India water crisisIndia’s dry season has been notably harsh in 2019, and the country is suffering its lowest rainfall before a monsoon season in six decades. Just under half the population is facing a drought and dozens have died from the combination of a heat wave and a lack of water. The India water crisis is also causing evacuations as the drought is forcing families to leave their homes in search of water.

Chennai, India’s sixth largest city, is facing extreme water scarcity. The reservoir water supply shrank between 2018 and 2019 and is almost entirely drained of water.

Effect of the Drought

Experts blame the severe drought on mismanaged resources along with industrial and human waste, bad policy decisions and climate change. Thirty-two states have organized a State Action Plan on Climate Change in order to achieve national as well as regional priorities. But many farmers claim the government plan has not been carried out. “There is a lack of interest among politicians and the bureaucracy, which is keen to look for temporary solutions to drought and climate change impacts,” stated agricultural and climate change researcher Atul Deulgaonkar.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the drought has not only affected the monsoon and winter crops but also destroyed supplementary crops. Because agriculture is the most important sector of its economy, India is heavily reliant on monsoon rains. The drought is particularly dangerous for marginalized farmers in rural areas. Approximately 80 percent of districts in Karnataka and 72 percent in Maharashtra are faced with crop failure, which has put the livelihood of eight million farmers in jeopardy.

Solutions to the Crisis

However, there are solutions to the crisis such as reducing the need for the enormous amounts of water used for crops. Because agriculture accounts for nearly 90 percent of India’s water consumption, reducing the dependence on water-intensive crops and agricultural methods would substantially increase water for drinking and make farmers less vulnerable to water shortages. Environmental scientist Kyle Davis stated, “Diversifying the crops that a country grows can be an effective way to adapt its food-production systems to the growing influence of climate change.” In addition, the use of alternative grains can improve nutrition and reduce greenhouse emissions from agriculture.

Other steps are currently underway for alleviating the water crisis. In 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed an $87 billion plan to reduce flooding and improve irrigation by linking 60 rivers across India. So far only 16 rivers have been linked and the effect of this plan is yet to be determined. Some Indian states such as Maharashtra have followed the example of Israel and implemented a drip irrigation method, which involves dripping water onto individual plants through tubes or pipes rather than flooding whole fields.

Whatever the means, the India water crisis must come to an end. One-hundred million children in India lack water and one out of every two are underfed. Water security must be guaranteed in India amidst rising temperatures and falling water tables so families can raise their children with dignity and health in the upcoming century. A slew of solutions indicate hope for the future, though.

– Kiran Matthias
Photo: Pixabay

sustainable irrigationIrrigation is as important to farming as seeds are. Irrigation, especially sustainable irrigation, is an oftentimes taken for granted by the general population in the United States where the average shower last over 8 minutes, using roughly 17 gallons of water at an estimated 2 gallons a minute. Being clean is important for many reasons but so is sustainability. In farming, especially in countries where water is not abundant, there are a few sustainable irrigation methods to choose from where less water is wasted.

Water Sources for Farmers

Many rural farmers around the world get their water from surface water. Surface water is water that has yet to reach the water-table underground. It can be found in naturally occurring pounds, streams and rivers or collected in basins, reservoirs or man-made ponds for later use. This is for those lucky enough to be near a body of freshwater or who have learned to collect water during their rainy seasons.

Groundwater is another important source for farmers to get their water. This water is underground and, therefore, can more difficult to use. A well must be dug down to the water table or a pump installed to get the water back to the surface for use. Digging a well uses a lot of energy, time and money. Finding ways to do this more efficiently is one way the United Nations is supporting sustainable irrigation methods.

Sustainable Irrigation Methods

Each of these sustainable irrigation methods has its upsides and downsides. The main drawback of using a more efficient method is often the time or money needed. For example, it is cheap to redirect a stream or direct groundwater already collected into a field where furrows are dug. The water runs along these furrows flooding the field for a short time without damaging the seeds or crops. This method is known as flood or furrow irrigation. However, this uses a lot more water than might be necessary.

Installing a sprinkler system to collected groundwater or pumping it up from underground is a better sustainable irrigation technique than flood irrigation. The water can be directed and controlled, which cuts back on water usage. However, these pumps cost money upfront, plus there are funds needed for upkeep. Fuel and parts must be taken into consideration when purchasing any farming equipment. Luckily the United Nations is working with groups around the world to supply solar and mechanical pumps to rural farming villages. The mechanical pumps look like bikes or “Stairmasters.”

The best sustainable irrigation technique by far is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a system of pumps and tubes. The tubes are either suspended above the soil or planted alongside the roots of the plant. A predetermined amount of water is then pumped through the tubes and released through tiny holes poked in the tubes. These systems come in a variety of complex options. This is also a technique promoted by the United Nations, specifically solar-powered drip systems.

A Sustainable Future

Sustainable irrigation methods are essential to farmers all over the world. There are several methods to choose from depending on the resources available to the farmers in any given region. What is important is ensuring a water supply so that farmer is arid regions can continue to grow and profit off of their crops.

Nicholas Anthony DeMarco

Photo: Flickr

Experiencing a period of drought on a normal basis before the rainy season, the farmers of India often find themselves at the mercy of nature as well as heavily relying on diesel oil in order to irrigate their farms. Not only that, it is estimated that only 32% of India’s farms are irrigated.

