As we celebrate World Water Day (WWD), we are again reminded of the importance of water in the southern Africa region, and globally. This year’s commemorations are being held under the theme, “Groundwater – making the invisible visible.” For southern Africa, the theme is apt, given the flourishing groundwater economy. The underserved, particularly in rural areas, have historically depended on groundwater for domestic water, livestock water supply, irrigation, and livelihoods in general. This year’s WWD theme is a stark reminder of the role of groundwater in meeting everyday needs, particularly in areas with limited water services.


March 22 is an important day on the UN calendar. World Water Day was first commemorated in 1993 following the 1992 UN conference on environment and development held in Brazil. It was resolved to set aside a day to bring everyone’s attention to matters that affect water provision and access as well as remind us to redirect our energies and efforts to the importance of water in our lives.


Southern Africa is one of the subregions most affected by climate change, with resultant effects on the availability of water for agricultural production, food and nutrition, and drinking water and sanitation, among others. The region also has uneven water distribution, with high abundance in localized areas and limited resources in others. Reconciliation of this variability is required to bridge the gaps in water availability to support the multiple demands on the resource, including supporting groundwater-dependent ecosystems.


“The region continues to face multiple water-related challenges and is increasingly turning to groundwater for water supply. In Malawi, for example, smallholder farmers are increasingly dependent on groundwater for irrigation, leveraging solar technology to alleviate the cost of pumping water. This is one of the responses to water security challenges that we will continue to see in the subregion. With about 60% of the SADC population reliant on groundwater, responses to the water challenge should place as much emphasis on groundwater as is placed on surface water. This means how we manage the resource, monitor its use, and prevent pollution and unsustainable abstractions,” said Dr. Patrice Talla, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa and FAO Representative to Zimbabwe.


The World Water Day commemorations coincide with the launch of the UN World Water Development Report 2022 which was launched on 21 March 2022 at the opening ceremony of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar, Senegal. The World Water report and World Water Day 2022 sets the theme for a range of key events and campaigning activities throughout the year.


According to the UN World Water Development Report 2022, “Groundwater already provides half of the volume of water withdrawn for domestic use by the global population, including the drinking water for the vast majority of the rural population who do not get their water delivered to them via public or private supply systems, and around 25% of all water withdrawn for irrigation. However, this natural resource is often poorly understood, and consequently undervalued, mismanaged and even abused.”


In Southern Africa, FAO supports countries in accessing and using groundwater for irrigation and livestock, including access to technology for lifting water and distributing it on the fields. FAO is currently supporting the government of Namibia and Angola to develop a programme focusing on improving access to water in the transboundary Kunene River basin where semi-nomadic populations depend on groundwater for livestock and other needs. As FAO continues to support SADC in implementing its DRR strategy, it will ensure that groundwater receives the necessary attention to ensure sustainability.


As water is a key ingredient for livelihoods, poor access to the resource has far reaching consequences, some related to migration to urban areas adding to the challenges of already congested spaces in urban spaces. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with the added water demands for regular handwashing, has increased demand for water, and exerts even more pressure on this invaluable resource. Monitoring of groundwater is required to manage depletion, ensure water security for all, and ensure that no one is left behind.


Groundwater, the invisible resource, is valuable in weathering droughts. However, it is also susceptible to overuse, and pollution. As such, its use must be monitored, and its use regulated. In Zimbabwe, boreholes are a lifeline for urban dwellers. In rural areas, groundwater sometimes provides the only source of drinking and livestock water. It is vital for rural development and ensuring no one is left behind. In this regard, FAO continues to work with its partners and governments in the subregion, to identify ways and means for sustainably utilizing and managing groundwater as a way to achieve the sub-regional development agenda.

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Source: Nomad Africa Magazine