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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  August 2016  /  Contamination of groundwater in Indo-Gangetic Basin

Contamination of groundwater in Indo-Gangetic Basin

60% no longer drinkable

Contamination of groundwater in Indo-Gangetic Basin

The greatest threat to sustainable groundwater use in the Indo-Gangetic Basin is contamination rather than depletion, according to a study published online on 29 August in Nature Geoscience, co-authored by Professor Richard Taylor (UCL Geography), Dr. Mohammad Shamsudduha (UCL Geography/IRDR) and Dr. Willy Burgess (UCL Earth Sciences).

Ground-based observations of groundwater resources across the region by the British Geological Survey (BGS)-led study, supported by the UK (Department for International Development (DFID), reveal that over 60% of accessible groundwater is no longer drinkable or usable for irrigation because of high concentrations of arsenic or salt.

The Indo-Gangetic Basin accounts for 25% of global groundwater extraction, supporting the livelihoods and agricultural activities of more than 750 million people in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the past, satellite gravity measurements have indicated that groundwater levels are declining across the region as extraction for agriculture increases. Such relatively coarse observations, however, tend to overestimate depletion and do not consider groundwater quality.

The researchers, from UCL, the BGS, and research institutions throughout the region, drew on thousands of groundwater field measurements, combined with existing groundwater datasets, to reveal a diverse picture of groundwater changes across the Basin over the past decade. Groundwater levels are falling in 30% of the basin, particularly near major cities, but are stable or even increasing across the other 70%, due to recharge from leaky irrigation canals.

However, they also found that, for groundwater up to a depth of 200 metres, representing a volume 20 times greater than the combined annual flow of the Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers, more than 60% is contaminated by arsenic or salt.

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Image

Deep, handpump well, supplying freshwater in The Sundarbans of coastal Bangladesh


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