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India’s groundwater resource depletion alarming: World Bank

New Delhi, March 5 (IANS) A World Bank report Friday called for immediate action to save India’s groundwater resources – the largest user of ground water in the world – and said that 60 percent of the aquifers will be in critical condition within the next 20 years.

India uses an estimated 230 cubic km of groundwater every year, making it the largest user in the world. This also amounts to more than a quarter of the global total groundwater usage.

‘Today, groundwater supports approximately 60 percent of irrigated agriculture and more than 80 percent of rural and urban water supplies (in India),’ said the World Bank report launched Friday.

‘In fact, groundwater use has been steadily increasing in India over the last 4-5 decades. However, groundwater resources are being depleted at an alarming rate,’ a World Bank statement issued here warned.

Around 29 percent of groundwater blocks, are semi-critical, critical or overexploited, and the situation is deteriorating rapidly. Climate change will further strain groundwater resources, the statement quoted the report as having said.

The report titled ‘Deep Wells and Prudence: Towards Pragmatic Action for Addressing Groundwater Overexploitation in India’ was initiated to identify practical and politically feasible strategies for managing groundwater use in India.

‘The report provides a menu of practical interventions which can be implemented in the current environment. We hope that these findings can inspire an action agenda for moving swiftly to protect the vital but ever-declining aquifers of the country,’ said Roberto Zagha, World Bank’s country director in India.

Saying that there is little investment in groundwater management, the report said that the reason for inaction was proposed solutions were controversial.

‘These include ‘command-and-control’ regulation of wells, curbing the supply of free or cheap power for groundwater irrigation, etc.’

Interestingly, the report said India should identify practical and politically feasible strategies.

Amongst its several suggestions to prevent overexploitation and making use of groundwater more sustainable, the report has called for community management of ground water wherein the user community is the primary custodian of groundwater and is charged with implementing management measures, indicating that the now age old traditions should be practised again.

The report also indicates that there is growing awareness that the continued pace of groundwater use is unsustainable, as aquifers are getting increasingly depleted and showcases the community groundwater management model adopted in Andhra Pradesh.

‘At the cost of Rs.100,000 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.

‘There are similar other measures which should be immediately taken up to start addressing the critical threat of groundwater overexploitation,’ said Sanjay Pahuja, lead author of the report and World Bank’s senior water resources specialist in India.

The report also points out that of a total of 5,723 groundwater blocks in the country, 1,615 are classified as semi-critical, critical or over-exploited, and regulatory directives have been issued by the Central Ground Water Authority for 108 blocks.

About urban water supply planning, the report says that: ‘There is a need to move from opportunistic exploitation of groundwater resources to more systematic evaluation of the status of urban groundwater use and the contribution it can make to meeting future demand.’

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