Groundwater Resource Management Poorly-Utilized and Managed in Southern Africa, Study Finds
Study: Groundwater management in SADC poorly utilized & managed despite its essential role in community development & poverty alleviation, writes Thokozani Ndlamini.
South Africa-A new study on groundwater resource management in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) reveals that, despite its essential role in community development and poverty alleviation, it remains both poorly-utilized and managed, writes Thokozani Ndlamini.
According to the Synthesis Report on the State of Food and Nutrition Security and Vulnerability in Southern Africa 2022, food and nutrition insecurity in the region remain unacceptably high.
The report predicts that the number of food insecure people in the 12 member states that provided data for the 2022 regional synthesis report on food security, nutrition, and vulnerability is estimated to increase to 55.7 million during the period 1 April 1, 2022, to March 31, 2023.
The importance of sustainable groundwater development for food and water security cannot be overemphasized in the face of worsening climate change impacts.
As surface water becomes more variable and uncertain, groundwater plays a crucial role in buffering commercial and smallholder farmers who rely on it to irrigate their crops.
It is imperative that innovative and sustainable strategies are developed to ensure a steady supply of groundwater resources for improved livelihoods.
Groundwater is a more flexible and reliable response to water demands, allowing farmers to increase their yields and mitigate the effects of extreme water shortages.
Although water is a critical input for agricultural production and plays a significant role in food security, studies reveal that Sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to achieve the sustainable development goal of eradicating hunger.
Moreover, over 40 percent of groundwater is used for global irrigation, highlighting the significance of this precious resource in building population resilience to climate change impacts.
Half of South Asia’s irrigation and two-thirds of China’s grain crops rely on groundwater, making it a vital resource for agriculture in these regions.
“More food needs to be produced to meet future demands due to population growth, lifestyle change, and dietary changes, and this calls for robust agricultural water solutions to sustainably manage water resources,” says Dr Manuel Magombeyi, Regional Researcher at the International Water Management Institute.
Dr Magombeyi stresses the importance of recognizing that as the world's population grows and the demand for food increases, water usage also rises.
These increases are occurring alongside climate change, highlighting the need for a thorough re-evaluation of water management in agriculture.
It is critical to consider how water resources can be better managed and secured on a broader scale.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, environmental degradation, drought, and biodiversity loss have resulted in at least 821 million people being chronically undernourished as of 2017.
Undernourishment and severe food insecurity are on the rise in nearly all regions of Africa.
Studies suggest that innovative agricultural water solutions are urgently needed to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to attain zero hunger for all by 2030, according to the United Nations.
In the SADC region alone, climate change-induced drought has led to critical food shortages, affecting at least 11 million people.
This situation calls for groundwater practitioners to explore innovative solutions that can support the agricultural sector in improving food security.
In Malawi, Cyclone Freddy has devastated farmers' crops, which the were expected to harvest in April and May.
This poses a serious threat to food security in a country that is already experiencing a major cholera outbreak. Last year, Cyclones Ana and Gombe also caused significant damage to agriculture and infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
According to the Agricultural Water Management in Southern Africa Report, investments in ag-water solutions by both the public and private sectors represent an untapped opportunity.
It is important for both sectors to invest in ag-water solutions to achieve the overall objective of alleviating poverty and promoting broad-based agricultural growth.
Most of these solutions have been implemented on a small scale, but it is crucial that they are scaled up for the benefit of larger communities, especially if they are proving to be effective.
The SADC Groundwater Management Institute has been helping rural communities in some SADC member states access water resources by tapping into available groundwater resources.
Through the Sustainable Groundwater Management in SADC Member States project, supported by the World Bank Group between 2016 and 2021, SADC-GMI reached communities in Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, assisting them in unlocking groundwater resources for improved livelihoods.
*Additional reporting by Charles Mkoka