Reliable access to clean water for drinking, agriculture and sanitation is one of the biggest challenges faced by the 135 million people who live in Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region. Thirteen countries tap into the groundwater of five aquifers systems that cross national borders in the region: the Iullemeden Aquifer System, the Liptako-Gourma-Upper Volta System, the Senegalo-Mauritanian Basin, the Chad Basin and the Taoudeni Basin.
The governments in the Sahel recognize the importance of setting up the technical, legal and institutional frameworks necessary to manage their shared water resources in a cooperative and integrated manner, based on a comprehensive regional water resource assessment for which fundamental hydrological data are necessary. Improving the understanding and the management of the Sahel’s ground water resources will contribute to SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation.
Towards a Solution
The IAEA is currently implementing an ongoing large-scale project to support 13 Sahel countries to enhance decision-making processes for the characterisation, management and monitoring of groundwater in support of SDG target 6.5 “By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through trans boundary cooperation as appropriate.”
The initiative builds on a previous project which was implemented between 2012 and 2017 through the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme in collaboration with a broad range of partners and donors.
By building capacities in water sampling and isotope hydrology, the IAEA has enabled over 100 scientists and technicians in the 13 countries to study the features of the main aquifers as well as the interaction between water bodies, and to assess the vulnerability of groundwater to pollution and the impact of climate change on water availability. These factors all affect the quality and availability of fresh water in the Sahel. Several regional experts from countries more advanced in the use of isotope hydrology were used to mentor and facilitate the progress of the project in the participating countries. A strong component of South-South cooperation was fostered during the project as the participating countries performed joint sampling campaigns in shared resources and pooled results
The IAEA helped in developing human and technical capacity for the management of the shared water resources. Local scientists collected almost 2000 samples from wells, rivers and rain in the Sahel’s transboundary areas, which were then compiled in a dedicated database for each basin. Scientists from each country applied their new skills to produce national reports. The research activities led to the first broad overview of groundwater in the Sahel, a key resource for water authorities in decision making. In general, the aquifer systems located in the different shared basins represent a significant reserve of good quality water to cover most human needs.
Five aquifer basin reports were made available on the IAEA website. The data collected will provide policymakers with scientific evidence to support them in decision making regarding this shared water resource. Large quantities of good quality groundwater have been identified in several areas, which is of critical importance to the drought-prone region.
The current project, initiated in 2018, seeks to further improve the management of groundwater resources in the Sahel countries by translating the hydrological data generated from the first project into policies, and by using the network of counterpart institutions established to make a decisive contribution to the characterization, management and monitoring of groundwater resources using isotope hydrology and other conventional techniques.
Eight countries - Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo - are implementing the IAEA Water Availability Enhancement (IWAVE) methodology, which enables countries to perform a comprehensive assessment of their capacity to characterize, monitor and sustainably utilize groundwater resources. The lessons learned will be shared with all participating countries.
The IAEA acts as facilitator and continues to train the scientists and technicians of participating institutes, so that the institutes can serve as regional/sub-regional resource centres for analytical services in the region. The current project has awarded 15 PhD combining classroom with hands-on learning to enhance regional self-reliance in isotope hydrology.
The project addresses issues such as sampling in areas where important data gaps have been identified. This is particularly important for the characterisation of deep aquifers for which limited information is available. By early 2020, 847 new samples had been taken and analysed.
The sustainability of this technical cooperation activity has been enhanced through the utilization of regional expertise and technical capabilities, standardization and harmonization of methodologies and management practices, and tangible outputs such as monitoring stations and networks. From 2022 onwards, it is planned to expand the project to the rest of Africa to address other transboundary water resources and mainstream the use of the IWAVE methodology in developing capacity building programmes in participating countries.