Global Water Partnership regularly provides opportunities for students to do internships with the organization. Fanny Bontemps is studying a Masters in Sustainable Development at AgroParisTech in France. She assisted GWP with research on groundwater and drought topics. Here are her thoughts about her research.
This internship is part of a gap year I have chosen to do before my second year of a master’s degree at AgroparisTech, the French leading university in technologies for life, food and environment sciences. I have been working on African transboundary aquifers and how these non-renewable water resources could be used for a sustainable drought management approach in North Africa.
A lack of knowledge on groundwater has been noticed worldwide. Normally, groundwater is not visible; and until a problem arises, not much attention is being paid to this main fresh water resource. A lack of knowledge is accompanied by lack of information. Being the main fresh water resource in most arid regions of North Africa, groundwater deserves to be better known and sustainably managed.
Photo: A well in the Sahara desert, Morocco.
To enhance knowledge on groundwater, I conducted research on four transboundary aquifers in North Africa to support the SITWA programme and future drought programmes in East and West Africa. The study of these four major aquifers in the Maghreb region, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, has highlighted common trends and challenges in groundwater extraction. Due to population growth and precipitation reduction, water demand is constantly increasing. These aquifers are partly or completely non-renewable, this first leads to groundwater drawdown or overexploitation, and then, to name but a few, to ecosystems disappearance and water quality decrease. These issues, currently being faced in groundwater management, seem to stem from a lack of knowledge. Both lead to an inadequate and non-sustainable groundwater management.
Having highlighted the challenges faced while managing non-renewable groundwater, I have started to think about recommendations for integrating groundwater in drought programmes. In order to figure out what had been done and what was currently carried out against drought in North Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, I made an inventory of all drought programmes. Despite groundwater importance, this inventory has shown that no past or current programmes were focused on groundwater utilisation for drought management. Indeed, in such programmes it is crucial to find how to sustainably exploit a non-renewable resource.
Since current use patterns are not expected to reverse, the overall objective for reaching a sustainable groundwater management should be to abandon the current uncontrolled exploitation. In this new drought strategy, I have observed that three conditions should be fulfilled to reach sustainability: 1) establishing an effective groundwater utilisation, 2) improving population living conditions and the socio-economic development, and 3) making groundwater everybody´s responsibility.
I have learnt a lot doing this research, especially on challenges in African arid regions and on the way development programme are created, formulated and monitored. The hardest part for me was to find information on aquifers and drought programmes: groundwater is not well documented and there are plenty of different drought programmes, so finding precise information on programme dates or outcomes could turn out to be very difficult and time consuming. With more time at GWP I would have liked to follow West and East Africa drought programmes and work on other water-linked topics.
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