Key Water Issues

Farming in India
Photo: Sharni Jayawardena

India is vast. Consequently water issues vary greatly from region to region. The semi-arid northwest, for instance, has always had to adapt to limited water supplies. Other areas, such as the Gangetic plains of Bihar and West Bengal, usually have sufficient water for year round use, even if economic constraints limit what can be accessed. India’s water challenges, therefore, are unlikely to be solved by overarching national policies; local and regional conditions need to be taken into account.

India has been largely self-sufficient in food since independence. Substantial public investment improved and expanded the large irrigation systems developed during the colonial and post-independence period. Coupled with new crop varieties, fertiliser and modern on-farm technology, Indian agriculture was transformed in a ‘green revolution’, though it remained limited to some regions and cereal crops. As a result of this, and other factors, widespread famine has been almost unknown for over half a century.

Nevertheless many Indians remain malnourished.

Rapid economic development since the 1980s has put increasing strains in national water resources. Industry and urban development are consuming ever increasing amounts of water. Millions of Indians currently live in areas with acute water scarcity.