Scholarly article on topic 'Groundwater, Climate Change and Sustainable Well Being of the Poor: Policy Options for South Asia, China and Africa'

Groundwater, Climate Change and Sustainable Well Being of the Poor: Policy Options for South Asia, China and Africa Academic research paper on "Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries"

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Abstract of research paper on Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, author of scientific article — Achiransu Acharyya

Abstract High population pressure and the rapid pace of human activity including urbanization, industrialization and other economic activities have led to a dwindling supply of arable land per capita as well as water, especially ground water in underdeveloped countries. This has entailed considerable damage to the physical environment, including degradation and depletion of natural resources and unsustainable use of land and water resources. With the impact of climate change, the depletion of water resources will be faster both at the ground as well as the surface level due to rising temperatures in the region. This paper underscores the need for an eclectic approach to policy responses stemming from private and common property rights theories, externality theory and sustainability theory with a view to managing groundwater availability for the poor in terms of equity and sustainability in South Asia, China and Africa.

Academic research paper on topic "Groundwater, Climate Change and Sustainable Well Being of the Poor: Policy Options for South Asia, China and Africa"


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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 157 (2014) 226 - 235

International Relations Conference on India and Development Partnerships in Asia and Africa:

Towards a New Paradigm (IRC-2013)

Groundwater, Climate Change and Sustainable Well Being of the Poor: Policy options for South Asia, China and Africa

Achiransu Acharyya*

Department of Economics, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India


High population pressure and the rapid pace of human activity including urbanization, industrialization and other economic activities have led to a dwindling supply of arable land per capita as well as water, especially ground water in underdeveloped countries. This has entailed considerable damage to the physical environment, including degradation and depletion of natural resources and unsustainable use of land and water resources. With the impact of climate change, the depletion of water resources will be faster both at the ground as well as the surface level due to rising temperatures in the region. This paper underscores the need for an eclectic approach to policy responses stemming from private and common property rights theories, externality theory and sustainability theory with a view to managing groundwater availability for the poor in terms of equity and sustainability in South Asia, China and Africa.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Symbiosis International University (SIU). Keywords: Common property resources; Community participation; Groundwater; Property rights

1. Introduction

Over the last fifty years, groundwater development has played a fundamental role in agricultural production in many parts of the developing world. For example, groundwater now accounts for nearly 50 % of all irrigation supply

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +91-9434247269; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of Symbiosis International University (SIU). doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.11.025

in South Asia and two thirds of supply in China (Fig1) (Shah, 2007)




^ 15,000


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•rt ^

■21 <

Ol 3 ® t— iX

0 -C -R c < <n >0

H S Q. I 3 -I £

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Fig 1. Groundwater-irrigated area in countries with intensive groundwater use in agriculture (From Food and Agricultural Organization, 2003.)

The rapid growth in use in these and other regions has played a vital role in maintaining the rise in grain output associated with the Green Revolution, transforming production and livelihood strategies for millions of small farmers. However, groundwater use has not come without problems both in terms of sustainability and quality. In India and North China, plummeting water tables has brought into question the future use of the resource. From economic logic, it is generating a negative externality that must be internalized either using a tax (commonly known as Pigovian tax) or through some legal restriction. This is discussed in more detail in Section 4.2. In North Africa, groundwater is taken from fossil sources with no chance of recharge. Under the circumstances, some binding constraints are required to save groundwater from unlimited extraction. This is provided by the Sustainability theory (discussed in Section 4.1) that talks of a certain path in the usage of the resource so that it allows the resource to be preserved. For this what is required is more research on the use of natural resources so that some optimum path is found. This is discussed also in Section 4.1.1 of this paper.

A major debate in the whole study is the question of distribution of available groundwater as also the property rights. In addition to use within the agricultural sector, competition for groundwater from cities makes it harder for farmers to maintain supplies and drawdown by farmers themselves can make critical rural domestic supplies more costly to obtain. However, while in South Asia and China it is the problem of overuse that garners the most attention; many parts of the world like Sub-Saharan Africa have yet to take full advantage of the livelihood generating and poverty reducing potential of groundwater (Table 1). Property rights to groundwater are a major issue. One path of sustainable development is to clearly define the property rights to a natural resource such as groundwater in terms of individual and community rights. Section 4.3 discusses these issues in detail and tries to draw some solutions.

