Farmers Across Asia Emptying Underground Water Tables

Farmers in India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and northern China are setting themselves up for drought and famine in decades to come by pushing wells deep into the ground, emptying underground reserves at a rate faster than precipitation can replenish them. India’s government system of irrigation canals is decrepit, so farmers have sunk some 21 million wells and sink a million new ones every year. While the influx of water has brought short-term relative prosperity, it’s not expected to last; as the water table recedes, shallower wells are drying up, and new wells need to be sunk deeper and deeper. In northern China, the country’s “bread basket,” 40 percent of grain is produced with pumped groundwater, and officials warn that the coming water shortage will make China an importer of grain soon. Farmers risk turning some land into desert within five to 10 years. Said Tushaar Shah of the International Water Management Institute, “When the balloon bursts, untold anarchy will be the lot of rural India.”