Conclusions

Many of the problems of groundwater management may seem insurmountable. However, paradigms for their solution are being articulated. These range from community management approaches (see Schlager, Chapter 7; and Sakthivadivel, Chapter10, this volume) hinging on local initiatives, social norms and informal agreements, to more formalized laws and associated formal rights and regulations within and outside the groundwater sector (see Kemper, Chapter 8; and Shah, Chapter 11, this volume), to a focus not on resource management itself but rather to people's adaptive ability to overcome stress caused by groundwater decline and degradation (see Moench, Chapter 9; and Mudrakartha, Chapter 12, this volume) and turn today's groundwater use into an opportunity for tomorrow's improved livelihood.

In considering our options for sustainably managing groundwater in the future, two key points should be remembered. First, it is as important to consider the socio-economic and sociopolitical characteristics of any groundwater-using society as the physical characteristics of groundwater resources in any proposed management solutions. A solution for places with large numbers of small farmers may be inappropriate for other locations with small numbers of large farmers and vice versa. Similarly, that which might work in a country with a strong central government and significant financial resources for enforcing regulations may work less well in a country where political power is more diffuse or financial resources are scarce. Second, the 'groundwater revolution' has had a short history. The development of institutions for resource management in general and for a complicated, often 'invisible', resource like groundwater can be expected to take time and experimentation. The initial growth in agricultural groundwater use has brought benefits to millions, perhaps billions, of farmers and consumers around the world. The goal now is to ensure that those benefits continue into the future as we shift the focus from groundwater development to long-term groundwater management. Although some opportunities have perhaps already been lost, there is still time to learn from experiences around the world on how to proceed, provided increased focus, awareness and political will is exercised.

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