More than 120 delegates from across the SADC region and beyond gathered at the 2nd SADC Groundwater Conference which was held at the Southern Sun hotel, OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa, 04 – 06 September 2019, under the theme “Groundwater’s Contribution to the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the SADC region”. This premier SADC event which aims to create a platform for groundwater practitioners to discuss pertinent issues and share groundwater information and experiences affecting the region, attracted delegates from governments officials, development partners, civil society, private sector and the media.
The conference was organized by the SADC-Groundwater Management Institute (SADC-GMI) in collaboration with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – International Hydrogeological Program (UNESCO-IHP), the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) ,waterNet, Institute for Groundwater Studies (IGS), German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) , International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Global Water Partnership- Southern Africa (GWP-SA) and Department of Water and Sanitation (RSA).
The conference was held at an opportune when our water security is threatened by the adverse effects of climate change, poor agricultural performance, lack of adequate groundwater monitoring instrumentation and an increasing burden of water-borne diseases. Although groundwater is not explicitly mentioned in the 17 Sustainable development goals, SDGs, it is implicitly linked to SDG 6, 12 and 13. In principle, this therefore means groundwater’s contribution in facilitating the attainment of these SDGsis undermined and largely goes unnoticed. It is therefore in this regard, that this conference was themed in a manner to unravel not only the pivotal benefits we can draw from this resource, but also to map strategies that would inform how we can sustainably manage our groundwater resources for the future generation. This conference therefore informs SADC-GMI’s vision as a Centre of Excellence to promote sustainable groundwater management and providing solutions to groundwater challenges in the SADC region through creating an enabling policy, legal and regulatory environment, capacity building, advancing research, supporting infrastructure development, and enabling dialogue and accessibility of groundwater information.
Presentations, debates and discussions took place over the three sub themes: 1) Contribution of research towards understanding the status, trends and risks to groundwater resources, (2) Measuring progress towards attaining SDG targets, data collection and management within the SADC Member States, and (3) Policy, legal and institutional considerations at the national and trans-boundary levels. It was clear that the challenges of groundwater are multifaceted but we have an opportunity to further evaluate our large scale transboundary issues using the state of the art data analytics and machine learning and we must manage our water resources in a conjunctive manner with appropriate tools such as integrated hydrological modelling. In-situ data collection remains an issue in the region and we are still challenged with a lack of innovation to comprehensively assess and develop our aquifer systems. The technology may either be too expensive or still in its infancy. Like was the case at the 1st SADC Groundwater Conference held in 2018, this conference endeavored to encourage young scientists to attend the conference and take up these challenges through research projects at post-graduate level.
Key messages by theme are as follows:
Sub-theme 1: Contributions of research towards understanding, the status, trends and risks to ground water resources
- Efficient water use, adopting a broader water mix (e.g. desalination, deep borehole drilling) and responsive governance systems are effective pathways to manage water crises (based on experience from Cape town, Day Zero Case).
- Management of groundwater resources at catchment level should include urban water management.
- Develop integrated modelling approaches (e.g. IHM) that support conjunctive use of water resources.
- Use of big data analytics show that the increased future dependence on groundwater irrigation will lead to an acute risk of arsenic contaminated food crops in continents including sub-Saharan Africa.
- Groundwater should be incorporated in catchment management planning with clear objectives, components and an implementation plan.
- Protection of groundwater resources should be enhanced through development of ambient water guidelines.
- There is need to re-evaluate and interrogate some hydrological science frameworks e.g. dambos that are hosted in underlain basement complex rocks and build the case for exploration of deep aquifers.
- There is need to define climate change tipping point for safe yield to ensure sustainable use
- Recommendation to re-model the teaching of hydrogeology to incorporate technology.
- In data scarce areas and with large aquifer systems, GRACE data sets can be used to account for storage changes that could account for climate change impacts
- Characterization of basement aquifers that are hosted in complex shear zones require integrated approaches e.g. hydrological, modelling and geophysical methods as in the example of the Ramotswa Transboundary Aquifer.
- In highly stressed aquifers, managed aquifer recharge can be explored through modelling approaches e.g Ramotswa Aquifer
- Deep aquifers should be considered as strategic resources that are an important component to reach water security in water scare regions (SDG 6.1).
Sub-theme 2: Measuring progress towards attaining SDG targets, data collection, and management within the SADC Member States
- Multidisciplinary approaches should be used in order to ensure the groundwater ecosystem linkage (groundwater dependent ecosystems). This supports SDG 15.
- Integrated approaches as well as the establishment of the baseline are the main tool to be used to achieve the SDGs in the SADC region.
- For transboundary aquifer management, in each aquifer region (type or category) it is necessary to establish the monitoring network in order to get groundwater level status (%) instead of average groundwater level. This will inform prediction and management.
- Climate change threatens groundwater management in arid regions of SADC demonstrated in episodic recharge hampers attainment of SDGs.
- There is also a need to involve citizens in data analysis and create ownership of data products.
- Data sharing should be seen as an instrument of cooperation and appropriate models are required.
- Big data analytic requires downscaling tools that can assist filling gaps on data within the transboundary aquifer and assist with improved decision making on groundwater resources utilization and protection.
- Tracking processes on SDGs should be through countries not RBOs (ownership of data is by countries) but there is need for streamlining to avoid duplication.
- SDG reporting has raised the need for more funding and big data analytics may assist although not a panacea.
Sub-theme 3: Policy legal and institutional considerations at national and trans-boundary levels
- Make sure that scientific research findings get to policymakers and eventually translate into better management
- Share knowledge with all stakeholders that play a role in groundwater management, from policy-makers to groundwater users.
- Groundwater regulation (e.g. licenses) requires enforcement and assessment (for potential improvement).
- Transboundary cooperation on groundwater resources is at the forefront of SADC. Investments must therefore continue.
In general, the conference was a huge success and provided a platform for networking and exchange of information and sharing of experiences.
The conference recommendations will be shared with AMCOW and through other regional and continental platforms for uptake and decision making. The third installment of the SADC Groundwater conference will be held in September 2020. Details will be communicated in January 2020 on the SADC-GMI website: www.sadc-gmi.org and other platforms.
Our heartfelt thanks and appreciation goes to you all who continue to support the work of SADC-GMI as we forge ahead in enhancing water security and regional socio-economic development.