With climate change likely to have a negative impact on groundwater resources in both South Asia including China as well as Sub Saharan Africa as per the Report of the International Panel on Climate Change in 2007 (IPCC, 2007), there is cause for concern as to the sustainability of agriculture in the region. The question of food security is also a big question for the huge population in both South Asia including China and Africa in this scenario. Under the circumstances, this paper tries to address the groundwater problem and looks into different alternative institutions from which countries can develop a judicious and sustainable use of ground water.

Table 1 : Global survey of land area equipped for and using groundwater irrigation




M ha propn total km3/a propn total

GLOBAL 112.9 38% 545 43%

South Asia 48.3 57% 262 57%

East Asia 19.3 29% 57 34%

South East Asia 1.0 5% 3 6%

Middle-East & North Africa 12.9 43% 87 44%

Latin America 2.5 18% 8 19%

Sub-Saharan Africa 0.4 6% 2 7%

'daia denied from Siebert et al 2010)

The paper is designed in the following way. Section 2 tries to understand the impact of climate change on groundwater resources in South Asia and China as well as in Africa and tries to assess its consequence on agricultural production and food security in the region. Section 3 looks into the ground water development arising in South Asia, mainly in India and China from irrigation and the consequent development of groundwater based agriculture and its impact on rural society and poverty alleviation and compares it with the groundwater situation in Sub Saharan Africa. Section 4 describes the various paths to sustainable ground water management in the long run as also ensure food security in South Asia, China and Sub Saharan Africa. Section 5 is the concluding section.

2. Impact of Climate Change in South Asia, China and Africa

Food insecurity and climate change are already inhibiting human well-being and economic growth throughout the world and these problems are poised to accelerate. Countries vary in their vulnerability to climate change and improve agricultural productivity.

Threats from climate change, population growth and unsustainable resource use are affecting different regions of the world. Trends in population, diet, resource degradation and climate change impacts on productivity indicate that there is a real risk of global food shortfalls as the century progresses.

The region faces some of the greatest population pressure on the land in the world. This has resulted in unprecedented stress on natural resources and ecosystems, causing sustained degradation of forest, soils, wetlands, rivers and aquifers. With a three-fold increase in human population since 1950, South Asia's per capita water availability is down to one fifth of what it was 60 years ago. Likewise, the availability of arable land for those dependent on agriculture has declined from over 1 hectare (ha) per person at the beginning of the 20th century to less than 0.1 ha today.

As a region, Asia is also very vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding. Typhoons, cyclones, floods and other water-related disasters are on the rise, according to a recent World Bank evaluation, increasing by as much as five times in 2010 alone, with tremendous loss of life, livelihoods and property. Severe flooding in 2007 along the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers affected over 13 million people in Bangladesh; flooding in Pakistan in 2010 severely affected 20 million people. India has likewise suffered numerous events of extreme rainfall, flooding and droughts. The degree of human suffering has been immeasurable. Millions of tons of food lost to crop and land damage have added unknown numbers of food security-related deaths to the thousands of deaths due to the actual flooding and its consequences, including disease.

IPCC (2007) has contended that increased snowmelt will contribute to growing river flows and flooding for the coming 2 to 3 decades, after which river flows will decrease as glaciers recede. The World Development Report on Development and Climate Change (2010) reported a similar conclusion, suggesting that river flows will increase for 50 years, followed by a 30 to 40 percent decline over the course of the subsequent 50 years. For Pakistan, predicted

decline in rainfall is an additional risk that may cause severe water stress in arid and semi-arid areas. Rising mean temperature and depletion of soil moisture will create new vulnerabilities for Pakistan's agriculture and food security, and declining river flows will adversely affect its coastal ecology and, in conjunction with reduced precipitation, may result in expansion of its desert areas.

