Africa: The Water is Underground

Africa: The Water is Underground
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There are more than 300 million people in Africa without access to safe drinking water but according to a paper published last March 19th 2012 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the estimated volume of underground water in the African continent is more than 100 times estimates of annual renewable freshwater resources on its surface. “Groundwater resources are unevenly distributed: the largest groundwater volumes are found in the large sedimentary aquifers in the North African countries Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan. Nevertheless, for many African countries appropriately sited and constructed boreholes can support handpump abstraction, and contain sufficient storage to sustain abstraction through inter-annual variations in recharge.”

The research shows nevertheless that the potential for higher yielding boreholes ( > 5 liters per second / > 0.26 gallons per second) is much more limited. Therefore, strategies for increasing irrigation or supplying water to rapidly urbanizing cities that are predicated on the widespread drilling of high yielding boreholes are likely to be unsuccessful.

That being said, groundwater responds much more slowly to meteorological conditions than surface water and, as such, provides a natural buffer against climate variability, including drought.

According to the research paper: “The estimated groundwater storage (0.66 million km3) represents a water resource that is of a different magnitude to all other freshwater sources in Africa. Annual average rainfall is approximately 0.02 million km3 and freshwater storage in lakes is estimated to be 0.03 million km3. These large reserves provide a large and important buffer to changes in climate, and are therefore integral to the development of adaptation strategies to current and future climatic variability.

Source: Environmental Research Letters / Quantitative maps of groundwater resources in Africa
Photo Credits: Dunes By raulsantosdelacamara/ FlickR
Dunes of Erg Chebbi in Merzouga, near the Moroccan-Algerian border.