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With the planets second largest population at 1.3 billion, and expectant growth to 1.7 billion by 2050, India finds itself unable to serve the vast majority of that populace with safe, clean water.

Supporting 16% of the world’s inhabitants is daunting enough, but it is even more so when recognizing that population is crammed into an area one-third the size of the United States. Then consider that India only possesses 4% of the world’s fresh water and the crisis can be more fully realized.

All Indian water bodies within and near population centers are now grossly polluted with organic and hazardous pollutants. Not a single Indian city can provide clean water that can be consumed from the tap on a 24x7 basis.

The situation has grown to the point that regional disputes have risen over access to rivers in the country’s interior. Those disputes take on a global scale in conflicts with Pakistan over the River Indus and River Sutley in the west and north and with China to the east with the River Brahmaputra.

Surface water conditions are bad. However, the groundwater situation is even worse.

Groundwater extraction is growing and has become increasingly unsustainable. Consequently, in many parts of the country, groundwater levels are declining steadily. In some parts, the levels are declining by more than one metre per year. A lack of proper wastewater treatment from domestic, industrial and mining sources has meant that groundwater is being progressively contaminated by known and unknown pollutants, increasing the potential health risks to humans and ecosystems.

The best estimate is that at present India uses 230-250 cubic kilometres of groundwater each year. This accounts for about one-quarter of the global groundwater use. More than 60% of irrigated agriculture and 85% of domestic water use now depends on groundwater. India now uses more groundwater than China and the United States combined.


The World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices. Further, more than 500 children under the age of five die each day from diarrhea in India alone.

Unless urgent steps are taken to manage groundwater scientifically, there will be adverse implications for India’s food, water, energy, environment and health sectors. Nearly half of India’s jobs are now in the agricultural sector. If the current trends continue, by 2030 nearly 60% of Indian aquifers will be in critical condition. This means that some 25% of the agriculture production will be at risk. This would aggravate India’s employment situation.

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