gallons a day. What is left, he sells to thirsty neighbors. He reaps handsomely, and he plans to continue for as long as it lasts.

“However long it runs, it runs,” he said. “We know we will all be ultimately doomed.” Mr. Yadav’s words could well prove prophetic for his country. Efforts like his — multiplied by some 19 million wells nationwide — have helped India deplete its groundwater at an alarming pace over the last few decades.

The country is running through its groundwater so fast that scarcity could threaten whole regions like this one, drive people off the land and ultimately stunt the country’s ability to farm and feed its people.

With the population soaring past one billion and with a driving need to boost agricultural production, Indians are tapping their groundwater faster than nature can replenish it, so fast that they are hitting deposits formed at the time of the dinosaurs.

“What we will do?” wondered Pavan Agarwal, an assistant engineer with the state Public Health and Engineering Department, as he walked across a stretch of dusty fields near Mr. Yadav’s water farm. “We have to deliver water.”

He swept his arms across the field, dotted with government wells. This one, dug 10 years ago, had already gone dry. In that one, the water had sunk down to 130 feet. If it were not for the fact that electricity comes only five hours a day, every farmer in the area, Mr. Agarwal ventured, would be pumping round the clock.

Saving for a Dry Day

If groundwater can be thought of as a nation’s savings account for dry, desperate drought years, then India, which has more than its share of them, is rapidly exhausting its reserve. That situation is true in a growing number of states.

Indian surveyors have divided the country into 5,723 geographic blocks. More than 1,000 are considered either overexploited, meaning more water is drawn on average than is replenished by rain, or critical, meaning they are dangerously close to it. Twenty years ago, according to the Central Groundwater Board, only 250 blocks fell into those categories.

“We have come to the worst already,” was the verdict of A. Sekhar, who until recently was an adviser on water to the Planning Commission of India. At this rate, he projected, the number of areas at risk is most likely to double in the next dozen years. Across India, where most people still live off the land, the chief source of irrigation is groundwater, at least for those who can afford to pump it.

Here in Jaipur District, a normally parched area west of New Delhi known for its regal palaces, farmers depend on groundwater almost exclusively. Across Rajasthan State, where Jaipur is situated, up to 80 percent of the groundwater blocks are in danger of running out.

But even fertile, rain-drenched pockets of the country are not immune.

Consider, for instance, that in Punjab, India’s northern breadbasket state, 79 percent of groundwater blocks are classified as overexploited or critical; in neighboring Haryana, 59 percent; and in southern tropical Tamil Nadu, 46 percent. The crisis has been exacerbated by good intentions gone awry and poor planning by state governments, which are responsible for regulating water.
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Overpopulation, waste, mismanagement, and also climate change are all variables involved in the deepening water crisis in India. This proves that climate change is not just an environmental issue. Every area of our lives in affected by climate change which we now know is exacerbated by human activity.

India is also one of 27 countries identified by the United Nations Environment Program where the rising sea levels will submerge densely populated low-lying areas.
According to scientists, there will be a three-degree Celsius change in the global mean temperature by 2100 due to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that exacerbates water depletion. At India's rate of population growth and wasteful water usage combined with pollution that makes other sources of water unfit for human comsumption, it will never make it.

Climate Change Threatens India's Future

Britain To Talk To India On Climate Change

The above report then seems bizarre in relation to the dams proposed to be built along the Teesta River which also should be of grave concern to environmentalists and all who believe in human rights. Why build these expensive projects in such high numbers at the risk of displacing thousands of people and disrespecting their traditions and their way of life? That risks forever destroying the ecological balance of these pristine areas? That diverts the river water thus causing other areas to suffer as these areas of India are now suffering?

Could it be that governments see that the global water crisis is at a stage where control of the resources by corporate backed state governments is essential in maintaining control over the people? Perhaps if Coca Cola wasn't stealing their groundwater for its bottling plants as well, people would have water. How many more will we see in the coming years as the global water crisis increases, especially in the most underdeveloped but most populated areas of the world? Where is the EDUCATION on this topic as it relates to CONSERVATION, management, and irrigation techniques that will save water, along with a sustainable development plan regarding CO2 emissions?

Where there is also a higher demand with less access we are seeing and WILL see exploitation of people. As with the climate crisis, we face an emergency involving our global water resources and their management, and we are running out of time on both counts unless we also get this truth out to people and work to support a more sustainable world.

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