On Wednesday 14 September, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Mark Harbers, paid a visit to IGRAC and IHE Delft. The main purpose of this visit was to get acquainted with the work of both UNESCO centers and to explore what The Netherlands could learn from other countries in terms of drought mitigation and climate change adaptation. This was a unique opportunity to highlight the crucial role groundwater can play as buffer in increasingly prolonged periods of drought, as a result of a changing climate.
Drought in the Netherlands
In 2020, IGRAC published a story on drought in the Netherlands and its impact on groundwater resources, but it is as relevant today. Last month, the Dutch government officially declared water shortage due to another year of drought. In a reaction to Reuters, Minister Harbers at that time explained that water influxes from the Rhine River was "exceptionally low for the time of year" and also mentioned the implications for groundwater. “Groundwater levels are sinking and are very low in places in the south", the ministry said. “Leading to algae blooms and fish death.”
You cannot manage what you do not monitor
It was therefore with great interest that the minister listened to the short presentation of Claudia Ruz Vargas, Groundwater Specialist at IGRAC, who shared her experiences with drought in her home country Chile. She mentioned that climate change is often being presented as sole cause of drought. This was indeed true for Chile, however, also only painting part of the picture. The political will to first understand the situation, by groundwater assessment and monitoring, and then act, by managing resources more sustainably, is too often overlooked. She highlighted the role that IGRAC could play in improving groundwater monitoring and presented the overview of national groundwater monitoring programmes she produced, which is prepared to assist in improvement of monitoring and data processing.
Groundwater does not know country borders
Consequently, Arnaud Sterckx presented on transboundary aquifers. In this presentation, he explained the complications that come to light when dealing with a resource that is not only invisible, but also shared by two or more countries. This can be on a technical level, with each country having different assessment or monitoring approaches that need to be harmonized. It can also be on a diplomatic level, where it is difficult to find agreements for cooperation or even to share data on the status of the aquifer. Arnaud presented the global map of transboundary aquifers, which has been updated in 2021.
Road to UN 2023 Water Conference
From this story about international cooperation on a ministerial level, it was a smooth transition to the last topic presented by IGRAC: The UN-Water Summit on Groundwater 2022. IGRAC Director Elisabeth Lictevout gave a talk about this high-level event, which will be held in Paris, France, on 7-8 December. This summit should result in a clear message on groundwater to be sent to the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York City, USA, from 22 to 24 March 2023. With the Netherlands being the co-host of this UN conference, together with Tajikistan, the minister was interested to hear how IGRAC and IHE Delft can contribute.