Africa Doesn’t Have a Water Problem

by Greg Pollowitz

From today’s New York Times, Alan MacDonald, a principal hydrogeologist at the British Geological Survey writes:

FOR a continent where more than 300 million people lack access to safe drinking water, Africa is sitting on a lot of it.

The journal Environmental Research Letters recently published a set of maps of groundwater resources in Africa, the results of two years of research led by the British Geological Survey and financed by the British Department for International Development. The research showed that in Africa the volume of water naturally stored underground within the cracks and pores of rocks is much larger (possibly 20 times more) than the 8,000 cubic miles of water visible in lakes and rivers. This water holds enormous potential to help people and nations move out of poverty, produce more food and better adapt to climate change. But it also could lead to tensions between neighboring countries.

At least 45 transboundary aquifers have been identified in Africa so far, and competition sometimes leads to serious tensions. However, since groundwater moves very slowly (usually less than three feet per day), shared aquifers should be seen as vehicles for cooperation, rather than competition, and identifying and characterizing the aquifers is the first step.

Recognizing this, in December 2011 the United Nations General Assembly called upon its members to begin working toward a common goal: the effective management of their shared groundwater resources.

The rest here.