World’s groundwater resources are suffering from poor governance, experts say

Jun 19, 2012

2.5 billion people worldwide depend solely on groundwater resources to satisfy their daily needs for water and hundreds of millions of farmers rely on groundwater to sustain their livelihoods and contribute to food security for so many others. Yet, according to experts, most if not all aquifers are not being sustainably or equitably managed to conserve and protect these vital freshwater resources.

The lack of effective governance is cited as one of the main causes of groundwater depletion, aquifer pollution and possibly inequitable allocation. To reverse this worrying trend and close the governance gap, international experts and stakeholders are meeting in Nairobi for the 2nd Regional Consultation of the Groundwater Governance Project to discuss regional priorities and needs and feed in a Global Groundwater Governance Diagnostic. This diagnostic will serve as a basis for a Global Framework of Action to promote good groundwater governance practices.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of the meeting, Alice Aureli, Senior Programme Specialist at the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme, noted that formulating good water governance strategies is needed to ensure the survival of the planet.
‘We are currently faced with unprecedented environmental and global challenges - population growth - that is expected to level at 9 billion people within four decades, requiring a doubling of food production in three decades, and adequate energy for basic needs. Superimposed on these global drivers we have the additional risks generated by climate change, biodiversity loss and the limits to natural resources. These risks include hydrological extremes that can lead to floods and severe droughts. In both cases, formulating good water governance strategies is pivotal for ensuring the survival of the planet,’ said Dr. Aureli.
Groundwater is the source for nearly half of all drinking water in the world and around 43% of all water effectively consumed in irrigation. In addition, aquifers offer an essential buffer to populations in dry regions by providing a reliable source of water even during long periods without rainfall. Additionally, groundwater contributes to sustain many different types of eco-systems upon which people depend.
However the governance of the world’s groundwater resources is still in its infancy. Decision processes concerning their management and their use are often poorly informed, leading to patterns of use that cannot be sustained. Groundwater governance is even more complicated when the resources are shared across border. In Africa alone there are more than 40 transboundary aquifers [source:].
The Government of Kenya, which is hosting the meeting, said that while the country is still considered a water-scarce country with only water per capita of about 647m3 per year, studies are showing that Kenya has up to 60 billion cubic metres of groundwater potential that needs to be located.
‘Groundwater’s advantages are numerous – its occurrence in many places, the speed with which it can be developed, the relatively low capital cost of development, its drought resilience and its ability to meet water needs on demand – make it a critical component in rural water supply and for small tows as well as domestic water, irrigation, industry and commercial uses,’ stated Kenya’s Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Hon. Fednand Waititu.
‘We need to stop looking at groundwater only in emergency situations and as a last resort resource. This is a narrow view that needs to be addressed and reversed in order to fully apply the principles of IWRM. The Sub-Saharan region faces several challenges, including poor understanding of groundwater regimes and poor and inadequate data and information. I hope that this very important regional meeting will outline practical solutions to address the unique groundwater challenges facing our region’, said Eng. David Stower, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation of Kenya.
The African regional consultation, the second consultation out of five foreseen by the Groundwater Governance Project is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya on 29‐31 May 2012. On this occasion, over a hundred prominent African experts and key local stakeholders will identify specific regional characteristics, priorities, visions, gaps and challenges to contribute to the Global Groundwater Governance Diagnostic.
The Diagnostic is the first milestone in the elaboration of a global Framework of Action. It will provide the indispensable technical basis for the visioning process by compiling the best available and up‐to‐date scientific knowledge on groundwater resources and their governance.
The regional consultations offer an opportunity for an unprecedented interdisciplinary dialogue among local policy‐makers and stakeholders to share regional priorities in groundwater governance.
The “Groundwater Governance: a Global Framework for Country Action” project was initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank and the International Hydrological Association (IAH) to address emerging global concerns on groundwater resources management. It is a 3‐year initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The overall objective of the project is to increase the awareness of the paramount importance of sound groundwater resources management to tackle the global water crisis. The project intends to develop a global Framework of Action consisting of a set of effective governance tools for policy‐makers and stakeholders including policy options, laws, regulations and customary practices.

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