Approximately 70% of groundwater withdrawals are utilized for agricultural purposes, frequently due to inadequacy of above-ground water sources.

According to a new United Nations research, some parts of India’s Indo-Gangetic basin have already reached the tipping point for groundwater depletion, and the country’s whole northwest region is expected to face critically low groundwater supplies by 2025.

Published by the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), the report titled “Interconnected Disaster Risks Report 2023” emphasizes that six environmental tipping points are rapidly approaching: accelerating extinctions, groundwater depletion, melting mountain glaciers, space debris, unbearable heat, and an uninsurable future.

Environmental tipping points are crucial distances beyond which sudden and frequently irreversible changes take place in Earth’s systems, resulting in significant and occasionally disastrous changes to ecosystems, climate patterns, and the environment as a whole.

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Approximately 70% of groundwater withdrawals are utilised for agricultural purposes, frequently due to inadequacy of above-ground water sources. Aquifers are essential for reducing agricultural losses from drought, a problem that is predicted to get worse as a result of climate change.

The aquifers themselves, the research cautions, are getting close to a tipping point. The world’s main aquifers are losing more than half of their capacity more quickly than nature can refill them. Farmers may lose access to water when the water table drops below a level that is reachable by current wells, endangering entire food production systems.

The tipping point for groundwater risk has already been reached by some nations, like Saudi Arabia, while it is imminent for others, like India.

“India uses more groundwater globally than both China and the United States do combined. With the states of Punjab and Haryana producing 50% of the nation’s rice supply and 85% of its wheat reserves, northwest India provides food for the country’s expanding 1.4 billion inhabitants.

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The study notes that by 2025, “the northwest region as a whole is predicted to experience critically low groundwater availability,” with 78% of Punjab’s wells being deemed overexploited.

Lead author and senior expert at UNU-EHS Jack O’Connor stated, “We will already start to feel the repercussions as we get closer to these tipping points. Once crossed, returning will be challenging. Our study can assist us in identifying potential hazards, their root causes, and the immediate actions needed to prevent them.”