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Groundwater At The Heart Of The Water Security Equation

PRETORIA, South Africa 22th March, 2022 (AEJ) - Groundwater is invisible and yet its impact is visible everywhere – this infinite resource provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide. About 40% of water for irrigated agriculture and about 1/3 of water required for industry is from groundwater resources. Despite these impressive facts, groundwater remains invisible and less prominent compared to surface water.

This year, 2022, World Water Day puts groundwater resources in the spotlight as the day is celebrated under the theme: “Groundwater – making the invisible visible”. As we celebrate World Water Day, it is important that we pause and ask ourselves this question, “what are we doing to ensure the sustainable development and management of this precious resource or are we doing enough?”

Groundwater plays a critical role in providing water and food security and improving livelihoods of many in the SADC region, especially vulnerable communities in the rural areas and in the poor urban settlements.

“With the worsening impacts of climate change, we need to recognize that groundwater could be a catalyst for economic and social development in the SADC region. Furthermore, groundwater could play a significant role in sustainable development and building resilience - if sustainably developed and managed” says Eng. James Sauramba, SADC-GMI Executive Director.

Women uses ground water for horticulture farming

The Sustainable Development Goal 61 underpins ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. If sustainably developed, groundwater could be instrumental in the achievement of SDG 6 as set out in the United Nations agenda 2030.

Eng. Sauramba continues to say, as climate change impacts intensify and many people turn to groundwater for their primary water supply, it becomes even more critical that we work together to sustainably manage this precious resource.

Used sustainably, groundwater could provide potable water for the estimated 40% of the SADC region’s estimated 345 million inhabitants that currently lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation services. It could also alleviate pressure on the region’s surface water and help communities endure the nowadays very frequent and severe dry spells.

Communication pertaining to groundwater related issues is key to making groundwater visible. Stakeholder participation, shared knowledge, and informed decision-making are integral cornerstones of good water governance and can never be over- emphasized. It is important that we seek innovative ways to create awareness and communicate groundwater. Although some progress has been achieved in this area in the last five years, more still needs to be accomplished.

The SADC region’s estimated current extraction rates of around 2,500 m3 per capita per year represent only 1.5% of the renewable groundwater resources available. This means that groundwater remains largely untapped at a time when the gap between water demand and availability is growing drastically.

The earth’s population of nearly 8 billion in 2020 is expected to reach 11 billion by 2100. Humans will have to learn to produce sufficient food without destroying the soil, water, and climate. This has been dubbed the greatest challenge humanity has faced. Sustainable management of groundwater is at the heart of the solution. USAID-Resilient Waters Program and SADC-GMI Collaboration

SADC-GMI and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Resilient Waters Program, have been collaborating over the last two years to unlock the value of groundwater in enhancing water security in the SADC region through the conjunctive development and management of surface and groundwater resources. The aggravating water security challenges brought about by the dwindling surface water resources has turned attention to the traditionally invisible ‘twin’, groundwater, that is more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

However, groundwater is still very much less understood due to its underground occurrence. The collaboration between SADC-GMI and the USAID Resilient Waters Program in the last two years therefore sought to create an enabling policy, legal and institutional environment for the sustainable conjunctive development and management of surface and groundwater resources within the four riparian Member countries of the Limpopo River Basin, namely, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This work entails the participatory development of roadmaps, which are strategic documents to address the gaps identified in Policy, Legal and Institutional (PLI) frameworks for groundwater management in the four riparian states respectively.

In acknowledging the dispersed occurrence of groundwater in diverse community level contexts, and the potential risks of gender and social exclusion in the access and management of groundwater resources, the SADC-GMI/ USAID Resilient Waters Program collaboration also has a component on Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI). This will enhance SADC-GMI’s capacity and compliance with the requirements within the groundwater sector.

Women captured at Sunuzi Irrigation Scheme in eastern part Malawi

To date, a SADC-GMI GESI Mainstreaming Strategy and several ancillary instruments are at advanced stages of development. This collaboration, which is set to make Groundwater, the Invisible Resource Visible, is earmarked to run until December 2022.

The author Eng James Sauramba is Executive Director of the SADC Groundwater Management Institute.

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James Sauramba
The author is an external correpondent for AEJ Malawi

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