World Water Week official Session (20 August 2023)

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the importance of water as the dominant medium through which climate change impacts will be felt. Groundwater has been hailed as an adaptative solution to growing water insecurity. Yet groundwater resources are facing increasing pressures, such as over-abstraction and pollution, and it is the ‘unknown resource’ – generally unquantified and unregulated, with questions around its sustainable use.

OneWorld convened an informative and interactive session on the opening Sunday of this year’s World Water Week. Entitled Multi-scale groundwater strategies in Africa – supporting innovation, this session unpacked the “how” behind the sustainable management of groundwater – and the development of groundwater strategies.

The session was co-convened with the Southern African Development Community Groundwater Management Institute (SADC GMI) and hosted representatives of organisations intricately involved across global, regional and national scales. Panellists included Dr Jenny Grönwall from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Phera Ramoeli from the Okavango River Basin Water Commission (OKACOM), Prof. Seifu Kebede from the University of KwaZulu Natal Centre for Water Resources Research, Michael Ramaano from the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM), and Belynda Petrie from OneWorld. The session was expertly facilitated by Klaudia Schachtschneider, OneWorld senior technical advisor and programme manager. 

During the session, Ms Petrie highlighted that developing a groundwater strategy is an innovation in itself, and the priorities that should be considered within these strategies require further innovation. For example, there was a mutual consensus among panellists that knowledge sharing and raising awareness are cornerstones of groundwater strategies.

According to Mr. Ramaano,

we need to go back to Integrated Water Resources Management and ensure that all water stakeholders are participating, coordinating activities and planning together.

In this way, a shared vision for groundwater management can be fostered.

But how does one reach all the relevant stakeholders from grassroots through government? One innovative solution mentioned in the session was the use of mobile communication networks, such as WhatsApp, to share information and coordinate groundwater-related activities.

Technological innovations are also critical solutions for improved knowledge generation. Ms Petrie shared that Zambia, with support from UNEP, is developing aquifer mapping technologies, using best practice examples. There are plans to scale up this work from a sub-national to a national level once the technology has been developed.

Panellists also highlighted the potential of legal frameworks to drive improved governance of groundwater. For example, the OKACOM has groundwater treaty in place and is currently reviewing it to prevent pollution and contamination of groundwater resources.

From the discussion at the session, it was evident that progress towards the sustainable management of groundwater resources is being made in Africa. It is critical that the innovations for groundwater strategies mentioned in this session be considered and integrated into strategies going forward. As mentioned by Dr Jenny Grönwall,

“We also know the problems are getting larger with climate change. We need more integration, breakdown [of] silos, knowledge from different scales, and learning from these different scales, and openness to learn and let go of practices which are not useful anymore.”

Taking these insights forward is an important aspect of moving towards a more water-secure and water-wise world.

Written by Staci Warrington (Project coordinator) 

Water-Energy-Food Nexus in Africa: A Path to Sustainable Development
Demystifying Nature-based Solutions (World Water Week 2023)