25.05.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Reversing the global water crisis through sound groundwater governance

© UNESCO

A three-year project aims to promote sound management of groundwater resources in order to prevent and reverse a global water crisis. The second Regional Consultation of the Groundwater Governance Project, focusing on the Sub-Saharan Africa Region, is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, on 29-31 May 2012.

Today, we know that the vast majority of world’s freshwater is not above the ground, but below it. Groundwater is far-and-away the largest source of freshwater in a world where many regions worry about critical shortages. About 2 billion people worldwide depend on groundwater supplies, which include 273 transboundary aquifer systems.

During the twentieth century an unprecedented ‘silent revolution’ in groundwater abstraction took place across the globe. The global groundwater abstraction rate has at least tripled over the past 50 years, significantly boosting food production and rural development. No matter how large the volumes of water contained in these aquifers may be, the fact that many of them are non-renewable means they can eventually be mined to exhaustion if their use is not managed properly.

Despite these real concerns over unsustainable abstraction rates and pollution, groundwater resources, if carefully managed, can make a major contribution to meeting the demand for water in the future and to adapting to climate change.

The "Groundwater Governance: A Global Framework for Country Action" project is in response to the emerging global concerns over the increasingly unsustainable use of groundwater and the degradation of aquifers. Over three-years, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) and the World Bank are working closely with Member States to, though their best practices, jointly understand the complex nexus between science and governance in the management of groundwater resources.

Organized under the responsibility of the UNESCO-IHP network, the Regional Consultations are a fundamental component of the Groundwater Governance project. These Consultations will focus on the regional characteristics of groundwater use and will seek to promote discussion about the characteristics, priorities, visions and specific challenges in the region. The aim is to:

  • Acquire first-hand knowledge of regional issues from local groundwater experts;
  • Raise awareness and promote the global groundwater agenda; and
  • Build consensus on the concept of "groundwater governance", and foster cooperation amongst cross-sectoral stakeholders, decision-makers and specialists.

The results of the Regional Consultations will contribute towards the preparation of a Global Groundwater Governance Diagnostic. The work of the 5 regional consultations will have a significant impact on how water resources are managed in the near future, contributing to more realistic and appropriate definition of 3G, "good groundwater governance".

As a final result, the project will develop a global "Framework of Action" (FA), consisting of a set of effective governance tools (policies, laws, regulations and customary practices). The FA will foster the recognition of the value of groundwater as a critically important natural resource, and of the social, economic and ecological opportunities that sustainable groundwater management can provide through interdisciplinary dialogue.

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