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Raising awareness for groundwater during 197th UNESCO Executive Board

Raising awareness for groundwater during 197th UNESCO Executive Board

On Tuesday 13 October 2015, IGRAC was presented to delegates of the member states of UNESCO, during the 197th UNESCO Executive Board. During the session "Groundwater: Our Hidden Treasure", the main objective was to raise awareness for the importance of groundwater as freshwater resource and to discuss how IGRAC as UNESCO Category II Centre could further assist Member States in preserving this hidden treasure. 

The side-event on groundwater started with the projection of IGRAC’s animated video ‘Groundwater, the Hidden Resource’, showing the significance of groundwater for providing our basic needs. The video emphasises how limited our knowledge about the availability and quality of this ‘hidden resource’. And since you can’t manage what you don’t measure, more assessment and monitoring is needed to sustainably manage groundwater resources. This video proved to be a good starting point of the event because it outlined the various challenges that were addressed during the groundwater event. First Mr. Marc Leblanc of University of Avignon drew a picture of the global situation of groundwater and the threats it is facing. Then Dr. Neno Kukuric presented the role of UNESCO-IHP and IGRAC in assisting UNESCO member states to deal with these challenges.

Groundwater: Our Hidden Treasure

The event ‘Groundwater: Our Hidden Treasure’ was organised by UNESCO-IHP and the Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to UNESCO. On behalf of the delegation, H.E. Mr. Lionel Veer, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to UNESCO, welcomed all UNESCO member state representatives and elaborated on the Dutch commitment to groundwater issues. 

Ms. Blanca Jiménez-Cisneros, Secretary of the UNESCO-IHP and Director of the UNESCO Division of Water Sciences, then presented on UNESCO’s efforts to tackle water issues and specifically highlighted UNESCO-IHP’s work on groundwater. 

“Groundwater is passing underneath borders without a passport”

With over 50% of the world’s population relying on groundwater for its basic needs, it is already a very precious resource. However, it may become even more precious in the upcoming years. In his presentation ‘Groundwater: status, trends, and challenges’, Mr. Marc Leblanc of the University of Avignon showed how global trends will affect groundwater in the future. According to the latest UN projections, the world’s population will rise from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050. This population growth will result in increased demand for water and not just as source of drinking water, but also for food production. 

However while demand for water will grow, the availability of groundwater is likely to decrease also due to climate change. Climate change and the temperature rise caused by this change will result into more climate extremes, from heavy floods to extreme droughts. This will have an effect on groundwater resources, which will become scarcer and therefore even more precious. However, there are methods to deal with these negative effects. One example is Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR), which is one of the major climate adaptation measures. 

But cooperation is key when applying such climate adaptation measures because groundwater, as Kukuric mentioned, “passes underneath borders without a passport”. Ensuring the sustainable management of these shared resources is a way to avoid political tensions and to promote peace. Concretely, IGRAC contributes to this peace building effort by assisting member states with joint groundwater assessments and monitoring, thereby improving the overall access to, knowledge of and benefit from groundwater.

Ambassador Veer concluded the event by saying that UNESCO can help making water management sustainable, but that it “cannot do this alone”. He therefore called upon UNESCO member states to support UNESCO’s Water Family of which IGRAC is a member, and reminded the audience that the Executive Board decided that fresh water is the highest priority for UNESCO’s Science Sector. The way forward for UNESCO and IGRAC could be to help monitoring the implementation of the sustainable development goal by supporting IGRAC’s Global Groundwater Monitoring Network (GGMN) programme.