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Groundwater socio-ecology and governance: a review of institutions and policies in selected countries

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Abstract

Groundwater is crucial for the livelihoods and food security of millions of people, and yet, knowledge formation in the field of groundwater has remained asymmetrical. While, scientific knowledge in the discipline (hydrology and hydrogeology) has advanced remarkably, relatively little is known about the socio-economic impacts and institutions that govern groundwater use. This paper therefore has two objectives. The first is to provide a balanced view of the plus and the down side of groundwater use, especially in agriculture. In doing so, examples are drawn from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Spain and Mexico—all of which make very intensive use of groundwater. Second, institutions and policies that influence groundwater use are analyzed in order to understand how groundwater is governed in these countries and whether successful models of governance could be replicated elsewhere. Finally, the authors argue that there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way groundwater is presently perceived and managed—from management to governance mode. In this attempt, a number of instruments such as direct regulation, indirect policy levers, livelihood adaptation and people’s participation will have to be deployed simultaneously in a quest for better governance.

Résumé

L’eau souterraine est cruciale pour la survie et la sécurité alimentaire de plusieurs millions de personnes mais cependant la foramtion en matière d’eaux souterraines reste asymmétrique. Alors que la connaissance scientifique dans la discipline (hydrologie et hydrogéologie) a avancée de manière remarquable, on connaît peu de choses sur les impacts socio-économiques et les institutions qui gouvernent l’utilisation des eaux souterraines. Cet article a par conséquent deux objectifs. Le premier est d’assurer un point de vue balancé entre le côté positif et le côté négatif de l’utilisation de l’eau souterraine, spécialement en agriculture. De cette manière, des exemples d’utilisation intensive des eaux souterraines sont présentés, provenant de pays tels que l’Inde, le Pakistan, le Bangladesh, la Chîne, l’Espagne et le Mexique. En second lieu, les institutions et les politiques qui influencent l’utilisation de l’eau souterraine sont analysées de telle manière à comprendre comment l’eau souterraine est gérée dans ces pays et comment les modèles de gestion présentant un certain succès pourraient être répliqués ailleurs. Finalement, les auteurs arguent qu’il existe un besoin pour un changement de paradigme dans le sens où l’eau souterraine est actuellement perçue et gérée du mode administratif au mode gouvernemental. Dans cette démarche un certain nombre d’instruments comme la régulation directe, les leviers politiques indirectes, l’adaptation vitale et la participation populaire devront être déployées simultanément dans la quête d’une meilleure gestion.

Resumen

El agua subterránea es crítica para la subsistencia y para la salubridad de la comida de millones de personas. Sin embargo, la formación de conocimientos en el campo de aguas subterráneas ha permanecido asimétrico. Mientras que el concocimiento científico en la disciplina (hidrología e hidrogeología) ha avanzado increíblemente, se conoce relativemente poco sobre los impactos socio-económicos y las instituciones que controlan el uso del agua subterránea. Este artículo tiene dos objetivos. El primero es presenter una visión balanceada de los aspectos positivos y negativos concernientes al uso de agua subterránea, especialmente en la agricultura. Con este objetivo se presentan ejemplos de la India, Pakistán, Bangladesh, China, España y México ya que todos estos países hacen uso intensivo del agua subterránea. El segundo objetivo es el análisis de las instituciones y políticas que influyen en el uso del agua subterránea con el fin de entender cómo se gobierna el agua subterránea en estos países y si los modelos exitosos que pueden ser replicados en otros lugares. Finalmente los autores proponen que existe la necesidad de cambiar el paradigma en lo referente a la percepción y al manejo del agua subterránea desde su administración hasta su gobierno. En este intento, con el objeto de alcanzar un mejor gobierno, se debe implementar un número de instrumentos simultáneamente i.e la regulación directa, la política indirecta, la adaptación de las actividades de subsistencia y la participación de los usarios.

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Notes

  1. Groundwater extraction mechanism is defined as any device, mechanical or otherwise, which is used to extract groundwater and this includes groundwater structures from which water is withdrawn. Examples of GWEMs are open wells, tube wells (deep or shallow, depending on depth), pumps, motors, treadle pumps and so on. In the context of this paper, GWEMs refer only to those used for irrigation purposes.

  2. There are no firm and accurate estimates of the total number of groundwater structures in India. Minor Irrigation Census of GOI (1993) estimates the total number of groundwater structures to be 10 million. However, this estimate excludes four major states of India, viz. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. These states alone had almost 5 million structures in 1986–87 (MI Census, 1986–87). Based on average annual compound growth rates of groundwater structures between 1986–87 and 1993–94, it is estimated that the total number of structures were anything between 19 to 20 million in 1993 and now (2004) it would be almost 26–28 million, given that every year 0.75 to 1 million structures are added.

  3. On the surface, there seems to be some kind of anomaly between figures quoted by Debroy and Shah, 2003 which suggests that groundwater irrigation contributes 35% more to agricultural productivity than does surface water irrigation in the Indian context and that of other evidence provided by Dhawan, 1989 who says that productivity in groundwater-irrigated plots is 1.5 to 3 times more than surface water irrigated plots. The difference has a lot to do with the type of data used in the studies, the first uses macro-level secondary data for districts, while the latter uses primary data generated from field studies and hence captures field nuances better than secondary data, which loses information through aggregation.

  4. In 2003–04, rice stock with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is set to witness the lowest levels in 12 years, while wheat stocks have declined by a massive 54% from the previous year (Economic Times, April 15, 2004). The reasons for this are massive exports and lower food grain procurement due to drought last year. This shows that even India with its comfortable levels of agricultural production cannot be complacent as far as food stocks are concerned.

  5. According to a Mexican water sector authority, although farmers did receive an electricity subsidy in the process of registering groundwater rights, this was not the primary objective. The basic objective of the electricity authority in asking for CNA registered irrigation water right was to ensure that non-agricultural users do not cheat and get subsidies. However, in effect, the savings through electricity subsidy seems to have encouraged farmers to register water rights with the CNA. Recently there has been another change to this. Now if the extraction exceeds allotted water right, then the farmer will not receive the subsidy for the portion of water use that exceeds the right. Both the electricity utility service providers and CNA have agreed to use electrical consumption and some well efficiency factors to estimate extraction for the purpose of determining the amount of subsidy entitled to a farmer.

  6. Just as there could be market failures, it is now proved beyond doubt that there could be state as well as collective action failures. A striking example where both state and collective action have failed to provide reliable irrigation services has been the case of public tube wells in India. When it was realized that state managed tube wells were functioning poorly, these were turned over to farmers who were asked to organize themselves into co-operatives and manage the tube wells. However, even this initiative failed. In this instance, what has really worked is an informal groundwater market and hence the role for market in distributing irrigation benefits in India has been substantial, though little recognized.

  7. Number of people absolutely dependent on groundwater might be lower in Spain, Mexico. But the fact remains that farmers lobbies in these countries are much stronger than farmers lobbies in India or other parts of South Asia. Thus, in effect, in spite of lower dependence on groundwater, the job of groundwater managers becomes difficult due to strong pressure from farmer’s lobbies. The case of Ebro River transfer in Spain is a case in point.

  8. Political considerations might mar this effort only if the present food grain producing states cannot shift to a high value cropping pattern. However, states like Punjab are already shifting to alternative cropping patterns to cope with dwindling groundwater situation.

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Mukherji, A., Shah, T. Groundwater socio-ecology and governance: a review of institutions and policies in selected countries . Hydrogeol J 13, 328–345 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-005-0434-9

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