PAMACC News - Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro), has been a seven-year international research programme (2013-2020), funded by the Department for International Development, Natural Environment Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.
Nearly 200 of the world’s best researchers from more than 50 organisations across Africa and Europe have been focused on improving the evidence base around groundwater availability and management in Sub Saharan Africa.
The goal has been to ensure that the hidden wealth of Africa’s aquifers benefit all citizens and the poorest in particular UPGro projects are interdisciplinary, linking the social and natural sciences to address this challenge.
Water resources are critical to economic growth and social development. Groundwater provides most of the domestic water supply in parts of rural Africa and supports poverty reduction through access to clean drinking water and irrigation. In 2015, only 23 of the 52 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) met the UN Millennium Development Goals target for drinking-water provision and Target 6.1 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to achieve universal access to safe, affordable water by 2030. Groundwater has the potential to provide an improved source of drinking water for those in SSA who are currently without access.
Yet water is not only an important resource for the poor living in rural SSA, but is also central to most industries and a vital commodity for tourism. Industry is an important source of income for several African countries and a lack of water supply could constrain opportunities for development, including better services and improvements to poorer people’s livelihoods. Groundwater sources are often resistant to drought, acting as a natural buffer against rainfall variability. However, groundwater is already intensively used in certain parts of Africa and in some cases it is being extracted faster than it can be replenished. As the population grows, water security in SSA will become increasingly important and demands on groundwater resources are likely to surge. To ensure sustainability, greater understanding of groundwater resources and how to manage their use effectively will be required.
A recent study on groundwater in Africa has shown that there is possibly 20 times more water available as groundwater compared with that available in lakes and rivers. Droughts are currently a major cause of humanitarian disaster in SSA, often leading to mass population movements and considerable health, social and economic stress on many developing nations. These humanitarian disasters are likely to grow in scale as populations increase and climate and land-use change accelerate. With these increasing pressures on water resources, the potential pressure on groundwater as the solution to the water security challenge in SSA is high.