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India global leader in underground water extraction

India is the global leader in extraction of underground water, more than double of the two big countries – United States and China, thus pushing its citizens towards impending water crises, a United Nations report released recently has said.

delhi Updated: Oct 04, 2012 20:45 IST
Chetan Chauhan

India is the global leader in extraction of underground water, more than double of the two big countries – United States and China, thus pushing its citizens towards impending water crises, a United Nations report released recently has said.

India in 2010 extracted around 251 cubic kms of water as compared to 112 each for China and United States from around 30 million unregulated groundwater structures in the country.

The huge jump in underground water extraction has taken place in the last two decades.

The United Nations World Water Report said that India extracted about 140 cubic kms of groundwater in 1990, equivalent to US level.

But, since India initiated economic reforms in 1991 there has been a sudden jump in demand for ground water. The only consolation has been it has slightly slowed down in the last few years.

Underground water extraction over decades
India
USA
China
1950 : 20 cubic km
1970 : 45 cubic km
1990 : 140 cubic km
2010 : 251 cubic km
1950 : 50 cubic km
1970 : 75 cubic km
1990 : 140 cubic km
2010 : 112 cubic km
1950 : 15 cubic km
1970 : 30 cubic km
1990 : 85 cubic km
2010 :112 cubic km

“The current regime of power subsidies for agriculture has had a major role to play in deteriorating water tables in most parts of India,” says an internal document of the Planning Commission in emerging water crises.

Around 80% of extraction of ground water is for agriculture purpose and of the total new irrigation facilities, 84% is dependent on underground water.

Many of the underground water aquifers are highly contaminated in many regions in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh because of high use of fertilizers. “Around 60% of all districts in India have problems related to either the quantitative availability or quality of water,” said the panel’s report.

A NASA report showed that during 2002 and 2008 India lost about 109 cubic km of water leading to a decline in water table to the extent of 0.33 meters per annum. “About 28% of the underground water blocks showed high levels of ground water use,” the UN report said. The NASA report had shown that north-west India had fastest underground water depletion rate.

Among the list of top 10 underground water extractors include India's two neighbours --- Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Around 72% of underground water extraction takes place in the top countries listed in the UN report.

Top 10 underground water extractors
Country
Extraction (cubic km/per year)
India
251
China
112
United States
112
Pakistan
64
Iran
60
Bangladesh
35
Mexico
29
Saudi Arabia
23
Indonesia
14
Italy
14