Breakthrough science and innovation

P. Vishwanathan (IWMI)

Taming floods by sending water underground

South Asia

Ninety-five per cent of all the people worldwide affected by floods and droughts live in Asia. The Ganges River Basin, in India and Bangladesh, is particularly hard hit. Here, around 400 million people live at the mercy of regular floods and droughts, the intensity of which is exacerbated by climate change.

During the rainy season, large volumes of excess water run off the Himalayan mountain range into the Ganges River, often causing great damage downstream. In drier times of the year, people face water shortages, made worse by groundwater extraction to support intensive agriculture.

To help deal with this variability, CCAFS has been working with experts at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to develop a means of capturing excess water during rainy periods and store it in natural aquifers underground.

P. Vishwanathan (IWMI)

The innovation – called the Underground Taming of Floods for Irrigation (UTFI) – was put into action in 2015 in a pilot project near Rampur, in Uttar Pradesh, India. The aim here was to revolutionize flood management while at the same time boosting groundwater stocks for dry season irrigation.

UTFI channels surplus surface water from flood‐prone rivers to a small reservoir, or ‘pond’. Deep wells, drilled into the floor of the pond, allow the water to quickly drain below ground, where it infiltrates the aquifer. This water can then be pumped back up again by farmers during the dry season so they can maintain or intensify their crop production.

“This is an exciting concept which has never really been done before and whose benefits go directly to local and wider communities. Putting [UTFI] into practice will save on the large funds spent each year on relief and restoration efforts of flood victims and on subsidies for groundwater extraction during the non‐rainy season. We hope our approach would tackle the root causes of the problem rather than the consequences.” Paul Pavelic, groundwater specialist at IWMI

From its beginnings in Uttar Pradesh, CCAFS, IWMI and partners aim to scale up UTFI, protecting lives and assets downstream, boosting agricultural productivity and helping poor communities deal with the increasing rainfall variability brought about by climate change.

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