For this reason, over the next five years, the government of India is aiming to reduce this reliance by installing solar energy pumps in rural India. This project is also expected to protect the level of groundwater in the Subcontinent.

The investment needed to initiate this clean and sustainable alternative will cost around $1.6 billion, which will be channeled into replacing non-solar pumps with 26 million solar powered ones to provide access to sufficient electricity to farmers in certain areas of the country wherein electricity resource is still insufficient.

If this project proves to be a success, it will enable India to save $6 billion annually in energy subsidies handed out to farmers, a sum that could go a long way in terms of rural development.

This will also allow farmers—many of whom are poor—to be able to water their plants with no operation cost at all. Thus, this project will not only help the state to save, it will also expand the profit margin of rural farmers of the world’s second most populous country. In certain states, such as Punjab, the state authorities are already helping farmers to acquire necessary materials for the installment of drip-irrigation watering system via subsidization.

The drip-irrigation method, also known as the micro-irrigation method, is an agricultural technique used in order to curb both the use of fertilizer as well as water by trickling water in a very small amount directly to the roots of the plants. Thus, in addition to the solar pump the investment of which will be disseminated countrywide, in the southern state of Kerala, another $62 million is going to be spent to put in place drip-irrigation infrastructure.

Once complete, it will allow more people access to water on their farms regardless of where they are, as water will be dispensed equally throughout a larger area.

With the agricultural sector commanding 51% of India’s total workforce but nevertheless providing India with only 15.7% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This indicates a huge disparity when more than half of the country is in a sector that earns less than a fourth of the total GDP. Thus, with the expanded profit margin and more government’s attention in the sector India and its dynamic economic growth will—in the foreseeable future—be able to lift more people out of poverty.

Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: We Demain, Bloomberg, India Text, Irrigation Direct, Bloomberg Sustainability, World Bank
Photo: Ingetje Tadros


When it comes to research in the field of international development, Canada takes the top spot.  Their contributions of foreign aid to international development research go towards finding solutions to hunger, addressing climate change, augmenting the food supply, alleviating poverty, and increasing health and well-being in developing countries.   The 2012 World Food Prize Laureate, Dr. Daniel Hillel, attributes the decades of Canadian support to his ability to develop drip irrigation.  This breakthrough innovation allows food production in the world’s driest climates.

Many Canadian organizations contribute to the nation’s state in research and development. The International Development Research Centre is a leader in partnering for research and Canada seeks to collaborate with other governments and aid organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the last year, over $100 million additional research dollars from partner organizations went towards life-saving projects.

The best part is that Canada and the world are seeing the results.

Advancements made in women’s health have led to a dramatic change in the survival rates of mothers over the last decade.  More recently, a program was launched in Nigeria to address the tragedy of women dying in childbirth. In 2012, close to 40,000 women died giving birth.  A program funded by the Canadian International Development Agency in partnership with the government of Nigeria has already shown very promising results and a reduction in deaths.

Foreign aid is changing.  No longer are countries content with handouts that increase dependency, but are seeking projects that increase self-reliance.  Canada is seeking to ensure their research dollars go to fund innovative projects such as the African Institutes for Mathematical Sciences Next Einstein Initiative. This clever program trains young African graduates to use mathematical thinking when addressing complex challenges. Over $20 million in support has been committed to expand the initiative.

Another focus of Canadian research is food security.  It is projected that by 2030 food supply will have to double to reach current demands. Projects are set in motion to figure out ways to make sure land is usable, people have food, and farmers can make a living, In the Middle East, a project is working on using water from household sinks and baths to drip irrigate crops in dry lands and improve crop production.

Canada is setting an example for nations to follow with their emphasis on research, innovative development, and self-sustaining projects.  Their story is one of foreign aid making a positive and noticeable difference.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Huffington Post Canada
University of Edinburgh

For many North African and Middle Eastern (MENA) countries, the goal of greater water acquisition had been the standard policy for developers and government officials aiming to combat the low annual rainfall and dry climate of the region. Huge projects involving the construction of desalinization plants, dams, and canals resulted in only marked successes in solving the region’s water scarcity problems. Enter the Canadian-led International Development Regional Centre (IRDC) in 2004 that – with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed focus on efficiency – set out to implement a new policy of development that focuses on water reduction as opposed to acquisition.

The water conservation project, known as WaDlmena and co-sponsored by the IRDC, introduced a “demand management” program that focused on decreasing the amount of water used through innovative water conservation methods and development that focuses on water reduction. Techniques such as greywater – which utilizes non-sewage wastewater for crops – along with drip irrigation and nightly crop watering were researched, implemented, and tested by local farmers, policymakers, and community members. Various concerns such as issues involving poor farmers and tariffs on water usage were also addressed, leading to creative new ideas such as allowing small amounts of free well water to local growers.

Since the WaDlmena program has been enacted, nations such as Jordan and Morocco have adopted water conservation techniques ranging from mandatory wastewater systems in new buildings and drip irrigation for the agricultural industry. Thanks to the IRDC’s efforts in funding development that focuses on water reduction instead of water acquisition, a realistic solution to the water scarcity problem in the Middle East may soon be reached.

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: National Geographic