NASA Study Confirms Depletion of Indian Aquifers

, by  Olivier Petitjean

While a large part of India is currently the victim of a severe drought, an article published in Nature confirms that aquifer levels are rapidly decreasing in Northwestern India (Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana), because of massive extractions for irrigation.

The article is authored by NASA scientists and is based on the analysis of satellite data collected between 2002 and 2008. The level of aquifers is assessed according to the measure of their gravitational pull. According to the authors, the aquifers of theses states have been falling by 4 centimetres a year, a total of 110 cubic kilometres of water over the study period. 95% of this has been used for irrigation (mostly for rice and wheat).

These conclusions largely corroborate those reached by Indian experts through a more conventional method (drilling holes 4 times a year to assess the evolution of aquifer levels). They too consider Northwestern India to be the region where over-exploitation of groundwater is most problematic.

See Thirsty Indian farming depleting water resources (SciDev.net). Also see a more recent and complete update: Water Recklessness Worsening Drought (IPS News).

Meanwhile, confronted with the current drought, the Indian government has announced new emergency subsidies on fuel prices to allow millions of small farmers to continue pumping groundwater (as large farmers are able to do), always deeper, to salvage their harvest.

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