Vast African Groundwater Discovery Poses Benefits and Challenges
The vast water resource find at Namibia is so abundant it is estimated to be able to sustain a million people for 400 years at present consumption rates. However, this new water discovery is threatened by exploitation and unauthorized drilling. Experts caution that tapping it too soon before studies are completed may lead to its contamination and pollution.
The huge underground water reserve named Ohangwena II was discovered under the boundary between Angola and Namibia in July 2012. It covers an area measuring about 70 km by 40 km on the Namibian side of the border, and is conservatively estimated to hold at least 5 billion cubic meters of water. Estimates put the entire water resource as holding up to 20 billion cubic meters of water. This amount is estimated to meet the domestic needs for 400 years based on current consumption rates of people living in that part of northern Namibia, representing about 40% of the entire population of the nation.
The enormous groundwater reserve could be a natural buffer against 15 years of drought according to researchers. In this capacity it could also aid the country in coping with projected climate change.
Though having been buried for approximately 10,000 years, the aquifer is thought to be cleaner than modern water sources and will need no expensive treatment for it to be safely used.
However, an obstacle lies between the rich aquifer and those who want to tap it. A small, brackish aquifer is directly above the pristine underground water resource and poses difficulty in the lower aquifer’s accessibility. Boreholes drilled without proper authorization could lead to contamination of the lower aquifer by the upper one.
If the aquifer could be well managed for safe and sustainable extraction it could revolutionize agriculture and eventually development in the nation of Namibia. African agriculture has the lowest yields worldwide, being primarily dependent on rain and surface water.
95% of farmed land on the continent of Africa is rain fed and therefore easily affected by seasonal weather fluctuations.
Moreover, over 300 million people lack access to safe drinking water in Africa, making the groundwater discovery a potential turning point for its people.
An article in SciDev advocates a human-centered approach to groundwater resources development in the face of suggestions that groundwater resources not be used for agricultural or urban development. The article argues that propositions to ‘conservatively’ approach the utilization of African groundwater discoveries undermines the very real needs of human living in poor communities in these areas. Failure to use groundwater resource for agricultural development and easing food insecurity in Africa would be a loss for the continent and its people.
Instead, groundwater resources such as the Ohangwena II should be used to increase agricultural yields, meet domestic needs (drinking, cooking, etc.) and improve well being, the article says. For these goals to be met, water resources like the Ohangwena II should be used and managed sustainably both for the people and the environment.
Do you have any thoughts on the water discovery in Namibia?
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