India is grappling with a severe water shortage. 12 Indian states are facing the threat of a famine and this situation is going to continue for a much longer period. Those who say that one or a few consecutive good monsoons will change the situation are either ignorant or are trying to hide the truth which is very frightening. If we go by the studies that have been done globally, we will be able to sense the gravity of the situation!


Let’s not mistake the word famine with drought. While drought is a phenomenon due to scarce or no rainfall; famine is an epidemic, caused by the widespread scarcity of food. A famine can have disastrous effects on the affected lives. People are forced to leave their places in search of food and water, child mortality rates increase and farmers are left with no choice, other than to quit their livelihoods and join the footloose labour force. On this basis, famines are very much a  reality in India!

In his article published in National Geographic, ‘If You Think the Water Crisis Can't Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained’, Dennis Dimmick says, “We are drawing down these hidden, mostly non-renewable groundwater supplies at unsustainable rates in the western United States and in several dry regions globally, threatening our future.”

Similar views are expressed through the Ground Water Surveys as well as the Development Agency of Maharashtra Government’s report titled ‘User Centered Aquifer Level Groundwater Management Pilot’.

Felicity Barringer elaborates this behaviour further in his article, ‘World’s Aquifers Losing Replenishment Race, Researchers Say’. What the author states is that from the Arabian Peninsula to northern India to even California’s Central Valley, nearly a third of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being drained faster than they are being replenished. This fact is backed fy fertile evidence from a recent study, led by scientists at the University of California, Irvine.

A companion study indicates that the total amount of water in the aquifers, and how long it will last at current depletion rates, is still uncertain. “In most cases, we do not know how much groundwater exists in storage” to cover unsustainable pumping, the study said. Historical estimates, it argues, probably have unrealistically overstated total groundwater volume.

“We’re depleting one third or more of the world’s major aquifers at a pretty rapid clip,” said Jay S. Famiglietti, a professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, and a leading researcher for the two studies. “And there’s not as much water there as we think.”

Industries VS Farmers


This is exactly what is happening in Maharashtra and in other parts of the country. In fact, we are dehydrating our earth’s system by choice and not out of ignorance. Five percent of the water extracted is used for human consumption while ten percent is diverted for industrial consumption!

This clearly reflects the priorities of the government. But what is more frightening is the insensitivity of the authorities towards the future. We need to accept the reality and look for more sustainable ways of water management which can reduce the consumption and replenish the groundwater reserves positively. To this effort, India must follow these steps:

  1. Prioritise

Fulfilling the demand for drinking water should be the top priority. The second priority should be given to growing food crops which need lesser amount of water. Cash crops, industrial crops and industries should come after these.

      2. Shift to ecological farming practices

In the chemical based agricultural paradigm, soil lacks the required amount of biomass or organic matter. There are several studies which say that adequate biomass presence in the soil helps in maintaining the moisture and temperature levels and minimise water consumption. There should be a concrete plan to replenish the biomass or organic matters in the soils.

     3. Crop selection should be based on the agro-ecology of the region. Governments should gradually shift chemical fertiliser subsidies towards creating decentralised infrastructure for adopting water conserving ecological farming practices. Ecological agriculture farmers should be incentivised.

     4. Recharge the reserves

Nothing should stop the flow of water but slow it down so that the groundwater recharge is facilitated. Lakes or ponds in the shape of eight or six digits maximise groundwater recharge. Drainage constructed for watershed management should be shaped like a river to ensure efficient recharge and water flow.

     5. Reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse and rethink

Urban and industrial wastewater should be properly recycled and supplied for urban consumption. The deficit should be supplemented by the harvested rainwater. Supplies from surface or underground water sources should be the last resort. Deep bore wells should only be utilised under extreme conditions. Water usage policies should be based on equity and sustainability.

No smart investment manager allows us to dip in our corpus. Those who dip in their corpus funds are bad managers and are injurious for the firm. Similarly, those who permit or escalate the exploitation of groundwater are big dangers not only for our environment but also India’s economic development.


Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen said, “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy.” If the people of a country are faced with famine like conditions, it clearly reflects the health or functionality of the democracy they live in.

Ishteyaque Ahmad is a Greenpeace Campaigner for Sustainable Agriculture.