Regional Challenges and Opportunities for Building Drought and Climate Resilience for Farmers, Cities, and Villages
South Asia—the world’s fastest growing region—is the largest abstractor of groundwater; it pumps nearly a third of the groundwater used globally and half of global groundwater for irrigation. Groundwater drove the Green Revolution, which lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty across the region; in addition to irrigation, it is critical to rural, urban, and industrial water supplies. However, intensive pumping and unregulated use have caused rapid declines in water tables, putting these benefits at risk. In addition, groundwater contamination (from arsenic, fluoride, salinity, sewage, industrial effluent, and agricultural chemicals) is undermining the value of the resource, increasing water treatment costs, and causing significant health impacts. While groundwater depletion can be quickly reversed, contamination, saltwater intrusion, and land subsidence are either too costly or impossible to reverse.
In spite of these growing concerns, groundwater in South Asia remains essential for sustaining livelihoods and economic growth and for building climate resilience. If planned and managed with surface water, groundwater offers important costeffective future options for building drought and climate resilience.
Given both these important challenges and significant opportunities—all of which are shared across the region—the World Bank with the support of various partners convened a South Asia Groundwater Forum in India in 2016 to discuss groundwater policy and management, to share good practices and lessons from across and outside, and to strengthen technical and knowledge-sharing networks. The active participation in the forum of 126 current and former policy makers and groundwater managers from governments across the region, regional and international specialists, researchers, and academics is testimony to the criticality of groundwater management and governance in South Asia. The wealth of knowledge and experience shared, and the networks and connections established and strengthened, provide a sound basis for promoting and accelerating groundwater policy and institutional reforms and enhanced local, national, and regional action for sustainable groundwater management. These proceedings capture the knowledge and lessons shared and the dialogue that took place during the forum, with a view to providing a lasting record and facilitating wider dissemination.