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SADC experts and policy makers convene in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss groundwater resources ’ role in economic development

Regional corporation and collaboration on groundwater is key to driving socio-economic development in the SADC region, say experts speaking at the first SADC annual groundwater conference. The conference, held by SADC-GMI at the Birchwood Hotel and OR Tambo Conference Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, started today and finishes on September 28, 2018.

The theme for the conference is “Adapting to Climate Change in the SADC Region through Water Security – A Focus on Groundwater”.

Groundwater is a regional issue in the SADC region. “There are over 30 shared aquifer systems across southern Africa and Member States often share similar groundwater challenges. The management of these aquifers is critical to regional integration and development,” according to Lindiwe Lusenga, Deputy Director General at Water and Sanitation Department, South Africa.

Groundwater issues are crucial in providing resilience in the wake of climate change, but regional management of the resource lags behind compare to surface surface water in SADC.

The stakes are high for the people of SADC. “It is estimated that over 70% of the 250 million people living in the SADC region rely on groundwater as their primary source of water. Groundwater resources face a number of risks including pollution, depletion from over abstraction due to rapidly growing water demand and the impacts of climate change,” said Lusenga.

Poor maintenance of infrastructure is the greatest threat to groundwater in the region, according to SADC-GMI board chair, Phera Ramoeli. Data accessibility and technology will be key for groundwater utilisation and management in SADC, and particularly in meeting the needs of poor communities.

The overarching objective of this conference is to provide an annual platform for all groundwater stakeholders to advance knowledge sharing on sustainable management of groundwater at national and transboundary levels across SADC members states.

One of the key challenges in groundwater management is the lack of consolidated, up-to-date information about the resource in the SADC region. The experts and other stakeholders at the conference represent high levels of knowledge and understanding in the region. The conference offers a unique opportunity to share this crucial knowledge and expertise.

As Lusenga highlighted, groundwater is critical to national and regional socio-economic development, trade and integration. In addition, poverty alleviation and the development of poor communities are contingent on safe drinking water. Currently, poor people in SADC are largely dependent on groundwater. Women and Children are particularly vulnerable in the wake of climate change, and they must play a role in the management and exploitation of groundwater.

The other keynote speakers for the conference include Dr. Karen G. Villholth (IMWI-SA), Prof. Jason Gurdak (UNESCO – IHP), Roger Parsons (Parsons & Associates), Dhesigen Naidoo (Water Research Commission, South Africa), Dr. Callist Tindimugaya (International Association of Hydrologists) and Gavin Kode (Western Cape Government, South Africa). Together they will tackle groundwater’s critical role in dealing with development, economic and environmental challenges.

SADC-GMI is hosting the conference in collaboration with UNESCO, IGRAC, the Government of South Africa, IWMI, GWP-SA and GRIPP