Water is an essential natural resource for the survival of the earth and of human beings. Today, the effects of climate change are being felt more and more. In Morocco, for example, the drought has considerably impacted the agricultural campaign in the face of depleted dams.
On the occasion of World Water Day, the United Nations (UN) has produced a report entitled ” Make the invisible visible which draws attention to groundwater, which represents a precisely invisible resource whose impact is visible all over the world. Indeed, some 2.2 billion people live without access to clean water, the organization points out.
In its report, the UN explains that groundwater, which constitutes nearly 99% of all liquid freshwater reserves on Earth, can bring societies immense social, economic and environmental opportunities and benefits.
They already provide half of the amount of water withdrawn for domestic use by the world’s population, including drinking water supplied to a large majority of the rural population, which is not served by public distribution systems or private, and about 25% of all water withdrawn for irrigation purposes. Yet this natural resource remains poorly understood and, therefore, is undervalued, mismanaged, and even wasted, warns the organization.
Africa consumes 64% of its groundwater in agriculture
Looking at the distribution of groundwater uses by continent, intensive agriculture uses some 69% of the volumes abstracted from below the surface, while domestic users share 22% and industry 9%.
In detail, Asia leads the continents which uses water for agriculture at 76%, followed by Africa (64%), North America (62%), America South and Oceania (48%) and finally Europe (36%).
As far as domestic use is concerned, Oceania takes the lead with 48% followed by Europe 45%, South America and Africa (32%), North America 30 % and finally Asia 16%. As for Industry, South America consumes 20%, followed by Europe 19%, North America and Asia 8%, and Africa and Oceania 4%.
On agriculture, which consumes the most water in the world, the report explains that groundwater is an essential resource for irrigated agriculture, livestock and other agricultural activities such as food processing.
To meet global water and agricultural needs by 2050, including an approximately 50% increase in demand for food, feed and biofuels compared to 2012, the UN estimates that it is essential to increase agricultural productivity through the sustainable intensification of groundwater extraction while reducing the impact of agricultural production on water and the environment.
” Wherever there is a perennial and reliable source, groundwater can be a valuable resource for smallholder farmers. Some regions are highly dependent on groundwater for irrigation, notably North America and South Asia where respectively 59% and 57% of areas equipped for irrigation use groundwater. Conversely, in sub-Saharan Africa, the possibilities offered by large shallow aquifers remain largely under-exploited since only 5% of areas equipped for irrigation exploit groundwater.“, explain the authors of the report.
Agricultural pollution: A factor in the degradation of inland and coastal waters
Also according to the UN report, agricultural pollution is now considered the main factor in the degradation of inland and coastal waters, surpassing pollution from human settlements and industries.
Thus, the report explains that nitrates contained in chemical and biological fertilizers rank first among the most prevalent anthropogenic contaminants in groundwater worldwide. Spread or disposed of in the wrong way, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides can also pollute groundwater with carcinogens and other toxic substances.
That said, and in general, the authors of the report find that current laws and regulations aimed at preventing or limiting diffuse pollution of groundwater by agricultural activities remain insufficient, as does their application, noting that policies relating to the fight against against water pollution by agriculture must be part of an agricultural policy and an overall water policy at the level of each country, each river basin and each aquifer.
The other point raised relates to the electrification of rural areas, which according to the report, has greatly contributed to the exploitation of groundwater, especially when rural electricity networks have been extended to areas which otherwise would have depended on diesel fuel or wind energy.
” Advances in solar technologies have enabled the development of solar powered irrigation systems (SPIS), used on a large scale to serve farms. However, these systems pose a risk of unsustainable use of water resources when their implementation is not managed and regulated appropriately.“, warns the UN.
To take care of this natural resource which risks becoming scarce with time and climate change, the UN insists on effective governance and management of groundwater which are essential.
” It is imperative that countries commit to establishing an appropriate and effective framework for groundwater governance. For this, governments must take the initiative and responsibility to put in place, and maintain, a fully functioning governance structure, including basic knowledge, institutional capacity, laws, regulations and their enforcement tools. , policies and planning, stakeholder involvement and appropriate funding. It is also the responsibility of countries to ensure that their policies and plans are fully implemented in relation to groundwater management.“, advocated the UN.
However, and in many countries, the authors of the report point out that the chronic lack of groundwater experts among the staff of local and national institutions and administrations, together with too narrow mandates, insufficient funding and a lack of support departments or agencies responsible for groundwater, hinders the effective assessment, monitoring, planning, operation and management of groundwater.
” The establishment of long-term bilateral cooperation projects, university exchange programs or postgraduate training abroad, among other things, could make it possible to strengthen, through training, the capacities of individuals and institutions. For this, governments must commit to creating, supporting and strengthening institutional capacities related to groundwater.“, supports the UN.