All in all, as a purely socio-economic phenomenon, South Asia's groundwater irrigation boom has been an unalloyed success. By all accounts, it has served the purpose of a massive programme of strengthening rural livelihood. It has made the region food-secure at macro-level. It has done more to alleviate rural poverty than most public interventions expressly designed to that end. In scale and depth, its socio-economic impacts are comparable to some of the world's most successful development programmes such as the dairy cooperative movement of India that revolutionized India's dairy economy.
However, overall socio-ecological returns to the boom have long since been declining on the margin. In many regions, groundwater depletion that manifests in secular decline in water tables is beginning to take its toll. Pumping costs are rising; well failures and abandonment are evermore frequent. All the resource management challenges we outlined in Fig. 2.3 are in full play; and there are few regions left apart from pockets of the eastern Gangetic basin, where further groundwater development can be had more or less as a 'free lunch'.
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