The fields were kept fertile at the expense of the groundwater tables, which were slowly depleted through unfettered irrigation. By the early 2000s, the aquifers that used to sit at about 25m (82ft) underground had sunk to a depth of more than 300m (984ft).
“Digging borewells that deep was not an option, it would have been too expensive,” says Trupti Jain, founder of the social enterprise Naireeta Services. Drought driven by water mismanagement and climate change rendered the land infertile for most of the year, she says, “so the farmers started to migrate to find other work, either as labourers on someone else’s land, or construction workers in cities”.
Water is declining around the world. Today, fresh water reserves are shared among more people than ever before, each consuming an increasing amount of water in their daily lives. Climate change is melting glaciers and intensive farming is depleting underground resources in some of the most populated areas of the world.
Water is not considered a major commodity – like oil or gold – but is one of the most valuable resources that sustain life on earth, says Marco Sanchez, deputy director of the agricultural development economics division within the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “Population growth, income growth and urbanisation are all increasing our consumption,” he says. “And there is also dietary change. For example, if people have greater incomes, they are able to eat more meat, and that has a [greater] water footprint.”