As we celebrate the World Water Day on 22nd March 2022, we need to recognize that groundwater plays a key role in sustaining water supplies and livelihoods in Africa. Availability of Groundwater is widespread, generally of good quality and has fundamental ability to cushion incidents of prolonged drought and increasing climate variability.
Climate change and variability are gradually and unexposed impacting on groundwater resources. They are affecting groundwater recharge rates and groundwater levels. Any decrease in groundwater recharge will worsen the effect of sea-level rise in coastal areas and lead to saltwater intrusion, as well as from underlying saline aquifers in inland areas. Prolonged droughts are increasing evapotranspiration rates in semi-arid and arid regions, which are affecting the water quality in shallow aquifers. Consequently, climate change and variability pose a risk of depletion of aquifers and creating additional pressures on ground water resources availability, reliability, accessibility and water demand, if no action is taken.
The Africa Water Facility (AWF) prioritizes climate change resilience, adaptation and mitigation as an important cross-cutting issue in its WASH projects. This is guided by the AWF Revised Strategy (2017-2025) and the African Development Bank's new Water Policy (2020) and Water Strategy (2020) to ensure water and food security. AWF promotes climate change resilience, adaptation and mitigation approaches to sustainably manage the groundwater resources. These approaches are also based on the fact that, African governments and communities need to know, cap and manage groundwater risks associated with climate change and variability.
Measures to help know the risks are necessary to close information gaps and increase awareness in the government, public and communities. These entail for example improvement in climatic hydro-meteorological monitoring system to obtain timely and reliable data for the assessment and management of main climate risks of weather and water-related disasters.
Development of disaster and climate risk assessment systems, as a basis for urban and rural infrastructure planning, especially in most vulnerable areas and hot spots.
Promotes national and local public awareness campaigns, conducted with multiple objectives to raise awareness for the importance of saving water, not only during drought periods, and protecting ground water resources; but also, to inform populations about water-related risks and the potential impacts of climate change, as well as about the costs and constraints associated with alternative levels of water security.
Governments need to address institutional and regulatory barriers that may inhibit timely and efficient groundwater adaptation measures, aimed at managing the climate risks.
Improvement in water use efficiency and water demand management plans require to be part of WASH, irrigated agriculture as well as in water-intensive industries sectors, that major depend on groundwater resources.
Adapt and implement polices and strategies that promote the use of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach that takes into account the different water demands and users for groundwater, at aquifer and sub-basin levels, ensuring coordinated, regulated and managed water extraction to sustain the groundwater resources. This includes setting sustainable water abstraction limits, informed by a coordinated hydro-meteorological and groundwater resources monitoring, risk assessment and management systems.
Governments and communities require to make the best use of nature-based solutions - green infrastructure and alternative sources of water where possible. These measures are intended to improve the resilience of groundwater resources through recharging aquifers, reusing water and harvesting rainwater. Creating water retention areas, flood control reservoirs/natural retention polders in areas at risk of floods, increasing soil infiltration using wetlands, afforestation and maintaining natural flood plains for rivers where appropriate.
In worse cases, implement “no regrets” and “low regrets” options applicable in all probable future climate scenarios, protecting most vulnerable villages fully dependent on shallow wells from drought by shifting to more reliable sources of water (surface water or deep boreholes/confined aquifers).
Blog written by Blog Elicad Elly NYABEEYA
Water Resources & Climate Resilience Expert
Technical Advisor - Africa Water Facility