Groundwater is invisible, and yet its impact is visible everywhere. It is a hidden treasure that enriches our lives. Groundwater may be out of sight, but it must not be out of mind.
The UN-Water Summit on Groundwater 2022 aims to bring attention to groundwater at the highest international level. The Summit will use the UN World Water Development Report 2022 as a baseline and the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework as a guideline to define actions towards more responsible and sustainable use and protection of this vital natural resource.
The UN-Water Summit on Groundwater took place on 7 and 8 December 2022 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, and is planned as a hybrid meeting with the most possible on-side presence.
Groundwater is a vital resource that provides almost half of all drinking water worldwide, about 40 per cent of water for irrigated agriculture and about 1/3 of water required for industry. It sustains ecosystems, maintains the baseflow of rivers and prevents land subsidence and seawater intrusion. Groundwater is an important part of the climate change adaptation process and is often a solution for people without access to safely managed water.
Despite these facts, groundwater, as an ‘invisible’ resource, is out of mind for most people. However, as surface water availability decreases (due to human activities and climate change), reliance and pressure on groundwater will continue to grow. In many places, human activities over-use and pollute groundwater. In other places, we simply do not know how much water is down there. Meanwhile, water scarcity is increasing, already affecting about 2.7 billion people around the world for at least one month per year.
In January 2019, UN-Water set the theme of World Water Day 2022 as groundwater. The UN World Water Development Report 2022 focused on the same topic. In March 2021, UN-Water endorsed the proposal to organize a Groundwater Summit in December 2022 at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, as a contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework. Subsequently, a Task Force for the organization of the World Water Day celebrations and the Groundwater Summit was set up, coordinated by UNESCO and IGRAC.
INBO has participated in 2 out of the 5 high-level plenary sessions of Wednesday 7th December : "Data and Informations" coordinated by WMO and "Governance" coordinated by UNDP, SIWI and IWRA.
INBO's role: INBO was rapporteur and concluded this session.
Groundwater impacts directly and indirectly on many societal, economic and environmental areas of life. However, due to the diversity and complexity of groundwater issues as well as its hidden nature, it is, in most cases, challenging to adequately quantify the groundwater component in the water management process. To fully understand the various roles which groundwater might play and to choose the right measures for the efficient, equitable and sustainable management of water resources, data and information on groundwater are required and a sound monitoring system and knowledge base is therefore essential.
Groundwater monitoring is a wise investment often hampered by the immediate equipment and maintenance costs: identifying problems at an early stage is highly cost-effective, allowing mitigation measures to be introduced before serious deterioration of the resource takes place. Conventional monitoring programmes can be augmented by citizen science initiatives, which can also promote the integration of local knowledge into hydrogeological characterization and groundwater system assessments. Remote sensing techniques have also been used by the user community to improve monitoring and estimation of groundwater resources.
This session was dedicated to presenting the current state of groundwater data and information, demand and availability. It discussed the main challenges to improving data collection and to ensuring access to such data as well as identifying actions for moving forward. Participants represented national and international perspectives.
The guiding principles that underpin the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework were used to orient and define the proposed actions, while outcomes of the session were included in the Summit Statement.
INBO's role: H.E. Nizar Baraka, President of the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), Minister of Equipment and Water, Kingdom of Morocco, was a panelist in this event.
Groundwater governance is about the decision-making processes, law and policy, conditions and enabling environment that determine who gets what water, how, where, and when. Governance sets critical frames for groundwater management, planning, and policy implementation, and takes aim at the decision-making practices and outcomes at multiple levels of the administration.
Governance takes place at different, partially overlapping levels. It is concerned with the regulatory framework of formal rules, principles for decision-making, instrumental steering of the relationship between government and line ministries, incentives for cross-sectoral collaboration, the conditions for financing, data collection and sharing, and the link and nexus with other sectoral policies that govern utilisation of groundwater. At the regional and local level, groundwater governance comprises specific arrangements that are devised, usually between the different users and local authorities, at the aquifer or basin scale, including social norms and local practices.
The rule of law and other governance principles are, alongside institutional arrangements, the cornerstones that support and create opportunities for steering, action, and transformation. Groundwater governance is challenging due to several interlinked and somewhat overlapping factors. It is partially because of the open access-nature and direct use of most underground resources.
The session explored gains, gaps and challenges from a groundwater governance perspective on acceleration of SDG 6. How can improved cross-sectoral governance – at multiple levels including the very local – better value groundwater resources and aquifers? What coordination measures are necessary; how can better alignment be-tween formal governance arrangements and informal elements be fostered? How can regulatory frameworks be improved?