Addressing groundwater depletion: Lessons from India, the world’s largest user of groundwaterIndia is home to 16% of the world’s population,...

Addressing groundwater depletion: Lessons from India, the world’s largest user of groundwaterIndia is home to 16% of the world’s population,...Addressing groundwater depletion: Lessons from India, the world’s largest user of groundwater
India is home to 16% of the world’s population, but only holds 4% of the world’s freshwater resources.

Not only is water scarce in India, but the extraction of groundwater has been on the rise for decades. Since the 1960s, the government’s support for the “green revolution” to ensure food security has increased the demand for groundwater for agriculture. Rapid rural electrification combined with the availability of modern pump technologies has led to an increase in the number of borewells to meet that demand. Over the last 50 years, the number of borewells has grown from 1 million to 20 million, making India the world’s largest user of groundwater.

The Central Groundwater Board of India estimates that about 17% of groundwater blocks are overexploited (meaning the rate at which water is extracted exceeds the rate at which the aquifer is able to recharge) while 5% and 14% , respectively, are at critical and semi-critical stages. The situation is particularly alarming in three major regions – north-western, western, and southern peninsular.

Groundwater pollution and the effects of climate change, including erratic rainfall in the drier areas, put additional stress on groundwater resources which serve about 85% of domestic water supply in rural areas, 45% in urban areas, and over 60% of irrigated agriculture. Current overexploitation rates pose threats to livelihoods, food security, climate-driven migration, sustainable poverty reduction and urban development.

The World Bank has been working with the Government of India to enhance groundwater management in affected areas. The lessons below stem from the experience of World Bank groundwater management projects in India, and are part of a broader IEG evaluation of the World Bank’s support for sustainable and inclusive natural resource management.