Four African nations agree to improve use of key water resource under UN-backed plan

Sustainable water management brings economic, social and environmental benefits, say countries. Photo: UNEP

18 September 2013 – Four African nations today agreed to a United Nations-backed plan that seeks to optimize the use of a key underground aquifer system and improve the management of water resources.

The Strategic Action Programme, signed at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), commits Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan to ensure the equitable use of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, a huge water resource that lies beneath the four nations.

It also commits the countries to strengthen and build on a previously existing regional coordination mechanism, in part by establishing a new Joint Authority for the Nubian Aquifer System, according to a news release issued by the IAEA.

“I congratulate all involved on this significant achievement,” said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. “Water is a key resource, and effective management and use of such water resources is essential for the future.”

The Programme lays the groundwork for improving cooperation among the four arid nations and for strengthening their capacity to monitor and manage the aquifer effectively, noted the Agency.

It added that, with growing populations and decreasing water availability from other sources in the region, the aquifer is under mounting pressure. “Removing water without a clear understanding of transboundary and other implications threatens water quality and has the potential to harm biodiversity and accelerate land degradation,” the IAEA pointed out.

The Programme resulted from a joint technical cooperation project of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the IAEA.

“UNDP would like to congratulate the Governments of Egypt, Libya, Chad and Sudan for achieving this important milestone towards the cooperative management of their shared sub-surface waters which will help to ensure maintenance of livelihoods and ecosystems dependent upon the aquifer,” said its Administrator, Helen Clark.

The Nubian aquifer is the world’s largest known ‘fossil’ water aquifer system, meaning that the water is ancient and non-renewable, according to the IAEA.

The joint technical cooperation project began in 2006 and has already completed a sophisticated model of the aquifer to assist the four countries in optimizing use of the aquifer to meet human needs, avoid transboundary conflict, and protect ecosystems dependent upon the resource.

The IAEA contributes to the project in part by employing isotopic hydrology techniques to monitor the quantity and quality of groundwater and how it moves underground.


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