India's hydro-climatic regime is expected to alter significantly over the course of the 21st century. Quite aside from the snowmelt impacts, parts of the Indo-Gangetic basin may also receive less rain than in the past. However, the rest of India, like much of Sri Lanka, is likely to benefit from greater, but more variable, annual precipitation. According to IPCC (2007) most Indian landmass below the Ganges plain is likely to experience a 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures during 2020 to 2029 and a 3.5 to 4.5 degree Celsius rise during 2090 to 2099. Many parts of peninsular India, especially Western Ghats, are likely to experience a 5 to 10 percent increase in total precipitation (IPCC, 2007); however, this increase is likely to be accompanied by greater temporal variability.

Throughout the subcontinent, it is expected that 'very wet days' are likely to contribute more and more to total precipitation, suggesting that more of India's precipitation may be received in fewer than 100 hours of storms - and half in less than 30 hours - as has been the case during recent decades. A combination of higher precipitation intensity, larger number of dry days in a year and increased frequency of extremely wet rainy seasons will also mean increased runoff.

There is a general consensus that China's agriculture sector will be affected significantly from climate change. Moreover, since China is a large, important producing and trading nation, the impact of climate change on China will likely also affect the rest of the world via international trade. For example, the IPCC 2007 Report concluded that the expected effects of temperature increases and precipitation decreases— under the worst case scenario— could lead to a drop in China's rain fed yields of rice, wheat and maize of between 20 and 36 percent over the next 20 to 80 years (IPCC, 2007; Xiong et al, 2008). In contrast, cotton yields in China might increase (IPCC, 2007).

The literature summarily suggests that there will be large regional differences in the impact of climate change (Lin et al., 2006). For example, in China's northeast region, increasing temperatures will benefit agricultural production, but in the North China Plain, higher incidences of drought and rising temperatures will increase water demand per unit of cropland area. Such dynamics are expected to make water shortages more serious in this region and negatively affect crop yields. In China's northwest region, projected precipitation increases will not be enough to offset the chronic water shortages that limit agricultural production. At the same time, flooding in south eastern China is projected to become more serious, and average yields are expected to decrease. In other parts of the South, rising sea levels may affect agricultural production by reducing crop area. Sustained production from irrigated agriculture is vital to Chinese food security. China has one of the world's largest irrigated areas (59.3million hectares (mha)), which is about half of China's cultivated land and produces about 75% of the grain harvest. Irrigated area expanded from 45 mha in 1978 to 54.5 mha in 2004 (Hongyun and Liange, 2007). The use of higher energy inputs such as fertilizers also increased.

One of the key uncertainties surrounding the impacts of a changing climate in Africa is the effect that it will have on the sustainability of rural water supplies. Of Africa's population of 900 million, roughly 60% live in rural areas and most - perhaps 80% - rely on groundwater-based community or household supplies for domestic and other water needs (Report on Global Water Supply and Sanitation, 2008). Understanding the impacts of climate change on groundwater resources is, therefore, of critical importance, yet is often ignored in development debates - including those on water supply and management.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the world where hunger is projected to worsen over the next two decades unless some drastic measures are taken to ensure peace, improve governance and achieve the economic development required to reverse the current trend (Fig 3).

Developing groundwater for smallholder irrigation holds promise for strengthening livelihoods and improving food security (Molden, 2007), and a comparison with the widespread use of groundwater for irrigation in Asia suggests room for growth (Foster et al., 2008). However, the groundwater boom experienced in parts of Asia was made possible through infrastructure development, access to cheap energy, easy credit and market integration -factors that catalyzed massive private investment. In many areas of Sub Saharan Africa (SSA), these prerequisites are missing, and putting them in place will be a difficult and long term endeavor. There are other differences between SSA and Asia that should lead to a more sober assessment of irrigation potential. For example, hydrological and hydro geological settings in SSA and Asia are different. Low permeability aquifers, with limited storage, account for around 80% of Africa's land area, so that while they are adequate for domestic use and small-scale, supplemental irrigation, they cannot support the kind of intensive development that has emerged over large

areas of India, Bangladesh or northern China.

