Overview of Groundwater in Africa

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Groundwater is an invaluable resource in Africa, providing a safe and reliable source of drinking water for many people and supporting food production through irrigation. Groundwater is generally more resilient to short-term climate variability and less vulnerable to pollution than surface water sources. However, sustainable groundwater development requires careful characterization of the resource to avoid long-term depletion and environmental degradation. This will become increasingly important as more pressure is applied to Africa's groundwater resources under population growth and higher irrigation demand.

The occurrence of groundwater depends on a number of interacting factors, including geology, geomorphology and weathering, and rainfall and evaporation. Spatial and temporal variations in these factors can produce highly complex hydrogeological environments with significant variations in aquifer properties, aquifer saturated thickness, and recharge. Quantification of these factors, and an understanding of the interplay between them, is required to properly characterize a groundwater resource.

However, for many parts of Africa very little groundwater information is readily available (Figure). This may be due to a lack of data collection, or simply due to issues of data accessibility. In areas where data is not available or easily accessible, it becomes very difficult to quantify the available resource. This often leads to inappropriate exploitation of an aquifer causing longer term issues of groundwater availability and quality.

Many studies have recently or are currently being undertaken to address some of the key knowledge gaps of groundwater resources in Africa. This section of the Atlas brings together available information to provide a continental-scale overview of:

  1. The main hydrogeological environments of Africa
  2. Major groundwater quality issues in Africa
  3. Groundwater use and management in Africa

The sections above provide general background and context to the more detailed information available under each country profile.