With some aquifers in central India taking 10,000 years to accumulate water and having all dried up in the past 30 years, a severe water shortage is looming over many of India’s most productive farmlands. This poses a serious challenge to the country & the region’s food security.
The farmlands that drove the country’s so-called Green Revolution in the mid-sixties made India largely self-sufficient when it came to food. However by 2025, India’s usable supply of water will fall short of projected demand by as much as 50%.
The states of Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan are already consuming more ground water than is available annually and several other states are approaching their limits rapidly. There is an alarming trend of water usage across the country – an ever increasing reliance on ground water for crop cultivation – that is not sustainable. As much as 57% of water used for irrigation currently comes from ground water, with the rest coming from surface water.
The usage of groundwater is so high that in many areas it is exceeding the amount of water collected annually through rainfall. There are poor regulations in place and due to frequent power cuts farmers often leave their water pumps running continuously, resulting in flooded fields. Changing weather patterns also mean that farmers can no longer rely on monsoon rains, which typically happen between June and September.
Experts predict that climate change will accelerate the changing monsoon patterns in the next 5 years and there will be fewer rainy days but more rain, increasing the chances of flooding and devastating crops. Despite billions of Rupees of additional expenditure being earmaked under five-year economic plans up to now, the lack of adequate maintenance of existing water infrastructure such as tanks and canals has meant negligable infrastructure growth in the last 50 years.
Although in draft stage, India is working on preparing a National Water Policy and may spend as much as 50 billion rupees ($1 billion) in the next five years to map underground water. The government’s goal is to avert a water crisis in the South Asian country, where agriculture accounts for 20 percent of the $1.7 trillion economy. The plan is crucial to stop the continuing loss of water resources due to indiscriminate and un-regulated use, with India losing over 109 Cubic Kilomenters of groundwater (twice the size of Lake Mead, the largest resvoir in the United States) in just 5 years.
Mapping of aquifers, or large underground reservoirs, is expected to help India manage cropping patterns and ensure drinking water for its growing population.