India’s Groundwater Depletion: Approaching Tipping Point

India has earned the dubious distinction of being the largest consumer of groundwater worldwide, surpassing both the United States and China combined, according to a dire warning from the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS).

The north-western region of India, often referred to as the nation’s breadbasket, plays a pivotal role in feeding this massive population, said the UNU-EHS report Interconnected Disaster Risks report 2023. States like Punjab and Haryana, nestled in this region, contribute significantly, producing 50 percent of India’s rice supply and a whopping 85 percent of its wheat stocks.


However, the dark side of this agricultural success story is the alarming state of groundwater resources. A staggering 78 percent of wells in Punjab are categorized as overexploited, and the broader north-western region is hurtling towards a grim future with critically low groundwater availability anticipated by 2025. What’s more, India is not alone in its precarious position, as other countries, including the top crop exporters like Pakistan, the United States, and India, are on a parallel trajectory.


The trade in crops affected by groundwater depletion has seen a sharp rise from 2000 to 2010, fuelling the exchange of virtual water and reinforcing the global interconnectedness in the depletion of groundwater. This trend underscores the disconnection between the apparent impacts of groundwater depletion and the actual demand and utilization of this precious resource.

In some parts of India, particularly in the Indo-Gangetic basin, the situation has already reached a tipping point. Some individuals are unable to consistently access the water stored in the aquifer due to the current depth of the water table and the limitations of existing wells. This underscores the urgency of addressing this issue and finding sustainable solutions to protect India’s vital groundwater resources.


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