New information about Africa's groundwater resources should be used to improve the lives of vulnerable populations, using a human-centred approach to groundwater development, say John Thomas and colleagues from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Researchers at the British Geological Survey recently estimated that Africa's groundwater storage capacity is 100 times larger than the amount of freshwater resources available on the continent every year. This discovery creates an opportunity for meeting the needs of 300 million people who lack access to safe drinking water and 240 million who are food insecure.
"Yet ... the debate so far has focused on what type of development is 'appropriate' for Africa", write Thomas and colleagues, with the study's authors arguing that groundwater resources should not be used for large-scale urban or agricultural development.
But such a 'conservative' approach to the new findings misses the debate's human dimension, say Thomas and colleagues. African countries cannot afford to wait for sustainability concerns to be addressed before developing their groundwater resources. "No nation has ever lifted itself out of poverty without first developing its agricultural sector", they write.
The authors advocate integrating new knowledge on groundwater resources into a 'multiple use services' approach at the community level, focusing on water delivery for domestic needs such as drinking and washing; productive needs such as agriculture; and environmental needs such as water resource sustainability.
"Such efforts, that translate research into practical efforts in the human interest, could drastically improve our ability to boost the productivity of African 'breadbaskets' and achieve greater food security", the authors conclude.