Energy supply and the expansion of groundwater irrigation in the Indus-Ganges Basin - A working paper by Challenge Program on Water and Food

The paper by International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Challenge Programme for Water and Food (CPWF) and University of Arizona deals with energy supply and expansion of groundwater irrigation in the Indus-Ganges basin. Irrigation using groundwater has expanded rapidly in South Asia since the inception of the Green Revolution in the 1970s and it represents the largest source of irrigation in the basin.

The spatial and temporal patterns of groundwater development are the result of multiple demand factors: (a) farmer investment, (b) subsidies and markets, and (c) population density; as well as supply factors: (d) sources of groundwater recharge, and (e) energy supply and pricing. This paper examines trends in electricity supply and groundwater development in the Indian portion of the IGB over the 1980 – 1999 period, with contextual reference to groundwater irrigation in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

The analysis addresses two questions that are central to the way the energy-groundwater nexus plays out in the IGB:

  • First, how do energy type (electricity vs. diesel) and price influence groundwater development?
  • And second, what are the energy-water co-management options for sustaining hundreds of millions of livelihoods in the IGB that are based directly or indirectly on groundwater irrigation?

Principal findings include early-1980s’ growth in numbers of electric pumps across the Indian IGB followed by 1990s’ stagnation in the eastern part of the basin; this trend is linked to electricity supply and pricing policies, which have varied markedly from state to state. The eastern IGB presents an energy-groundwater paradox: a region rich in energy sources but with inadequate electricity supply that has led to increased reliance on diesel power, which in turn is limiting development of groundwater – one of this region’s most abundant and agriculturally productive resources. 

The main point of departure is that improved understanding of the effects of energy supply and pricing on groundwater demand will facilitate the formulation of policy recommendations to support continued and improved livelihoods and economic benefits while ensuring the sustainability of both groundwater and energy resources. 

To download the paper click here