Historic groundwater forum in India in the midst of severe drought in South Asia
South Asian countries face continued severe drought following two consecutive monsoon failures. The South Asia Groundwater Forum, organised by the Government of India in collaboration with the International Water Association (IWA) and the World Bank, brings together governments and water specialists to discuss priority actions for tackling groundwater depletion and contamination, and the building of drought and climate resilience for farmers, cities and villages.
Per capita water availability continues to decline in South Asia, and the region’s water-intensive economies have increasingly turned to groundwater to supply drinking water and water for agriculture to serve a rapidly growing population. The Forum is particularly significant, as it brings together high-level delegations from government and civil society, scientists and international organizations, and community leaders, from 20 countries on a common platform.
Highlighting water as a renewable resource for growth and economic development, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Water Global Practice, Ms. Jennifer Sara, said, “Quantity and quality both need to be considered together in policy and planning, and for protection, regulation and management of groundwater, including in community-based groundwater management. More attention is needed to address water-energy-food nexus issues, protecting recharge areas and promoting demand management and conjunctive use and management of both surface and groundwater”.
Groundwater is a vast and vital resource for millions of people in South Asia, who depend on it for irrigation and domestic consumption. It can provide a reliable, drought-resilient, decentralised and usually high quality water supply to meet the rural, urban, industrial, irrigation and livestock demands. However, the failure to manage groundwater resources in a wise and sustainable manner has created a serious crisis in South Asia, leading to the overexploitation of groundwater reserves, inadequate replenishment of aquifers and growing contamination of groundwater.
“This meeting provides a very special opportunity to find solutions for South Asia's dwindling groundwater reserves. Today’s reality of water scarcity and drought are the future for much of the world. International cooperation on groundwater management will be fundamental if we are to address the serious threat posed by water scarcity to communities, agriculture, industry and the environment” said Dr. Ger Bergkamp, Chief Executive, International Water Association.
Dr. Rafik Hirji, the World Bank Team Leader for the Forum, said, “South Asia is a large user of groundwater and its groundwater management challenge across the region is complex. It is not just a water resources problem, but a multi-jurisdictional and multi-sectoral urban and rural economic development challenge. The common-pool nature of the resource, multiple externalities and data inadequacy, compound the challenge.”
The goals of the forum are to elevate, at the policy level, the vital role groundwater plays in the water sector across the region (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).
‘Realizing the potential of groundwater to build resilient societies, livelihoods and food security requires concentrated efforts, increased capacity and efficient partnerships at local to global levels’, said Mr. Jeremy Bird, Director General, International Water Management Institute IIWMI. Progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and adaptation to climate change hinges on managing groundwater sustainably, he added.