Veena Srinivasa and Sharachchandra Lele write that if we run out of groundwater, millions of people will be left without any means to sustain themselves.
Groundwater plays an important role in our lives and India’s economy, but it is disappearing fast. There is mounting evidence that we are extracting more than can be naturally replenished. In the hard-rock aquifers of peninsular India, drilling 800 ft or deeper is becoming the norm. Groundwater-dependent towns and villages spend an increasing fraction of their budgets chasing the water table. Stories abound of farmers spending their life savings or taking loans to drill a borewell, but failing to find water. If we “run out” of groundwater, millions of people will be left without any means to sustain themselves.
Scientific evidence also points to over-exploitation. The Central Ground Water Board classifies all blocks in India based on the fraction of recharge that is extracted and trends in long-term groundwater levels. Since 2004, almost a third of blocks have been classified “over-exploited” or “semi-critical”. If we understand the problem and if the consequences are so severe, why are we unable to address it? The answer lies partly in politics, partly in the invisible nature of groundwater, and partly in our reliance on simple techno-economic fixes.