-World •«•••Eastern Africa

-Southern Asia

»Eastern Asia ----Central America

Funk and Brown (2009) Food Security, Vol. 1. 271-289.

1961 1971 1981 1991 2001 2011 2021

Fig. 2: Declining per capita Food production in Africa

3. Groundwater development in South Asia including China and Sub Saharan Africa

Groundwater has come to be the mainstay of irrigated agriculture in many parts of Asia, especially in populous South Asia and the North China Plain. Between them, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and North China use over 380400 cubic kilometer of groundwater annually, over half of the world's total annual use. However, there are large variations in the patterns of Asian groundwater use. Groundwater irrigation is of little importance in South-east Asia and southern China, which have abundant surface water. On the other hand, nearly all of India, northern Sri Lanka, Pakistan's Punjab and Sind, and the North China Plain represent regions where groundwater has come to play a unique and increasingly critical role in supporting dynamic smallholder peasant agriculture. In fact, while the bulk of the rest of the world's groundwater use is urban and industrial, most South Asian groundwater use is in agriculture. The importance of groundwater to the agricultural economies of South Asia can easily be seen (Fig 1) from the region's two most populous countries. In India, some 60% of the irrigated areas are served by groundwater wells. In Pakistan - which inherited the world's oldest and largest continuous system of canal irrigation 57 years ago and today serves some 16 million hectares in the Indus basin - it has been commonly thought so far that groundwater provides over 40% of the total crop water requirements in the highly populous province of Punjab, which produces 90% of the country's food (Qureshi and Barrett-Lennard, 1998).

The striking aspect of South Asia's (and China's) groundwater boom is that it has acquired its present prominence only after 1970. Figure 2 shows the growth in the number of irrigation pumps in India during 1951-

Oil ergires □ Electro Dumps

—^— Tota: irrigation Dumps

Fig. 3. Growth of irrigation pumps in India. (From World Bank and Ministry of Water Resources, 1998.

In these predominantly agrarian regions of South Asia and China, the booming groundwater economies have assumed growing significance from viewpoints of livelihood and food security.

Enhanced groundwater irrigation for smallholder agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is widely recognized as being an important goal that would dramatically improve food security and livelihoods by protecting against poor and highly variable wet-season rainfall and by enabling productive use of land during the dry season (Kay, 2001; Allaire, 2009). However, groundwater-sourced agricultural development across SSA has been severely lagging behind most other regions of the world (Shah, 2007). Less than 2% of rural households are served by groundwater for irrigation purposes in SSA, whereas, in contrast, the figures for China and India may be in the order of 30% and 50%, respectively (Giordano, 2005). According to national-level figures from a cross-section of 16 SSA countries, groundwater is being used to irrigate less than 1% of the arable land (Table 2).

At the same time, positive developments are emerging, with groundwater being increasingly recognized as a largely untapped resource for agricultural development in SSA, albeit with numerous technical and non-technical issues which severely constrain development (Giordano, 2006; Masiyandima and Giordano, 2007). There is emerging evidence that farmers are increasingly resorting to groundwater for irrigating high-value crops across Ghana where there is much optimism amongst decision-makers and investors that groundwater can play an important role in enhancing productivity and alleviate poverty (Namara et al., 2011). One of the issues that must be addressed when proposing new groundwater irrigation development for smallholder farmers is the threat of over-abstraction posed to existing groundwater users, along with the ecosystems supported by groundwater. In countries such as South Africa, where groundwater irrigation development is the most advanced within the SSA region (Table 2), as well as in some other countries in the lower rainfall zones, commercial-scale developments have in some cases already led to continuously falling groundwater levels (Wada et al., 2010). This raises a major question of sustainability of groundwater. In Section 4, the paper tries to take help of certain theories that can help in providing a path to sustainable use of groundwater.

