Climate change impacts on the water resources of the Ganges basin - Grantham Briefing Note 6

Topics: Earth systems science
Type: Briefing paper
Publication date: April 2017



Authors: Dr Simon Moulds, Dr Jimmy O’Keeffe, Dr Wouter Buytaert and Dr Ana Mijic

Hindu pilgrims take holy bath in the Ganges river


  • The South Asian monsoon, which supplies 80% of India’s total annual rainfall, shows increasing variability linked to climate and land cover change, and to increased aerosols levels.
  • Groundwater is an essential resource for food production, drinking water and acts as a buffer to climate variability, yet in many regions, especially in north-west India, this resource is under threat.
  • Increased groundwater use since the 1950s in conjunction with more variable monsoons has led to increased strain on water resources, in terms of quality and quantity of water available.
  • Guaranteed procurement prices, subsidised energy for groundwater irrigation and farmers’ resistance to change contribute collectively to problems in securing future water resources.
  • New policies to promote solar pumps, rural electrification and energy subsidies, along with suitable water use and management practices would increase food production in affected regions, reduce the pressure on small and marginal farmers, and promote social and economic welfare.
  • There is a need to ration and control energy subsidies and solar pumps to prevent over-exploitation of groundwater resources. The Jyotigram scheme is promising, but local hydrological and socioeconomic conditions need to be considered.
  • Careful use of both surface and groundwater, and managed aquifer recharge can help maintain the region’s water resources. Promoting the implementation of community-level storage schemes may encourage farmers to manage groundwater as a shared resource, rather than as private property.


India’s green revolution, initiated in the mid-1960s to achieve food security for its growing population, was characterised by the introduction of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties combined with increasing use of fertilisers, pest-control and agricultural machinery. Irrigation, which provides a buffer against intra-seasonal monsoon variability, and allows farmers to grow crops in the dry winter season, has played a central role in the resulting productivity gains.

The epicentre of the green revolution was the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains in northern India, particularly the states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

The green revolution enabled India to become self-sufficient in food production. It has supported the livelihoods of millions, while reducing the incidence of rural poverty.

Today, more than 60% of India’s working population is employed in the agricultural sector. Agriculture contributes around 18% to India’s gross domestic product and supplies more than 70% of its exports.

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