*****India’s Thirst Drives Water to Crisis Level*****

The Financial Times reports that India's thirst drives water to crisis level.

(emphasis mine) [my comment]

India's thirst drives water to crisis level
By Amy Kazmin in Malerkotla, India
Published: July 20 2009 18:05 Last updated: July 20 2009 18:05

Shaifur Rahman, a vege­table farmer with two acres of land in northern India's agricultural heartland, has watched the water supply sink deeper and deeper underground over the course of his lifetime.

"When I was a child, there was water at 15 feet [5 metres] below," Mr Rahman says. "Today I am 55 years old, and there is so much less rain, and the water table has gone down to 90 feet."

Two years ago Mr Rahman invested Rs100,000 ($2,080, €1,460, Ł1,260) to build a 220ft bore well because his family's old 70ft well had run dry. Many farmers in Punjab, a big rice-producing area, have dug equally deep as water-intensive cultiv­ation has sapped local ­supplies.

Persistent worries about water shortages on farms and in cities across India have been exacerbated this year by poor monsoon rains, which have been both late and scanty. India's meteorological department reported last Friday that rainfall levels for the monsoon so far this year are 34 per cent below the long-term average. Swaths of northern India, including Punjab, have been hardest hit, with rainfall for the ­season 50 per cent below average.

The weak monsoon bodes badly for India's hopes of accelerating economic growth to 9 per cent from last year's 6.7 per cent. Although agriculture accounts for just 17 per cent of gross domestic product, two-thirds of India's population relies on farming and related industries as its primary source of income.

Many farmers are already curtailing their planting to limit losses, with agricultural officials estimating that land under cultivation is about 21 per cent less than at this time last year. Although the planting season still has a few weeks to go, a sharp reduction in agricultural output could send food prices spiralling, eroding both the confidence and purchasing power of urban families, especially those with limited income.


Already prices for many food items are creeping upwards. "It would obviously mean there is going to be less demand for other consumer durables and other things that would be perceived as more luxury items rather than basic necessities," says A. Prasanna, head of research at ICICI Securities Primary Dealership.

In Punjab, state authorities are providing free electricity for a few hours a day to enable farmers to pump water from their wells to irrigate their crops. Mr Rahman says that is insufficient, so he uses expensive diesel to run his pumps.

His neighbour Abdur Rahman, who normally grows vegetables and rice on his four acres of land, is also anxious. The quality and quantity of his vege­table output have dropped because of the extreme heat and lack of rain. He has delayed planting rice, normally cultivated for his family's consumption, and says he may skip it altogether this year.

Although he has a bore-well too, it goes down only 110ft, and water levels in his area are falling dangerously close to the bottom of his well. "If things go on like this, the problem will be for food in the house," he says.

Meanwhile, with water levels in many reservoirs at just 11 per cent of storage capacity compared with about 26 per cent this time last year, several cities, including Mumbai, India's business capital, have begun rationing water, highlighting the severity of the situation.

Even if this year's rains do at last deliver — and farmers cultivate the rest of their fields — India's current water panic is just a foretaste of the challenges it will face in the not-too-distant future as the ever more affluent population, expanding industrial base and agriculture put ever greater stress on limited water supplies

The Asian Development Bank recently warned India, with 14 per cent of the world's population but just 4 per cent of its river run-off, that it faces the prospect of a serious water crisis by 2020, when demand is expected to exceed all known sources of supply.

Ashok Jaitly, director of water resources policy and management at Teri, the New Delhi-based environmental research institute, says part of the problem is that water is provided virtually free, giving farmers, consumers and industry ­little incentive to use it sparingly or efficiently.

In recognition of the threat posed by the declining water table, Punjab this year banned rice-planting before mid-June, a rule intended to prevent farmers from planting two crops of the water-intensive grain.

Mr Jaitly says far more drastic action is needed. "India needs to wake up to the fact that you are into a long-term water crisis," he said. "Water has an economic value, and that needs to be recognised."

World Water Availability

The chart below highlights the water problems facing India. It also shows why Russian agriculture is so attractive from a water availability perspective.


Percent of World Population Undernourished



My reaction: India is experiencing a water crisis.


1) India's water supply has sunk deeper and deeper underground over the last fifty years..

2) Farmers are drilling 220ft wells to reach water.

3) Water shortages on farms and in cities across India have been exacerbated this year by poor monsoon rains.

4) Swaths of northern India, including Punjab, have seen rainfall for the season 50 percent below average.

5) Many farmers are already curtailing their planting to limit losses, with land under cultivation about 21 percent less than at this time last year.

6) a sharp reduction in agricultural output could send food prices spiraling, eroding both the confidence and purchasing power of urban families

7) Spiraling food prices would mean less demand for other consumer durables and other things that would be perceived as more luxury items rather than basic necessities.

8) with water levels in many reservoirs at just 11 percent of storage capacity compared with about 26 percent this time last year, several cities, including Mumbai, India's business capital, have begun rationing water.

9) Part of the problem is that water is provided virtually free, giving farmers, consumers and industry little incentive to use it sparingly or efficiently.

10) Punjab this year banned rice-planting before mid-June, a rule intended to prevent farmers from planting two crops of the water-intensive grain.

11) India's current water panic is just a foretaste of the challenges the world will face in the not-too-distant future as ever more affluent populations, expanding industrial base and agriculture put ever greater stress on limited global water supplies


Conclusion: At least in the short term, peak water/wheat is a bigger deal than peak oil. When global food prices rise, they will destroy demand for other commodities including oil.

This entry was posted in Food_Crisis, India, News_Developments. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to *****India’s Thirst Drives Water to Crisis Level*****

  1. Jane says:

    when demand for food is bigger, we need more oil to produce all others food supporting products.

    demand for oil can't go down Eric. Oil is one of the most basic energy to produce other things.

    i think peak oil will cause peak food more easily than peak food will cause peak oil.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Fujitsu was working on a portable nuclear generator that can power a house for 15 years. Countries like India and Asia, who have the largest english speaking calculus using populations will engineer a method of using effective alternative energy sources to solve their water problems. E.G. building a line of power plants and pumping desalinated water inland.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous said:

    building a line of power plants and pumping desalinated water inland.

    There will always be a way to overcome...

    Man is only limited by his imagination and his willingness to innovate, not by the amount of money he has.

    - This message bought you by people that don't believe man is govern by money alone.

  4. Jimmy says:

    I am curious what would happen if US just defaulted on all foreign debt (owned by Chinese, Japanese, Arabians)?

    USD would fall a lot, but there is quite a lot of oil in US. US can then exchange airplanes, wheat, etc for more oil, shoes, toys etc.

    There were a lot of defaults by governments in Europe after WWI. What happened to the debt? Were they paid back ever?

  5. Shin says:

    thanks for the article as always eric!
    you always find things i dismiss haha.

  6. Jane said...
    when demand for food is bigger, we need more oil to produce all others food supporting products.

    demand for oil can't go down Eric. Oil is one of the most basic energy to produce other things.

    i think peak oil will cause peak food more easily than peak food will cause peak oil.

    The US has 4% of the world's population and consumes 25% of the world oil. When the dollar collapse, a lot of oil demand is going to disappear.

    Last year when gas was over $4, I remeber reading a story of a women who had bought a hummer, and, after losing her job, she couldn't afford to drive it anywhere because it cost too much. We will be seing this happen again when the dollar falls. There is a reason why the rest of the world drives smaller cars.

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