Organisations and governments seek to invigorate a pan-African groundwater initiative

by Isaiah Esipisu at the 7th Africa Water Week, Gabon

More than 10 organisations and groundwater networks from across Africa have resolved to work closely with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) to invigorate a pan-African groundwater programme over the medium-term to demonstrate the benefits of a politically-connected pan-African approach.

This follows the establishment of the Africa Groundwater Commission (AGWC) under the auspices of AMCOW in 2008 as a political instrument to drive the groundwater agenda on the continent, but it failed to deliver its mandate due to political instabilities in some member countries.

However, given the importance of groundwater on the continent, UPGro in collaboration with AMCOW convened a daylong workshop alongside the 2018 Africa Water Week (AWW) in Libreville, Gabon for representatives from different networks, organisations, governments, UN, and the donor community to deliberate on invigoration of a strategic pan-African groundwater initiative.

“The idea of forming a Groundwater Commission was a good one, and the people who did it did a good job,” said Dr Callist Tindimugaya, the Commissioner for Water Resources Planning and Regulation at the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda and the UPGro Ambassador in East Africa. However, said Tindimugaya, “people (who formed it) were very ambitious, and they wanted to achieve a lot in a very short time,” he said.

Delegates keenly following the Groundwater Thursday event at the AWW.JPGDr Tindimugaya, from the Ministry of Water & Environment in Uganda, and other delegates, keenly following the Groundwater Thursday event at the AWW

He notes that there are several lessons that can be picked from what has happened in the past 10 years since the formation of the commission. “I think forming a commission without basics in place is synonymous to a baby beginning to run before it learns how to walk, and that is a lesson we must take home,” he said.

The team of experts, policy makers, financiers and the civil society in Libreville recognised that African population largely depend on groundwater, which makes a significant contribution to the security of water supplies for domestic and productive uses across the continent, providing a drinking water source for over 50% of the population and a buffer against climate change.

Kirsty Upton, one of the developers of the Africa Groundwater Atlas.JPGDr Kirsty Upton, one of the developers of the Africa Groundwater Atlas

“In the West Africa region, most countries (70 to 80%) largely rely on groundwater because they are within the Sahel, and therefore surface water is very scarce,” said Prof Moustapha Diene, a hydrologist at the University of Dakar, and the Manager – Africa Groundwater Network.

However, he said, “There is a huge gap in the management of groundwater resource in the entire region. Some gains have already been made, but there exists gaps especially in terms of saline water intrusion into groundwater aquifers and over-exploitation of the resource in some areas,” said Diene.

If well managed, the team in Libreville observed that groundwater can play a pivotal role in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, through use in the agricultural and industrial sectors and as part of improved, resilient and equitable WASH services, to make further and significant contributions to economic growth and poverty reduction.

As a result, the experts felt that the future development of groundwater resources in Africa will depend upon implementation of aquifer characterisation and understanding through research, conjunctive use of water resources and Managed Aquifer Recharge, and most importantly, management of trans-boundary aquifers and trans-boundary cooperation.

They further called for capacity strengthening within the water sector for sustainable groundwater management, groundwater and land-use planning, coastal aquifers management to avoid seawater intrusion and lastly, sharing of the groundwater knowledge.

So far, the British Geological Society in collaboration with UPGro has developed the first ever online based Africa Groundwater Atlas for knowledge sharing and it is a gateway to further information related to groundwater and hydrological understanding for 51 African countries.

The Atlas also consists of a searchable online database that so far catalogues nearly 7000 references for literature about groundwater in Africa. The Archive can be searched by themed keyword; by title and author; or geographically: either by country; or for more than 1500 georeferenced documents, by searching for their specific location on an interactive map. There are thousands of links to free-to-download full text documents and abstracts.

Going underground at the Africa Water Week

by Isaiah Esipisu at the 7th Africa Water Week, Gabon

Groundwater is one of the most important sources for drinking water, livestock water and irrigation in Africa, representing 15% of the continent’s renewable water resources, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

However, its hidden presence under the ground has left it largely under-valued and under-utilised both for social and economic gain. But even worse, scientists have confessed that very little studies have so far been done to unlock the potential of this scarce resource.

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“We do not know what we have because we have not done adequate studies yet. Some studies have been constrained by lack of adequate monitoring data, for example data for rainfall,” said Prof Daniel Olago, a Senior Geologists at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

“We also do not have very good data on river-flows, and how much they contribute to groundwater systems,” he said.

It is based on such understanding that UpGro, in collaboration with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) have decided to convene a daylong session at the 2018 Africa Water Week in Libreville, Gabon, to discuss issues related to groundwater in Africa.

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According to UNECA, groundwater constitute the most important buffer and reserve during surplus periods as well as a source of water for streams and/or direct withdrawals in times of shortage, given the changing climatic conditions.

The UN therefore reckons that groundwater management in Africa can be an essential component of climate change adaptation strategies.

“Renewable groundwater resources in Africa are underutilised, yet groundwater can play a major role in assisting farmers to increase food production and to overcome threats to food security if climate change leads to greater rainfall variability,” reports UNECA in a policy brief.

During the groundwater session at the 7th Africa Water Week, the conveners will take a deeper look at its contribution to Africa’s water security and exploration of aquifers as a key for water security on the continent.

There will also be some focus on operation of the Africa Groundwater Commission (AGWC), which was established in 2008, but 10 years down the line, it has not been as proactive as expected.

To find out more:

  1. Don’t miss Groundwater Thursday at AWW-7!
  2. General introduction to UPGro
  3. Background Paper: Groundwater’s Contribution to Water Security in Africa
  4. Background Paper: Experiences of Research into Use within UPGro
  5. Africa Groundwater Atlas