Sustainable water use in India

[Subtitle: It’s all gone Pete Tong]

Two articles, one in Science Magazine, the other in the Economist, highlight the problems facing India in planning for sustainable water usage. The former article gives more information about the scientific study leading to the articles, whilst the latter has more background and human interest. A similar study focussing on north west India is published in Nature

To summarise, in efficient water transport and unsustainable irrigation and farming practices are massively depeleting acquifers in India, particularly in northern States. The extraction rate in places is so high it is refered to as mining; implying that extraction has exceeded the carrying capacity of the system and is non-renewable. The implications for a country expected to grow to a population of 1.7 Bn by 2050 are enormous.

The Economist article in particular highlights the contradictions of the situation and the impossible choices facing politicians. It must be tempting to adopt a prescriptive approach and order a remedy from central government. However, one should remember that such approaches, allbeit at the powerful State level, are largely responsible for some of the problems. Nature, in the form of an irratic monsoon hasn’t helped either.

I draw several lessions from this (you may disagree):

1. Something needs to be done. It must be inclusive and not prescriptive (that would be unpalatable at the local level). National and international expertise needs to be harnessed and financing urgently sought.

2. India needs to change it’s approach to international (post-Kyoto) climate talks. I can’t help feeling India risk shooting herself in the foot by adopting her current, somewhat obstructionist stance. Climate change is only going to worsen the system for the farmers of northern India.

3. Corruption and poor public policy making are holding back a nation with vast potential. Indians are justly famous for their entrepreneurial and scientific talents; they are being held back by the system.

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