Groundwater management issues in Southern Africa – An IWRM perspective

11 Sep 2013

In contrast to its strategic role as essential resource to help achieve community development and poverty alleviation in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), groundwater has remained a poorly understood and managed resource. This was the finding of a scoping study regarding the status of groundwater resources management in SADC. The key premise for the assessment was that groundwater resource management must take place within an IWRM framework and the IWRM Toolbox developed by the Global Water Partnership was used as the scope and content for the assessment. The SADC region has well- developed policies for regional development and IWRM, as well as a relatively strong focus on groundwater resources. This article questions whether problems relating to Africa’s sustainable utilisation and management of groundwater is a unique groundwater problem or must also be related to the challenges experienced in general with the implementation of an IWRM approach in Africa. A key finding was that groundwater management links to groundwater-dependent sectors like agriculture, rural development, health and environment are not well- established in policy or in practice. Internationally, there is a recognition, that such a, quite common, situation can only be addressed through a long-term process through which viable national, regional and local systems can evolve, within a strategic framework in which these intended relationships between diverse sets of interventions or management approaches and the development goals are brought out. However, such a strategic, multi-stakeholder-driven approach also still remains the major challenge in Africa for IWRM implementation as a whole. Recent continent-wide initiatives, like the development of IWRM and water efficiency plans for each country and multi-stakeholder water dialogue processes, have been taken to address this challenge. It is therefore crucial that groundwater becomes an integral part of these and related initiatives. New AMCOW and SADC initiatives for groundwater provide a major opportunity to achieve this.