The Urgent Need for Groundwater Governance: Role of Local Communities

While the groundwater is drawn to unsustainable levels at a global level, can local communities provide a solution to restore depleting water table? Hiwre Bazar is a model village in India known for its water restoring management. I analyze the following article, ‘Hiwre Bazar- a village with 54 millionaires’ and point out strengths and weaknesses of its central arguments to seek possible ways of ensuring groundwater management at a local level.

Water from 21 of world’s 37 large aquifers is drawn to unsustainable levels. As 80% of world’s fresh water usage is in growing crops, increasing pressure on aquifers has posed a serious threat to world’s food security. Also, as groundwater and surface water are interdependent, rapid extraction from aquifers has increased threats of international water conflicts (60% of surface freshwater demands are fulfilled by basins of the rivers which either cross or share international boundaries).There is, therefore, an urgent need for groundwater governance.

Ground Water governance would mean a sustainable use of groundwater resources through an institutional and regulatory framework. Currently, its failure on a global level is an urgent policy level challenge facing the world today. `

Amidst this context, I read an article which uses a case study of Hiwre Bazar village in Western India which shows how people-centered watershed development could be used to recharge groundwater table. According to me, following are the key strengths of its central arguments.

Participatory Institutional Framework:

I believe pro-active community participation as illustrated in the article is significant to ensure permanent stakeholder engagement and adequate leadership required for the sustainability of groundwater management.

Multi-Dimensional Analysis:

In the article, constructing watershed structures has addressed multiple needs of the community i.e. recovering land productivity, augmenting agriculture growth, improving livestock and mitigating distress migration. So, I found the approach very significant as it simultaneously focused on empowering the village community by pulling them out of vicious poverty cycle.

The intersection of state priorities with community interests:

Feasibility of the proposal has been ensured by aligning public funds, under Employment Guarantee Scheme, for the required construction of watershed structures. This partnership of civil society with state administration would increase political commitment to the cause of groundwater governance.

However, drawing from my personal experiences of resolving water crises in a dry region of Central India, I believe possible challenges need to be confronted to make it adaptable to other socio-economic contexts.

Challenges of Power Dynamics:

Mutual clashes among the beneficiaries due to existing power dynamics in the region may hamper equitable distribution of the groundwater. Therefore, focus on the capacity of the community is a pre-requisite. In absence of concerted efforts on this aspect, the proposed solution in the article runs under a risk of promoting oligarchy amongst the beneficiaries.

Collaboration with Surrounding Regions Required:

In this article, the proposed solution is limited to the jurisdiction of a single village. But groundwater aquifers are interconnected. So, factors like the extent of groundwater extraction and exploitation of surface water sources in the nearby villages will also affect groundwater availability of a region. Therefore, instead of restricting groundwater management to a single village an integrated approach to collaboratively engage other villages and stakeholders should be encouraged.

Alternate Strategies for Augmenting Income Generation Required :

It may take several years for the degraded land to regain its fertility or improve agricultural yield using watershed management practice. So, it may become challenging to sustain the momentum of the community without any immediate benefits of the plan. So, for the overall success of the watershed management model, there would be a need to include alternate income generating strategies to overcome the lean transitional phase.

So, although I believe that proposed community-led watershed management can provide a strong foundation to groundwater governance, it would be successful only if power dynamics in the given context are thoughtfully managed and eventually overcome.

Niti Deoliya


  1. Article Analyzed:–a-village-with-54-millionaires-4039

Author: GEN