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India's economic boom threatens water crisis: study

Population growth, irrigation and development has put pressure on water supplies across India, where groundwater management is poor. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) Aug 12, 2009
Rocketing domestic use and farm irrigation have seriously damaged India's groundwater supply, and drinking water may become scarce, according to a study released Wednesday.

The study of three states in northwest India, including the capital New Delhi, found that water was being extracted at an unsustainable rate as the region undergoes rapid economic development.

Water shortages are a growing concern in the country, with this year's monsoon so far delivering only a fraction of the rainfall needed by farmers to save their crops.

Satellite and land data between 2002 and 2008 showed that the groundwater level was being depleted by about four centimetres a year, said the report by three US scientists and published in Nature magazine.

The extraction in the states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana was the equivalent to 109 cubic kilometres (26 cubic miles) of groundwater -- far more than government estimates.

"The consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a reduction of agriculture output and shortages of potable (drinking) water, leading to extensive economic stresses," the study's authors said.

They said population growth, irrigation and development had put pressure on water supplies across India, where groundwater management is poor, and added that shortages could trigger social conflict.

In the short-term, the government this week warned that 80 percent of the country was threatened by drought due to the weak monsoon.

India's hundreds of million farmers rely on the annual rains to soak the rock-hard earth and turn it into fertile soil.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh moved to quash fears of hunger, saying that grain stores were adequate after two years of good harvests.

The study was conducted by Matthew Rodell of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Isabella Velicogna and James Famiglietti of the University of California.

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