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, £1,260) 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.

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