First Meeting of the Global Water Analysis Laboratory Network

Image: IAEA

28 Jun 2024 by The Water Diplomat

GloWAL Network

The first coordination meeting of the Global Water Analysis Laboratory Network (GloWAL) took place in Vienna between the 18th and 20th of June 2024. This network was launched in March 2023 during the UN 2023 water conference to support the global data gathering that is needed for the achievement of national and global water goals and targets. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which leads the initiative, UN member states consistently identify data and analysis as a key element in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) and its targets, as well as the goals of the Water Action Decade. 

The GloWAL meeting drew a total of 94 participants from 54 Member States as well as UN agencies such as UNESCO, WMO, UNEP, UNICEF, and UNITAR. Statements were made by representatives of Algeria, Australia, El Salvador, Ghana, Kuwait, Paraguay, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Togo, Türkiye, and the U.S.A.

The IAEA states that “the availability of laboratory services capable of generating reliable data in a timely manner is the cornerstone of any country's capacity to better understand and manage their water resources and to plan, implement and interrogate actions that support national water governance and resilience of supply”. GloWAL was therefore launched as a support mechanism to support countries in becoming independent in national data generation, to support more effective water resources management, and to reduce technical gaps between high income and low-income countries. Following the first coordination meeting, an implementation strategy will be developed which can be expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2024. This strategy will provide the road map for technical cooperation, which includes support on monitoring methodologies as well as capacity building such as a Ph.D programme for researchers interested in applying these tools in an applied environment. 

Nuclear science plays an important part in the monitoring of both water quality and quantity. By tracking isotopes – which are distinct forms or ‘species’ of elements that have a different number of neutrons in the nucleus of the atom – it is possible to trace the movement of water throughout the hydrological cycle, from precipitation, through surface runoff and evaporation, to the flow of surface water and groundwater. This enables hydrologists to track water flows both on the surface and under the earth’s surface.

The isotopes act as markers in the water and enable scientists to draw conclusions about the origins of water flows, the direction and speed of flows, the amount of time that water is stored in a particular location, and the speed with which groundwater is renewed. It is often challenging to accurately estimate groundwater flows and sustainable extraction rates, and isotope chemistry plays a large part in providing the data needed for sustainable groundwater management. The IAEA has provided capacity building in Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo since 2012 to assist in the surveying of five major transboundary aquifer systems in West Africa, i.e. the the Iullemeden Aquifer System, the Liptako-Gourma-Upper Volta System, the Senegalo-Mauritanian Basin, the Lake Chad Basin and the Taoudeni Basin.

The IAEA has a long track record of supporting the gathering and analysis of water samples, helping to understand the water cycle both globally and locally. Recently, as reported in The Water Diplomat, the IAEA has played a key role internationally in monitoring and sharing the data related to the release of pre-treated water from storage facilities at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan. This took place amid concerns voiced by countries such as China about the consequences of releasing water into the ocean for international safety. The public availability of objective and reliable information on water quality is therefore also of central importance to water diplomacy.  

An important first action for the GloWAL Network is to conduct a baseline survey of laboratory capacity in countries around the globe. The survey is targeted at laboratories with isotope analysis capacity. If you are interested in contributing to this survey please contact the GloWAL Network to be registered.