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India’s groundwater crisis: the consequences of unsustainable pumping

25 Jul 2017

India is the largest consumer of groundwater in the world and, because its rate of extraction has remained high, groundwater replenishment has been unable to sustain water levels in many of the country’s aquifers. At the same time, contamination is a serious problem throughout the country and many key agricultural regions suffer from both groundwater overexploitation and pollution. Water security problems have worsened with the ongoing drought that has been declared in eight states.

Key points

  • India’s groundwater usage is the highest in the world and supplies 85 per cent of drinking water in rural areas.
  • Most groundwater is used for agricultural irrigation and an improvement in the industry’s water efficiency is essential for reducing groundwater demand.
  • The depletion of groundwater resources is affected by both demand-side practices and the specific hydrogeological settings of the aquifer. Depletion primarily occurs in north India’s alluvial systems and peninsula India’s crystalline systems.
  • Despite major challenges, solar desalination, wastewater management and groundwater recharge provide opportunities for improving India’s water security.
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