ADDIS ABABA: December 9 (EI) — Scientists and practitioners who have gathered across the globe have called for urgent action on global groundwater, which is also said to have major potential for Ethiopia and fellow Sub-Sahara African countries’ strategies on climate change.
“Mismanagement of groundwater threatens our drinking water, food production, and climate change adaptation prospects,” a statement endorsed by the International Water Management Institute’s (IWMI) and signed by 700+ global experts warned.
The urgent call to action highlighted recent scientific breakthroughs on groundwater’s vital role in supporting rivers globally. It supplies more than 40 percent of the water used for the world’s agricultural irrigation, drinking water to two billion people, and helps regions cope with worsening droughts.
“Millions of low-income smallholder farmers, in particular, rely on groundwater in arid and semi-arid areas and during times of drought, making it one of nature’s best solutions to beat climate variability. It’s seen as having major potential for Ethiopia and Sub-Saharan Africa,” IWMI said in a statement issued on Monday.
The experts, noting that groundwater makes up to 99 percent of the earth’s liquid freshwater, also stressed that the natural resource “is under threat from over-exploitation and contamination, mostly due to poor understanding, land use planning, and management.”
IWMI Director General, Claudia Sadoff, and groundwater lead researcher, Karen Villholth, who coordinates the Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP), also joined the 700+ signatories along with many individual experts and practitioners from IWMI’s partners.
GRIPP is a key global partnership on groundwater science and policy, bringing together nearly 30 international institutes to strengthen groundwater initiatives and solutions.
“Groundwater is often out of sight, so we take it for granted, or misuse it in ways that impact the most vulnerable people and ecosystems,” Sadoff said.
“IWMI is joining global experts, because if we allow groundwater to be further degraded or depleted, it threatens our ability to respond to increasing droughts and floods, the IWMI chief stressed, adding “We are closing in on real dangers to food and drinking water due to over-exploitation and mismanagement. The impacts could be global.”
The call to action comes as the world eyes the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Madrid, Spain (COP 25) and begins the Decade of Action on the UN Agenda 2030. Recent evidence points to the potential for groundwater as a major solution for helping the world – especially the Global South – adapt to droughts and climate extremes.
Over700 scientists, practitioners and experts from over 75 countries around the world have now signed the call. The statement highlights the risks for 1.7 billion people who live above groundwater reserves that are stressed by overuse.
The statement endorsed by IWMI and signed by 700+ global experts, among other things, calls for concerted actions on three major interventions.
The statement urged the need to put the spotlight on global groundwater sustainability through a UN World Water Development Report and a Global Groundwater Summit in 2022, the year when groundwater will be the UN World Water Day’s key focus.
It also emphasized the need to commit to managing and governing groundwater sustainably from local to global scales by applying sustainability guiding principles locally, regionally and globally by 2030.
Investments in groundwater governance and management by implementing groundwater sustainability plans for stressed aquifers by 2030 also said to be another major area of action, as it underscored investing in nature-based solutions supporting groundwater, capacity building, awareness raising and developing better monitoring, reporting and management systems.
According to Karen Villholth, whose work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), groundwater is “so fundamental to our food and our drinking water, and critical to our ecosystems, but it’s still overlooked and mismanaged.”
“Our call to action will ensure groundwater stays on the radar following this week’s COP25 climate meetings. We’re stressing the critical importance of managing water properly for climate resilience, and under that the key role of groundwater.
“We are pushing hard now to get it on the global agenda to sustain these benefits and avoid widespread crises – in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals horizon of 2030,” Villholth added.
Photo (by Mulugeta Ayene/ WLE) Shows water from a tank flows into the irrigation tubes in Ethiopia’s Dangila district. The tank is filled using a small pump powered by a solar panel. The home garden is part of a conservation agriculture trial that is being run in partnership with IWMI, Bahir Dar University, and the Innovation Lab for Small Scale Irrigation (ILSSI).