Sunday, June 5, 2011

Water Availability in Rajasthan

Our University of Michigan team will be spending the majority of our travel time in the state of Rajasthan, where most of the Sarvajal franchisees are located. As a first step in this project, I did some preliminary research on the water availability in Rajasthan.

Rajasthan is a land locked state of west India on the border of Pakistan. Most of the region is arid or semi-arid, receiving all of its 20-23 inches of rain a year in less than 30 days in the form of monsoons (Central Groundwater Board 2010, Rathore 2005). Not only is Rajasthan the most arid state in the country with low amount of surface water, but the surface water that is available is frequently so polluted that it is unusable (Bhawan 2009, World Bank 2005). Sewage and industry effluent are the two primary polluters of surface water in the region (Bhawan 2009). Given the low quantity and quality of surface water in Rajasthan, most of the state obtains its water from groundwater sources.

Groundwater is the source of 90% of domestic water and 71% of water used in irrigation (Rathore 2005). The government’s ability to provide water to the people of Rajasthan is limited in extent and sporadic in flow and quality (World Bank 2005, Bhawan 2009). As a result, private tubewells have sprung up all over the region and are the only source of water used by industry, and are the preferred choice for all farms and families who can afford it (World Bank 2005).

With 70% of the Rajasthan population making a living through farming, the water needs of the agricultural sector dominates Rajasthan’s water politics (Bhawan 2009). In the 40 years between 1961 and 2001, 1.4 million agricultural tubewells were built in the state of Rajasthan and the pace of construction has only increased since then (Birkenholtz 2006). In that same period of time, total irrigated land has increased 128% with irrigation using 83% of total water resources of the state (Bhawan 2009).

These tubewells have increased access to water, attracting businesses, increasing the productivity of the land, and raising the quality of life for Rajasthan’s growing populations (World Bank 2005, Birkenholtz 2006, Sengupta 2006). While increased access to water has meant good things for Rajasthan’s people, it has been bad news for its aquifers. The Groundwater board of Rajasthan estimates that current withdrawal rates are 25% above recharge rates (Groundwater Board of Rajasthan 2006) The average water table has declined in all 28 districts of Rajasthan and has fallen as much as 12.93 meters in some cases (Bhawan 2009). A staggering 80% of groundwater wells in Rajasthan are over exploited (Click here for a New York Times map depicting water scarcity in India) (Sengupta 2006). As water becomes harder to find and harder to extract, farmers, businessmen, and families have been forced to dig more and deeper wells in order to preserve their way of life (Birkenholtz 2006).

Works Cited

Bhawan, S., Marg, J.L.N. (2009). “Environmental Management Guidelines of Action Plan of SWRPD for Water Sector in Rajasthan.” The Government of Rajasthan: State Water Resources Planning Department.

Birkenholtz, Trevor (2006). “The Politics of Groundwater Scarcity: Technology, Institutions, and Governance in Rajasthani Irrigation.” Ohio State University Dissertation.

Central Groundwater Board. (2010). "State Profile Rajasthan." Accessed April 2, 2011

Central Ground Water Board. Accessed April 4, 2011.

Parsai, Gargi (2005). “Water Ministry seeks World Bank funding for reforms.” The Hindu, January 14, 2005.

Rathore, M.S. (2005). “Groundwater Exploration and Augmentation efforts in Rajasthan.” Institute of Development Studies.

Sengupta, Somini (2006)). India Digs Deeper, but Wells are Drying Up. New York Times, September 30, 2006.

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