United Nations World Water Development Report 2022: Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible – World
New Report: Is the Solution to the Water Crisis Lurking Beneath Our Feet?
Groundwater accounts for 99% of all liquid fresh water on Earth. However, this natural resource is often poorly known and therefore undervalued, poorly managed or even abused. According to the latest edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report published by UNESCO, the vast potential of groundwater and the need to manage it sustainably can no longer be ignored.
March 21, 2022
Today, UNESCO, on behalf of UN-Water, launches the latest edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report, entitled “Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible” during the opening ceremony of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar, Senegal. The authors call on states to commit to developing adequate and effective groundwater management and governance policies to address current and future water crises around the world. Groundwater currently provides half of the volume of water withdrawn for domestic purposes by the world’s population, including drinking water for the vast majority of the rural population who do not receive their water through public or private, and about 25% of all water used for irrigation.
Globally, water consumption is expected to increase by approximately 1% per year over the next 30 years. Our overall dependence on groundwater is expected to increase as surface water availability becomes increasingly limited due to climate change.
Huge social, economic and environmental benefits and opportunities
Groundwater quality is generally good, meaning it can be used safely and cheaply, without requiring advanced levels of treatment. Groundwater is often the most cost effective way to provide a secure water supply to rural villages.
Some regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, for example, hold substantial amounts of non-renewable groundwater that can be extracted in order to maintain water security. However, consideration for future generations and for the economic, financial and environmental aspects of storage depletion should not be overlooked.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the opportunities offered by vast aquifers remain largely under-exploited. Only 3% of agricultural land is equipped for irrigation, and only 5% of this area uses groundwater, compared to 59% and 57% respectively in North America and South Asia.
As the report points out, this low use is not due to a lack of renewable groundwater (which is often plentiful), but rather a lack of investment in infrastructure, institutions, trained professionals and knowledge. of the resource. The development of groundwater could act as a catalyst for economic growth by increasing the extent of irrigated areas and therefore improving agricultural yields and crop diversity.
In terms of adaptation to climate change, the ability of aquifer systems to store seasonal or episodic surface water surpluses can be exploited to improve the availability of freshwater throughout the year, as aquifers experience significantly lower evaporation losses than surface reservoirs. For example, including groundwater storage and abstraction as part of urban water supply planning would add security and flexibility in the face of seasonal variations.
Unleashing the full potential of groundwater – what needs to be done?
- Collect data
The report raises the issue of the lack of groundwater data and points out that groundwater monitoring is often a “neglected area”. To improve this, the acquisition of data and information, which is usually the responsibility of national (and local) groundwater agencies, could be complemented by the private sector. In particular, the oil, gas and mining industries already possess a large amount of data, information and knowledge about the composition of deeper subterranean domains, including aquifers. In the interests of corporate social responsibility, private companies are strongly encouraged to share this data and information with public sector professionals.
- Strengthen environmental regulations
Since groundwater pollution is practically irreversible, it must be avoided. Enforcement efforts and the prosecution of polluters, however, are often difficult due to the invisible nature of groundwater. Preventing groundwater contamination requires proper land use and appropriate environmental regulations, especially in aquifer recharge areas. It is imperative that governments assume their role as stewards of the resources considering the common good aspects of groundwater to ensure that access to groundwater and the benefits derived from it are distributed equitably and that the resource remains available. for future generations.
- Strengthen human, material and financial resources
In many countries, the general lack of groundwater professionals among the staff of local and national institutions and governments, as well as insufficient mandates, funding and support from groundwater departments or agencies, impede effective water management. underground. The commitment of governments to build, support and maintain institutional capacities related to groundwater is crucial.
The UN World Water Development Report (WWDR), UN-Water’s flagship publication on water and sanitation issues, focuses on a different theme each year. The report is published by UNESCO on behalf of UN-Water and its production is coordinated by UNESCO’s World Water Assessment Programme. The report provides an overview of key trends in the status, use and management of freshwater and sanitation, based on the work of UN-Water members and partners. Launched in conjunction with World Water Day, the report provides decision makers with knowledge and tools to formulate and implement sustainable water policies. It also offers examples of best practice and in-depth analysis to stimulate ideas and action for better management in the water sector and beyond.
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