Groundwater protection is key, emphasises Paris Unesco meet

A highlight of the event was the formation of a coalition on transboundary water cooperation

By Zumbish
Published: Saturday 10 December 2022
Groundwater protection is key, emphasises Paris Unesco meet
Photo: @unescoWATER / Twitter
Photo: @unescoWATER / Twitter

Groundwater must be protected at all costs since it is key to global food production and food security, delegates underlined at the end of the United Nations-Water Summit on Groundwater 2022 December 8 in Paris, France.

Degradation from human activities — often associated with poor land, agricultural, and waste management — threatens not only current uses of groundwater and human and ecosystem health but also limits benefits of future generations, they added during the two-day event which began December 7 at Unesco headquarters.

Governance, actions and investments on groundwater should be prioritised in vulnerable and climate change / hazard-exposed regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, Small Island Developing States and coastal zones, areas with no or slowly renewable and vulnerable aquifers, and aquifers with naturally occurring but hazardous contaminants, like arsenic, delegates noted.

The focus should be on underserved and hard-to-reach communities, including women, youth, and indigenous people.

The conference was organised by UN-Water, UNESCO and the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre. 

The summit was organised to raise awareness on groundwater conservation at the global stage. It also marked the completion of the “Groundwater: Making the invisible visible” campaign run by UN-Water throughout 2022.

Key takeaways

Delegates discussed actions for building capacity in order to better govern and manage groundwater and achieve sustainable development goals (SDG) December 7-8.

German Federal Minister for the Environment and Nature Conservation, Steffi Lemke spoke about protecting groundwater.

Read UN Groundwater Summit 2022 to help raise awareness on aquifer protection, sustainable use

“The UN 2023 water conference during March in New York City offers unprecedented potential for progress on SDG 6 (Sustainable Development Goal 6 is about clean water and sanitation for all) and all water-related goals of the 2023 agenda,” she said at the event.

Protection of groundwater must be guaranteed across all sectors including agriculture, the minister said. Groundwater management needs to apply five acceleration instruments to ensure that this succeeds, she added:

  • Governance
  • Data and information
  • Innovation
  • Capacity development
  • Finance

Abhijit Mukherjee, hydrogeologist from India, stated that south Asia was the largest consumer of groundwater in the world today.  

“As of today, in the region, we are drawing over 600 billion cubic metres of groundwater every year — both from transborder aquifers and from water sources that are very ancient. This groundwater once drawn for use cannot be recharged back,” he said.

South Asia hosts not more than five per cent of the global land cover. But it hosts more than a third of the irrigated land and more than a fourth of the global population. About 85 per cent of the water required for irrigation to produce food and 90 per cent of drinking water is drawn from groundwater in south Asia.

The problem is more pronounced because much of the groundwater is heterogenous, said Mukherjee. Some 70 per cent of groundwater is hosted only in 30 per cent of land cover in south Asia and the rest is hosted in areas covered by Himalayan rivers.

“Water pollution is another issue as much of the groundwater is polluted by contaminants like arsenic and Fluoride. More than 400 million people are exposed to these pollutants. So, it is not just a quantity issue but also a water quality issue in India,” he said.

South Asian governments have been trying to strengthen an integrated water management which involves both surface water and groundwater.

“But things are not working out so well as there is lack of integration between science and policy and governance, so that needs to be bolstered. The huge extraction of groundwater is also drying out the rivers. This is another big challenge for this region,” Mukherjee stated.

A highlight of the event was the formation of a coalition on transboundary water cooperation. Tanja Miškova, ambassador in charge of water diplomacy and circular economy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia had noted that transboundary waters accounted for 60 per cent of the freshwater that flowed globally. 

Only 32 countries have 90 per cent or more of their transboundary basin and aquifer area covered by operational agreements.

“The gap between water supply and demand is increasing. So the combination of these three facts can represent a huge potential for future conflicts or it can be a driver of mutually beneficial cooperation,” Miškova stated.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.