India: When cities expand too rapidly

May 13, 2016
Bouchra Ouatik

With more than 1.2 billion inhabitants, the population of India is continually growing, and it’s transforming the country as a result. “The climate is not the only thing changing here. Everything changes!” says Veena Srinivasan, socio-hydrologist at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), based in Bangalore, a city of four million people located in southern India. The scientist’s team studies how different factors, including climate, overpopulation, and pollution, affect the area’s access to water, which is drawn from the Arkavathy River Basin.

“If you walk around Bangalore,” she continues, “the first thing you notice is how much everything is expanding – roads, buildings, everything.” As a result, the inhabitants must gradually change their way of life. “No one wants to stay in agriculture because it's easier to find work in the city,” explains Srinivasan. “Those who remain farmers are turning to raising eucalyptus, even though it requires them to dig deeper and deeper wells.”

The problem is this: in both the city and the countryside, the demand for water continually grows while the water table is being depleted. To get a handle on the situation, the researchers set themselves the goal of raising the farmers’ awareness of water management. “For example, we teach them how to measure groundwater levels,” says Srinivasan.

This is not the only issue. The Bangalore region is also home to several motor vehicle construction, textile, and electronics factories, which not only use huge amounts of water, but also release their wastewater containing heavy metal content into basins used for agricultural production. “There are regulations but they aren’t enforced,” Srinivasan says sadly.

By studying the various factors that threaten the reserves of potable water, the ATREE research team intends to give local governments precise data so that they will be encouraged to better regulate water use. “The current situation is worrying,” says Srinivasan. “The risk we are actually running is that we will deplete our groundwater reserves.” The researcher insists that climate change should not be studied in isolation because it is only one piece of a giant puzzle.

The original French version of this article was published in the December 2015 issue of Québec Science.