A joint report by the British Geological Survey and UK-based NGO, Water Aid, released on World Water Day has positioned groundwater as a neglected defence against climate change.
The research for the report, undertaken by the British Geological Survey, found that there is enough groundwater under the African continent for most countries to survive at least five years of drought, and in some cases, more than 50 years.
These statistics, Water Aid argues, challenge the commonly held perception that Africa is running out of water. The calculation is based on an assumption that each person on the continent would utilise some 130 litres of domestic water use a day for domestic uses, i.e. for cooking and personal and household hygiene.
In addition, the authors argue, as groundwater is below the surface, it is more resilient to extreme weather than surface water resources such as lakes, rivers, streams and dams – and is largely protected from evaporation and less susceptible to pollution.
The position taken by Water Aid is that there is structural underinvestment in the exploitation of groundwater resources for key water services. Every African country south of the Sahara could supply 130 litres of drinking water per capita per day from groundwater without using more than 25% of the long-term average recharge, and most less than 10%.
The authors recognise that there are areas where groundwater is being overexploited. They note the vulnerability of groundwater to pollution from fertilisers and pesticides in rural areas and industrial and household pollution in urban areas. Similarly, they note the over-exploitation of groundwater for agricultural purposes in some areas of the world and acknowledge stresses on groundwater resources in the vicinity of major cities such as Addis Ababa or Nairobi.
To tap groundwater’s full potential, they argue, further study of groundwater resources is needed, and similarly, there is the need for effective legislation and good governance to protect available groundwater resources.