Groundwater : the world's neglected defence against climate change

Ford, Anna; Casey, Vincent; Goverde, Rik; Newton-Lewis, Virginia; MacDonald, Alan ORCID:; Upton, Kirsty; Ritchie, Calum; Pole, Hannah. 2022 Groundwater : the world's neglected defence against climate change. WaterAid, 7pp. (Unpublished)

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Currently, millions of people across the globe don’t have safe water to drink. As climate change continues to wreak havoc, communities will see their homes and means of survival washed away, their drinking water contaminated or dry up, their crops wither and fail, their health devastated by infectious diseases, and their children forced out of school. Communities need sustainable and safe water and sanitation to have the best chance of combatting the devastating impacts of extreme weather, like heatwaves, droughts and floods. Yet one in four people across the globe do not have safely managed water in their homes. However, new analysis by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and WaterAid, reveals that many countries in Africa – including most parts of subSaharan Africa – and parts of Asia, have enough water to meet everyone’s daily needs. And this hidden resource is often right under our feet – groundwater. Groundwater – which exists almost everywhere underground, in gaps within soil, sand and rock – has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives and be the world’s insurance policy against climate change. It would help communities cope with slow onset climate impacts like drought and irregular rainfall, and provide broader resilience after floods by ensuring there is safe water available for all. But groundwater will only be able to lessen the impacts of climate change if it is carefully managed and if we invest in mechanisms to ensure that it gets to the people who need it most. All too often, this is not the case. In some regions, there isn’t enough investment in the services needed to find, capture, treat, manage and distribute groundwater – so it remains largely untouched. In others, we see rampant over-extraction with far too much groundwater being used, particularly by the agricultural sector. In both cases, only a limited amount of this life-saving resource gets to those who need it most. BGS and WaterAid assessed data on the amount of groundwater there is, how quickly it is replenished by rain, and how much the rocks can store. Our experts concluded that, on a national level, most countries in Africa have sufficient groundwater for people to not only survive, but to thrive. This includes countries such as Ethiopia and Madagascar, where only half the population have clean water close to home, and large parts of Mali, Niger and Nigeria. Although, on a sub-national level, there are some places where groundwater is more difficult to get to or is contaminated, our research estimated that today’s total groundwater on the continent could provide people with enough drinking water for at least five years in the event of a drought – and in some cases even decades. This calculation is based on 130 litres of domestic water use a day per capita, which would provide people with more than enough to drink, cook and wash with.i What’s more, as groundwater is below the surface, it is more resilient to extreme weather than other water sources – such as lakes, rivers, streams and dams – and is largely protected from evaporation and less susceptible to pollution. This means that even if our weather becomes more extreme and unpredictable, there is enough groundwater stored in aquifersii to provide a buffer for many years to come for the millions of people living on the frontline of climate change. For them, daily life is already a struggle simply because they do not have access to sustainable and safe water and sanitation.

Item Type: Publication - Report
Funders/Sponsors: WaterAid, British Geological Survey
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater
Date made live: 25 Mar 2022 10:02 +0 (UTC)

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