Adaptation to persistent drought and groundwater depletion: Evidence from Karnataka

Principal Investigators: Ram Fishman (Tel Aviv University), David Blakeslee (NYU Abu Dhabi)
Research Team: Suraj Nair (IFMR LEAD), Suraj Jacob (IFMR LEAD)
LEAD Centre: Centre for Microfinance (CMF)
Focus Area: Environment and Climate Change
Project Geography: Karnataka
Status: Ongoing


Water stress is becoming a leading constraint on Indian agriculture. Groundwater resources, on which the country’s food production is critically dependent, are being depleted. Meanwhile, rainfall disruptions expected to result from climate change may already be underway, with dry spells and drought events becoming more frequent. The potential impacts of these events are dramatically visible in the semi-arid parts of Karnataka, where a persistent drought over the last 3-4 years, coupled with an extremely rapid depletion of the region’s hard rock aquifers, has left a clear imprint on the area’s conspicuously parched countryside. A multi-year drought is a rare event, more akin to the permanent shifts in precipitation that may result from climate change, and it is likely to gradually erode the effectiveness of traditional income-smoothing mechanisms, even if they are effective in dealing with short-term (annual) weather shocks.

This project, through the use of household surveys and high frequency rainfall data aims to investigate the combined impacts of the present drought and continuing groundwater depletion on income, labor force participation, investments in human capital and migration among rural households in Karnataka.