March 23, 2022

2022 World Water Day: WaterAid, Britain survey reveals enough groundwater in Africa

2022 World Water Day: WaterAid, Britain survey reveals enough groundwater in Africa

…as report debunks myth of Africa’s running out of water

By Gabriel Ewepu

ABUJA-AS Nigeria joins rest of the world to commemorate 2022 World Water Day, WaterAid and the British Geological Survey, BGS, Tuesday, revealed in a survey that most African countries have enough groundwater to tackle drought in five and 50 years to come.

This was contained in a statement issued by WaterAid Nigeria, and reads in part, “WaterAid and BGS produced a series of maps which chart current access to drinking water across Africa and drought resilience based on potential useable groundwater at national level.

“It reveals: Most countries in Africa have sufficient groundwater for people to not only survive but thrive – in some cases for more than 50 years; This includes Ethiopia and Madagascar – where only around half the population have clean water close to home – and large parts of Mali, Niger and Nigeria; 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 per cent of the long-term average recharge ,and most less than 10 per cent. This means groundwater could provide a buffer against climate change for many years to come, even in the unlikely event that it doesn’t rain.

However, according to the statement, gross underinvestment in services to get the water out of the ground and to those who need it most and untapped or poorly managed resources means millions of people don’t have enough safe, clean water to meet their daily needs, let alone face the impacts of the climate crisis.

“Groundwater: The world’s neglected defence against climate change is released by WaterAid and BGS today as Heads of State meet at the World Water Forum in Senegal, West Africa.

“Groundwater – which exists almost everywhere underground, in gaps within soil, sand and rock – has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives and be the world’s insurance policy against climate change.

“It could help communities cope not only with slow onset impacts like drought and irregular rainfall, but also provide resilience to rapid onset impacts like floods by ensuring safe water is available for all, including in schools and hospitals, according to the report.”

The Chief Executive of WaterAid in the UK, Tim Wainwright said, “Our findings debunk the myth that Africa is running out of water. But the tragedy is that millions of people on the continent still do not have enough clean water to drink.

“There are vast reserves of water right under people’s feet, many of which are replenished every year by rainfall and other surface water, but they can’t access it because services are chronically underfunded.

“Tapping into groundwater would ensure millions have access to safe, clean water no matter what the climate crisis throws at them.”

Also, the Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere, said: “The potential of groundwater can only be realised if we overcome the complex global problems around accessing it.

“Groundwater is an invisible resource, so tapping it, particularly in places where it is harder to get to, relies on knowledge about the geology beneath our feet. The quantity and quality of the groundwater also varies, and in some areas, we simply don’t know how much there is or its suitability.”

But the statement noted that for example, it is difficult to find suitable locations to drill boreholes in parts of Enugu State in Nigeria because the underground rocks are made mainly of clay, which doesn’t hold much water. This means you need to search for areas where the rock does hold water, like sandstone. But such exploration is expensive.

Pockets of shallow groundwater in Enugu can also be contaminated and only available for part of the year. By contrast, it is much easier to find suitable locations to drill boreholes in Jigawa State, Nigeria, as the rocks underground store large quantities of water.

Meanwhile, BGS Groundwater Resilience Lead, Professor Alan MacDonald, said: “Groundwater is nature’s water reservoir, and a key resource to help the world adapt to climate change.  It’s widely available, controlled by natural variation in geology, but is out of sight beneath our feet.

“To unlock the great potential of groundwater, we need the right investment in expertise to map groundwater, drill sustainable wells and find ways to maintain and manage water resources and services.”

Karimatu, 17, from Adamawa, Nigeria, who is featured in the report, wakes up at 6am every day to collect water from a nearby stream, making at least three trips before school. Karimatu would like to be a doctor but fetching water early in the mornings affects her schoolwork. “Getting a steady water supply will make me happy,” she told WaterAid.

The report also explains that while groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa is largely underused, in other parts of the world – mainly in south Asia – overuse is rife. This, along with a lack of regulation, insufficient expertise and investment, often leads to mismanagement, contamination and pollution – with potentially devastating consequences: There are hotspots within individual countries where high abstraction around cities (for example, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Nairobi in Kenya) or in highly populated areas (for example, some parts of Nigeria), that can lead to depleting local groundwater, particularly aquifers with low storage, such as granites or volcanic rocks. Despite this, groundwater storage could still act as a buffer for one to two years of drought in these areas.

In some areas, farming is responsible for up to 90 percent of all groundwater use. While crops flourish now, boreholesmay run dry meaning crops will be affected later and people resort to drinking unsafe water to survive. For example, in Pakistan,94% of pumped groundwater is for irrigation.

In other regions, groundwater is naturally contaminated with arsenic and fluoride which can lead to illness or even death. For example, in India, arsenic contamination affects the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and West Bengal in the east. Several districts of Odisha are affected with high fluoride, iron and salinity and parts of central and Southeast India also show higher levels of nitrate and iron contamination.

In both south Asia and Africa, groundwater is vulnerable to pollution whether it be from fertilisers and pesticides from intensive farming, toxic chemicals from poorly regulated industry or sewerage from poorly managed sanitation. For example, a recent survey of boreholes in Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi saw E. coli present in the water from 20 per cent of rural hand pumps, likely as a result of poorly sealed boreholes, allowing contaminated water from nearby toilets to drain into the pump intakes.

Groundwater: The world’s neglected defence against climate change emphasises the need to increase water and sanitation financing for marginalised communities through a fixed percentage of annual government budgets and increased international donor and private sector investment.

It also stresses the importance of agreeing at COP 27 that investment in responsible groundwater development and the knowledge, expertise, finance and institutional support this requires, is key to securing life-saving sustainable and safe water and sanitation for communities living on the frontline of the climate crisis.

One of the ways to achieve this is to invest in better mapping and monitoring of the Earth’s subsurface to determine where good-quality groundwater is not only available but also extractable in a sustainable and economical way, to unlock its full potential, WaterAid and BGS said.