ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Wells and Well-being in South India

Gender Dimensions of Groundwater Dependence

Groundwater has played a pivotal role in transforming the rural agrarian landscape, augmenting rural livelihoods and improving household well-being. What role does the growing prevalence and importance of groundwater play in intra-household relations, particularly the gendered divisions of labour and use of assets? The impacts of failed borewells on gendered vulnerabilities, identities and well-being have been explored. Research indicates that groundwater usage in semi-arid regions has increased the short-term resilience of communities in the region, but has simultaneously increased gendered risks, especially for smallholders, by promoting unsustainable livelihood trends and risky coping strategies to groundwater shortages.

This study was carried out under the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions project, one of the four research programmes under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia, funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development and the International Development Research Centre, Canada. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors alone.

Over the last 50 years, groundwater has emerged as the backbone of irrigated agriculture in India. In 2010, groundwater irrigated nearly 27 million hectares of land compared to 21 million hectares irrigated by surface water sources (Mukherji et al 2013). Groundwater usage is growing at an unprecedented rate; it is estimated that one in every four rural households owns at least one groundwater irrigation structure (Shah 2009).

Groundwater development has had manifold benefits for India’s agricultural sector. It has been credited with increasing farm incomes and well-being by increasing productivity (Roy and Shah 2002; Sekhri 2014). On the flipside, it has resulted in chronic depletion in quality and quantity of the resource (Gleeson et al 2010). Presently, groundwater irrigation is at an impasse. It has cemented its vital position in drought-proofing agriculture. However, the exploitation of the resource for irrigation has resulted in critical groundwater levels, particularly in already water-stressed regions (Kumar and Singh 2008; Livingston 2009). The number of irrigation blocks in India that have reported overexploited groundwater levels has grown at an alarming rate of nearly 5.5% per year (Gandhi and Namboodiri 2009). Increased well proliferation has led to aquifer contamination and salinisation, alongside increased costs of pumping. The problem is particularly severe in arid and semi-arid regions, where communities depend on groundwater for both domestic and agricultural purposes.

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Updated On : 3rd May, 2018
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