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Groundwater pollution and contamination: The case of India and neighbouring countries

Satish Kumar, PhD

IIT(ISM) Dhanbad

Groundwater pollution and contamination are pressing environmental issues in India and its neighbouring countries, posing significant risks to human health and ecosystems. In India, groundwater is a critical source of drinking water and irrigation, but its quality is threatened by various contaminants. High levels of fluoride, arsenic, nitrate, and heavy metals have been detected in several states, with fluoride and arsenic being particularly prevalent, affecting millions of people across the country. Agricultural practices contribute to non-point source pollution, with fertilizers and pesticides leaching into the groundwater. Industrial effluents and urban waste further exacerbate the situation, introducing additional toxins. The Central Groundwater Authority has been established to regulate and manage groundwater resources, but the challenge remains immense due to the scale of contamination and the over-extraction of this vital resource. Efforts such as the Atal Bhujal Yojana and Jal Shakti Abhiyan aim to address these issues through sustainable water resource management and conservation practices. Groundwater pollution and contamination are significant environmental challenges in India and some neighbouring countries. Here are some key aspects of the issue:


Agricultural Practices: In India and neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, agriculture is a dominant sector. Excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides in agriculture can lead to contamination of groundwater through leaching. This contamination poses risks to human health and ecosystems.


Industrial Pollution: Rapid industrialisation in India and neighbouring countries has led to the discharge of industrial effluents containing heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and other pollutants into groundwater sources. Improper disposal practices and inadequate regulation contribute to groundwater pollution from industrial activities.


Urbanisation: Urban areas in India and neighbouring countries face challenges related to inadequate sewage treatment and waste management infrastructure. Untreated sewage and solid waste can contaminate groundwater sources, particularly in densely populated urban areas where infrastructure development has not kept pace with population growth.


Arsenic and Fluoride Contamination: In parts of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, naturally occurring contaminants such as arsenic and fluoride pose significant threats to groundwater quality. High concentrations of arsenic and fluoride in groundwater can cause serious health problems, including arsenicosis and dental fluorosis, respectively.


Over-Extraction: Over-extraction of groundwater for irrigation, drinking water supply, and industrial use is a widespread issue in India and neighboring countries. Groundwater depletion can exacerbate contamination problems by drawing pollutants deeper into aquifers and increasing the concentration of contaminants in remaining groundwater reserves.


Transboundary Issues: Many rivers and aquifers in South Asia are shared by multiple countries, leading to transboundary groundwater management challenges. Disputes over water use, pollution, and resource management can strain diplomatic relations and hinder collaborative efforts to address groundwater contamination.


Lack of Regulation and Enforcement: Weak regulatory frameworks and inadequate enforcement of environmental laws contribute to groundwater pollution and contamination in India and neighboring countries. Limited monitoring and data collection further hinder efforts to assess and mitigate the impacts of pollution on groundwater resources.


Addressing groundwater pollution and contamination in India and neighboring countries requires coordinated efforts at the local, national, and regional levels. This includes implementing stringent regulations, investing in pollution prevention and control measures, promoting sustainable agricultural and industrial practices, improving wastewater treatment infrastructure, and fostering international cooperation on transboundary water management issues.

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