Says mismanagement puts millions of lives at risk

WaterAid’s report raises alarm over looming threat to world’s groundwater reserves

By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja

An international not-for-profit organization, WaterAid Nigeria, Saturday, released a new report raising the alarm over the looming threat to the world’s groundwater reserves.

The report said these reserves are relied upon by millions of people for their daily water supplies. This hidden resource provides a vital buffer against climate change, but is not clearly monitored and is gravely mismanaged, needlessly putting millions of lives at risk.

The report also indicated that hundreds of millions of people around the world, including millions in Nigeria, depend on groundwater for their daily needs, health, and livelihoods.

It is also the main source of water for food production and industry. Groundwater– Water that is found underground in gaps between soil, sand, and rock – is found almost everywhere, is tolerant to drought and so acts as a buffer in times of water scarcity.

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The report reads in part, “However, to planners, policymakers, and governments, groundwater is too often out of sight- out of mind, leaving it vulnerable to over-extraction, unregulated pollution, and unchecked contamination.”

According to WaterAid, the research was commissioned to find out issues of groundwater security and sustainability in five countries where it works including Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Nepal, and Nigeria, which were collective, and the research indicated that over 165 million people still lack access to clean water close to home.

Particularly, in Nigeria, 60 million people lack clean water close to home (WASH NORM, 2019), depending almost entirely on groundwater for domestic water supply, especially in rural areas.

However, the report indicated a key finding which revealed how unreliable data seriously impedes the effective management of groundwater in all five countries.

“In Nigeria, records are often on paper or in incompatible digital formats. Consequently, the government is making policies without adequate information on the current groundwater situation, meaning that problems cannot be identified and addressed before they become critical.

“Left unchecked, the lack of data will significantly limit the monitoring and evaluation of groundwater quantity and quality, meaning it can’t be relied on by the millions of people who depend on it for their daily water supply.

“The findings also show how a widespread lack of legal control over how much groundwater is extracted and by whom, leaves these vital reserves at high risk of exploitation”, it pointed out.

It further made it clear that in Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Nepal, there are only a few specific laws and policies for groundwater management, or existing regulation is not enforced.

It also warned that “Unless groundwater is protected, many communities risk not having enough water for their basic needs in the future, particularly as surface water sources may be altered through climate change. This chronic lack of enforced groundwater policies embeds the risk of over-exploitation and pollution.”

Meanwhile, the Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere, emphasized the need for the government and other stakeholders to protect groundwater against impacts of climate change based on its strategic importance to the populace.

“Groundwater provides much-needed protection against the impacts of climate change, acting as a buffer to changing water availability and quality in many parts of the world.

“The climate clock is ticking and if efforts are not made to better-understand, value and protect this vital resource, making it a central feature of climate change adaptation strategies, then we face a very bleak future”, Mere stated.

Also, the author of the report and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist, Jude Cobbing, decried issues of lack of data and lack of clear sustainability plans and policies to guarantee the quality of groundwaters.

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“Specific problems around local groundwater quality, lack of data, and concerns around sustainability can also be more easily addressed with this new information. As demand on water resources increases alongside growing climate uncertainty, this kind of collaborative, transdisciplinary research on groundwater resources in the developing world has never been more important”, Cobbing said.

The HSBC Water Programme and the new report; The HSBC Water Programme, launched in 2012, was a collaborative partnership with Earthwatch, WaterAid, and WWF. The eight-year US$150 million programme has provided 1.72 million people with clean water, over 2.7 million with sanitation, and 3.5 million with hygiene education in six countries – Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Ghana, and Nigeria. The Water Security Research Report was undertaken as part of WaterAid Nigeria’s contribution to the programme.

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 27 million people with clean water and 27 million people with decent toilets.

According to WaterAid Nigeria, in Nigeria only nine per cent of the population have access to combined water, sanitation, and hygiene services; 60 million people (30 per cent of the population) lack access to clean water;      112 million people (56 per cent of the population) lack decent toilets; 46 million people (23 per cent of the population) practice open defecation;167 million people (84 per cent of the population) lack basic handwashing facilities; Only 14 per cent of schools have combined water, sanitation, and hygiene services; Only seven per cent of healthcare facilities have combined water, sanitation, and hygiene services; and only 14 per cent of parks and markets have combined water, sanitation and hygiene services.



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