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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Groundwater: How Much Is There?

Moses Magadza

GABORONE, Nov 22 2008 (IPS) - A shortage of trained specialists who can assess and manage groundwater resources is a factor inhibiting its use in the Southern Africa region.

Mozambique’s Ana Isabel Fotine, the only female civil engineer at a recent workshop on groundwater on Nov. 18 and 19 in the Botswanan capital Gaborone, said lack of capacity to locate underground water resources or determine its quality and quantity was among the challenges faced by her country.

“Just knowing how much groundwater we have is a challenge. We have only one hydrological map in the country and so it is not easy to know the resources that we have. Getting communities to look after the boreholes once they have been drilled is another challenge,” she told IPS.

She suggested community mobilisation and education to help communities better appreciate communal water points. Fotine was speaking at a two-day workshop on the management of groundwater in the Southern African Development Community region, organised by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW), the University of the Western Cape through UNESCO’s Chair in Hydrogeology and GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit, the German agency for sustainable development).

Mozambique has an area of just over 800,000 square kilometres and Fotine said trying to monitor groundwater exploitation was a nightmare for the handful of experts in the country.

“We do not even know how many boreholes there are in the country,” she said. Without basic knowledge of this kind, it is impossible to track the impact of exploitation of groundwater over time and develop sound management policy.


Professor Eberhard Braune, UNESCO’s Chair in Geohydrology based at the University of the Western Cape, said the lack of qualified people in the public sector is a challenge.

“That lack of capacity is perhaps even more serious in groundwater management because groundwater, geology and mining are related. When the mining sector booms you will not see people in groundwater because they have a qualification that enables them to go into the mining sector,” he said.

He added that national capacities to generate data on water management variables needed to be beefed up so that each country can have a holistic picture of its groundwater situation and potential for future exploitation.

Phera Ramoeli, the senior manager for water at the SADC secretariat, said groundwater remains largely undervalued.

“Economic valuation of water is still a process that will take a long time and we need to be able to demonstrate to policy makers that water is a basic resource that we can’t do without,” he said.

Speaking to IPS by telephone from Windhoek, Namibia-based economics professor John Odada concurred. “Economic valuation of groundwater should not be pegged to secondary uses of water such as electricity generation. The value of groundwater should be pegged also on its satisfaction of human and livestock needs.”

Odada said the significance of groundwater to national economic development varies from one country to another.

“For the countries that need it more, it is essential that it is included in the policy framework for water management,” Odada said.

At the end of the workshop, participants recommended more aggression in bringing groundwater into river basin agreements and addressing the institutionalisation of groundwater at regional level.

They resolved to take advantage of 2009, which is the year for Transboundary Water Management, to strengthen groundwater management and confront the persistent lack of capacity for groundwater resources management at all levels through the building of a variety of strategic partnerships and emphasising groundwater’s social and economic role.

Other recommendations include censuring groundwater’s inclusion in resource assessments and promoting sustainable management of groundwater resources.

They also stressed the need to address the capacity of local government to rely on groundwater for their water services and establishing a strategic and mutually beneficial relationship/partnership with the media as part of the major awareness-building challenge for groundwater was also stressed.

 
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