Table 2: Estimates of groundwater use for irrigation in selected Sub-Saharan African countries. Sources: Siebert et al. (2010) and FAOSTAT (2011

Country Groundwater irrigated area (ha) Percentage of arable land

Botswana 286 0.1 1

Burkina Faso 3 OOO 0.05

Ethiopia 2 61 1 0.39

Ghana 12 OOO 0.27

Kenya 970 0.02

Malawi 30 0.00

Mali 750 0.02

Mozambique 217 0.00

Niger 1 221 0.01

Nigeria 64 OOO 0.17

South Africa 127 330 0.88

Sudan (N&S) 29 732 0.14

Tanzania 17 465 0.18

Uganda 59 0.00

Zambia 6 646 0.28

Zimbabwe 14 277 0.38

4. Path to Sustainable groundwater management

From the above discussion it is clear that the countries of South Asia, China and Sub Saharan Africa have a common problem of sustainable groundwater management. Under the circumstances, the design of appropriate policies will require an eclectic approach incorporating elements of sustainability, externality and right to property.

4.1 Sustainability

Sustainability theory provides a useful starting point for the analysis of resource management issues, since it yields a set of binding constraints on permissible resource use paths. Under plausible assumptions about the social welfare function, sustainability criteria can be used to rule out resource use paths that imply degradation of natural resources, at least if the services supplied by those resources cannot be replaced at a lower cost. The rate of degradation of land and water resources in South Asia and China discussed above, appears, at least on a preliminary analysis, to be associated with an unsustainable resource use path. More detailed analysis of particular problems, such as declining water tables, is required to confirm this conclusion, and to develop specific options for remediating degraded resources or replacing the flow of services generated by those resources. Nevertheless, it seems likely that, once sustainable paths of resource use are identified, changes in policy will be required to meet the constraints implied by those paths. Even the countries of Africa must follow a path of sustainable water use.

4.1.1 Research and Development, Education and Extension

The central focus of the sustainability framework is on the identification of sustainable patterns of production and, conversely, of unsustainable patterns of resource use. A natural policy implication is the need for additional effort in research and development, education and extension. Better information is necessary to identify the set of sustainable options. Both research and development and extension activities can expand the frontier of the sustainable production sets, either by increasing the yield of agricultural production or by finding ways to reduce or mitigate the associated resource depletion.

South Asia and Africa has one of the lowest agricultural research intensities in the world. Ahmed in a paper

(Ahmed, 2000) estimated that public investment in agricultural research in Bangladesh constituted only 0.25 per cent of its agricultural value-added. This is far less than in other countries of South and Southeast Asia. India and Pakistan invested 0.50 per cent and 0.58 per cent of their respective agricultural value-added.

A natural policy implication is the need for additional effort in research and development, education and extension. Better information is necessary to identify the set of sustainable options. Both research and development and extension activities can expand the frontier of the sustainable production sets, either by increasing the yield of agricultural production or by finding ways to reduce or mitigate the associated resource depletion.

The results of research and development can only be implemented on the basis of a higher investment in education, extension and training with a view to: (a) building community awareness and sustaining interests in protection of environmental resources; (b) achieving better environmental management and outcomes; (c) building human capital embodying scientific knowledge and vocational skills; (d) valuing and enhancing complementarity between livelihood and conservation; and (e) empowerment of women.

4.2. Externality

A Pigovian tax is a tax applied to a market activity that is generating negative externalities. The tax is intended to correct an inefficient market outcome, and does so by being set equal to the negative externalities. The Pigovian externality framework provides a useful set of tools for analyzing the causes of unsustainable patterns of resource use and for formulating appropriate policy responses. Quiggin (2001) refers to the distinction between unilateral externalities, in which the actions of one party affect the welfare of another, and congestion externalities in which many users of a resource create mutual externalities. Quiggin argues that the analysis of congestion externalities raises theoretical difficulties that are not easily resolved within the externality framework, and that analysis using the externality approach is best confined to the case of unilateral externalities. The classic remedy for externality is the imposition of a Pigovian tax, designed to equate marginal private costs and marginal social costs. In practice, however, regulatory restrictions combined with a legal right to damages or injunctive reliefs commonly provide a more workable approach.

