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Groundwater in Africa’s borderlands: A catalyst for sustainable development

Groundwater in Africa's borderlands

Groundwater in Africa’s borderlands: A catalyst for sustainable development

Groundwater in Africa’s borderlands is one of the very crucial natural resources needed in Africa. In addition to delivering water that may be used directly, groundwater systems also perform a number of in situ tasks like climate balancing and maintaining wet ecosystems.


The presence and management of groundwater resources are crucial in determining the chances for sustainable development and interregional cooperation, from the vast Sahelian frontiers to the lush enclaves of the Great Lakes region.  


Water that is found underground in voids and fissures in rock, sand, and soil is known as groundwater. It can be retrieved by wells, bursts up naturally through spring, or is released into lakes or streams. It is stored in aquifers, porous water-bearing rock, and/or sediment, and is held there.  


Despite the fact that it is underground, groundwater contributes to the replenishment and maintenance of surface water levels when it bubbles up or flows into bodies of water like rivers, lakes, and streams. Rivers run more freely because of groundwater. 


When people think of freshwater, they frequently envision pristine lakes and running streams, but in reality, groundwater makes up the majority of all freshwaters on the planet (that is not frozen and trapped in ice caps and glaciers). 


Groundwater is a valuable resource that is used in manufacturing, farming, herds, and drinking. Nevertheless, excessive groundwater extraction can result in loss of resources and long-term environmental harm. 270 million people live in Africa’s borderlands, according to the UN. For domestic drinking water, the average water supply coverage is less than 10%, and for agriculture, it is less than 5%. 


Why groundwater


The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing an extreme drought because of the least amount of rain in 73 years and five consecutive dry seasons. In April/May 2023, a sixth rainy season is anticipated to also fail. Droughts are occurring more frequently and becoming more severe, making it more difficult for individuals to recover after shocks.  

The region will likely continue to face drought concerns in the long-range perspective. More than 36 million people are affected by the drought in the Horn of Africa, with more than 20 million of them experiencing the highest levels of food insecurity. Women and girls are particularly impacted by the drought’s direct and indirect effects


Groundwater reserves will be increasingly important as climate change intensifies to ensure access to safe, clean water, especially in areas hit by drought.


Exploiting the Horn’s enormous groundwater potential and its millions of accessible kilometers of groundwater is a key option for adaptation. The socioeconomic advancement and way of life of people throughout the Horn’s arid and semi-arid regions depend on having access to water. If agricultural productivity is to be enhanced enough to meet the expected population expansion of both humans and cattle, pastoralists and farmers alike need better access to sustainable water sources. 


The availability of groundwater in Africa’s borderlands has the power to alter and spur sustainable development in African nations suffering from extreme drought. Using groundwater and mechanized water transferable pipeline networks is 50 times cheaper than using birkhas/rainfed/shallow water supplies that are augmented by water trucking, according to lessons learned from the Horn of Africa response in 2015–2016. 


It was claimed in the early 2000s that individuals in sub-Saharan Africa had to go 3,000 meters to find water, despite the fact that it was actually 30 meters below their feet. People will have to travel 5,000 meters on average to find water in 2023 because of the aggravation of both natural and human factors. However, the answer to the water shortage is still 30 meters beneath their feet.


The need for more investment in groundwater


Pre-feasibility studies, project pipeline development, and groundwater exploration in Africa’s borderlands have many advantages. For instance, groundwater may support development, increase resiliency, and be accessible in most border locations. In times of drought, groundwater is also guarded from evaporation and pollution. 


Over 40 million people reside in border regions with barely any water infrastructure development in the Horn of Africa. Since they spend more time searching for or getting water, women are particularly impacted by a scarcity of water. Long-term water security will necessitate a change in the methods used to extract water for residential, agricultural, and cattle usage. 


Focusing on cutting-edge groundwater analysis, employing radar and satellite technology has been shown to be optimal, timely, and pertinent for development stakeholders in the Horn region. It is important to investigate further the effectiveness of methods in border regions, such as the Three Phase Methodology (TPM). 


The significant contribution of groundwater to sustainable development in border regions of Africa is a witness to the interconnectedness of regional collaboration, environmental resilience, and socioeconomic advancement. 

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