India's Farmers in Fear of a Future Without Water
Sitting on the veranda of his house watching the newly- seeded wheat
swaying in the breeze while this year's buffalo calves munch contentedly
nearby, it is hard to believe this Indian farmer could have a care
in the world.
Mohan Sharma's family have farmed this fertile patch of land in Kaladera,
30 miles outside the Rajasthani city of Jaipur, for more than a century,
but for the next generation, he says, "the future is dark".
The source of Mr Sharma's gloom comes out in a single word - "paani",
Over the last five years the water table beneath Mr Sharma's fields
has dropped by 60ft as local farmers and a nearby industrial park
suck up the groundwater.
"I cannot say what future my sons will have on this farm," he said.
"The water is disappearing so fast that the future is dark, very dark."
Farmers like Mr Sharma put the blame squarely on industry - a Coca-Cola
bottling plant was installed nearby in 1999 - but the water crisis
is in reality a three-way fight between farmers, industry and ordinary
Since independence in 1947 the population has grown from 350 million
to almost 1.1 billion with industry and agriculture using ever more
greedy methods to extract groundwater.
Industry plays its part, but a World Bank report in January this year
identified farmers using electric pumps for irrigation as the prime
A 100-mile drive north of Mr Sharma's farm, around the tourist mecca
of Shekhawati, lies the "dark zone" of Rajasthan, where villagers
are now facing the bitter consequences of over-extraction of water.
In 1961 a survey by the Hindustan Copper Company showed groundwater
levels at an average of 2-4ft. Today the level in many villages has
dropped to 400-600ft.
"Traditionally the people here would survive on the rain water collected
in check-dams and talab (ponds), but when electricity came to the
villages in the 1970s they started using pumps and the old structures
fell into disrepair," said Niranjan Singh, head of SVS, a local water
The use of mechanically extracted water for drinking has had unforeseen
health consequences as Rajasthan's groundwater naturally contains
fluoride levels up to nine times the World Health Organisation's limits.
"The result of drinking this water is stomach pain, deformed bones,
yellowed and cracking teeth and constant joint pain in knees, wrists
and elbows," said Mr Singh.
The chronic water shortage also causes social problems. In extreme
cases, villagers have to stand guard over the ponds and keep potable
water, a commodity now as precious as gold, under lock and key.
The solutions are both low and high-tech. Last year, with help of
a government grant, the village of Kisari, 100 miles north of Jaipur,
installed a reverse-osmosis filtration plant to purify the water.
"The long-term solution must be in re-building the low-tech check-dams,
ponds and reservoirs that worked for centuries," said Mr Singh.
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