4.3 Property Rights

The central recommendation of the private property rights school was that environmental problems should be dealt with by the creation of secure, unambiguous and unattenuated property rights over environmental assets. Transactions costs were to be dealt with by allocating property rights to the party in the best position to manage a given environmental problem, a task that Coase (1960) and Posner (1972) felt was best handled by courts interpreting common law.

However, as Randall (1983) pointed out, these two prescriptions pull in opposite directions. If property rights are secure and unambiguous, they cannot be rearranged in the interests of efficiency. The tension between security and efficiency has emerged in many cases where policymakers have adopted a property rights solution to problems of unsustainable water use (Quiggin 2001; Tan and Quiggin 2004).

The limitations of the Coasian property rights analysis have led to a resurgence of interest in ideas of common property. Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop (1975) and Dahlman (1980) refuted Hardin's description of the open field system. This was followed by work, such as that of Jodha (1986) and Wade (1987) that described the actual operations of contemporary common property systems in less developed countries. The most comprehensive treatment of the issue is that of Ostrom (1990).

The concept of common property has proved useful in the analysis of traditional irrigation systems. In the Sri Lankan system examined by Mahendrarajah (1986), land is privately owned and operated, but irrigation works are common property, and access to water during periods of drought is collectively managed. Common property ideas have also been applied to more general environmental issues such as the management of air sheds and river systems.

4.3.1 Market based Options

Both externality and private property rights frameworks imply the need to 'get prices right'. Getting prices 'right' entails setting resource prices so that they approximately reflect their shadow prices. Prices of material

inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation equipment and other machinery have been brought closer to their true social costs through the removal of subsidies over the past two decades. The most pressing problems relate to valuing environmental resources such as groundwater. The market price of groundwater under conditions of open access is zero. Under these conditions, groundwater use exceeds the socially optimal level. To avoid overuse and wastage it is necessary to increase effective prices for groundwater. The effect would be to promote substitution of surface water for groundwater and to encourage the use of more water-efficient technology. An increase in the effective price of environmentally-generated inputs such as water would offset the prevailing bias towards environment-intensive technology.

4.3.2 Community Based Options

Conserving groundwater requires, amongst other things, that it be regarded as a communal resource. This entails the existence of adequately defined property rights. This may involve assigning greater control over groundwater resources to local communities. Effective conservation policy will also require the provision of targeted financial rewards and incentives to conservation values.

Historically, environmental conservation or protection of environmental resources in South Asia , China and Africa has been the domain of the state, and a regulatory approach based on bureaucratic rationality has been the dominant discourse. However, this approach is under considerable strain (Singh, 1995). Critics argue that state-based conservation commonly requires elimination of subsistence agriculture undertaken by members of local communities

The preservation of environmental resources can, however, impose high costs on local communities in low-income countries, even though in some circumstances they benefit economically from the conservation of natural environments. Each case must be assessed individually. Where engaging in conserving environmental resources would disadvantage a local community, social gains would exceed the loss of the local; all could gain if there were adequate compensation for loss from engaging in conservation.

5. Conclusion

Over a period of the last four decades, South Asian, Chinese and to a certain extent African agriculture has experienced significant intensification. The process of agricultural intensification due to a range of factors is both a cause and an effect of the extraordinary growth in groundwater irrigation. The livelihoods of a vast majority of the people in the region are critically dependent on the booming groundwater industry. However, as documented in this paper, the continued increase in groundwater-intensity of agriculture has caused significant damage to the physical environment and threatened the sustainability of agricultural production.

The problems arising from this process have their roots in economics, sociology, ecology and the environment. The central idea canvassed in this paper is that no single policy option or analytical framework can provide an adequate solution for the policy problems associated with irrigated agriculture and shared water resources. Rather it is necessary to adopt an eclectic analytical approach involving theoretical underpinnings of externalities, property rights, environmental and ecological economics and to employ both market and non-market instruments. These include: research and development, education on extension; input pricing; and community-based and property rights based solutions. This paper emphasizes the need for an integrated approach.


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