The Global Boom in Groundwater Irrigation - Experience of Reconciling Resource User and Sustainability
In the developing world, the last 20-25 years has witnessed a massive increase in groundwater resource exploitation for irrigated agriculture, producing enormous benefits in terms of food production security, farmer incomes and rural livelihoods, but raising serious questions of resource sustainability and even irreversible degradation. This paper is based on the experience of World Bank-funded projects, supported by GW-MATE, on the North China Plain, the Gangetic Plain and Hard-Rock Peninsula of India, the Sousse Basin of Morocco, the Sana?a Basin of Yemen, Mendoza-Argentina, Ica-Peru, Guanajuato State-Mexico and the Apodi Region of North-East Brasil and represents a review and synthesis of approaches (both successful and unsuccessful) to the problem of reconciling agricultural demand with long-term groundwater resource availability. The approaches considered are a balance between: community awareness-raising, participation and self-regulation, macro-policy agricultural interventions to constrain demand, groundwater resource administration and use regulation. Successful examples of each will be presented. The appropriate balance between such measures will depend greatly on the local hydrogeological setting of groundwater resources and socioeconomic status of groundwater users (Figure 1 illustrates the sort of pragmatic framework advocated) with a standardized blueprint for groundwater resource management or one-size-fits-all approach being simply inadequate. Amongst the more common challenges and misconceptions that have regularly to be confronted that will be illustrated: 1.) Community participation. Whilst groundwater management without user participation is impossible; resource administration by users alone is always questionable. 2.) Irrigation technology improvements in irrigation efficiency do not equate to real groundwater resource savings and without other parallel interventions the reverse is quite often found to be the case. 3.) Rural energy subsidies, although often argued to be the key factor in excessive groundwater exploitation, on detailed consideration their influence may prove less significant and not as perverse as they might at first appear, 4.) Non-renewable groundwater resources. There is a widespread reluctance of public administrations to live with the reality of such resource exploitation and thus to make corresponding realistic policy decisions. 5.) Conjunctive use of groundwater and surface water. A great opportunity for improving irrigation water security and expanding agricultural production sustainability, but major socioeconomic and institutional impediments often have to be overcome.