India’s dangerous ‘food bubble’

Grain production is up, but wells are going dry from the unsustainable use of irrigation water.

In recent years about 27 million wells have been drilled, chasing water tables downward in every Indian state. Even the typically conservative World Bank warned in 2005 that 15% of India’s food was being produced by overpumping groundwater. The situation has not improved, meaning that about 190 million Indians are being fed using water that cannot be sustained. This means that the dietary foundation for about 190 million people could disappear with little warning.

What India is experiencing is a “food bubble”: an increase in food production based on the unsustainable use of irrigation water. And this is happening in a country where 43% of children under age 5 are underweight. A survey for Save the Children found that children in 1 out of 4 families experience “foodless days” — days where they do not eat at all. Almost half subsist on just one staple food, thus missing vital nutrients that come in a diversified diet.

Although poverty has been reduced for some, two-thirds of the population still live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. And the population is growing by nearly 30 million every two years, equal to adding another Canada to the number of people to feed. Within 20 years, India’s population is expected to hit 1.5 billion, surpassing China.

To feed all those mouths, the government needs to go beyond the revamped food distribution program laid out in the Food Security Act signed into law in September. Averting a sudden and devastating collapse of the food bubble will require efforts to address the underlying threats to India’s food system. This involves ramping up initiatives in health, family planning and education to put the brakes on population growth. It also means rethinking energy and transportation policies to reduce India’s contribution to climate change. It is incredibly shortsighted to be building coal-fired power plants in a country where climate change threatens to worsen water shortages.

Full article: India’s dangerous ‘food bubble’ (LA Times)

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