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Africa's Hidden Water

Researchers say it would help communities cope with climate impacts like drought and irregular rainfall.

Aerial photo of a circular borehole with colourful buckets being filled with water
Women and children collecting water at the borehole on Chisi Island, Malawi | Credit: WaterAid/Dennis Lupenga

Most countries in Africa could survive at least five years of drought – and some could survive more than 50 years – if the continent’s groundwater reserves were tapped into, according to new mapping by the British Geological Survey and WaterAid.

If extracted with simple tools like boreholes and pumps, the groundwater could be Africa's “insurance policy against climate change,” the researchers said.

Groundwater exists almost everywhere underground in gaps within soil, sand and rock. In Africa, researchers say it would help communities cope with climate impacts like drought and irregular rainfall.

Tim Wainwright, the chief executive of WaterAid in the UK, said: “Our findings debunk the myth that Africa is running out of water. But the tragedy is that millions of people on the continent still do not have enough clean water to drink. 

“There are vast reserves of water right under people’s feet, many of which are replenished every year by rainfall and other surface water, but they can’t access it because services are chronically underfunded. Tapping into groundwater would ensure millions have access to safe, clean water no matter what the climate crisis throws at them.”  

As groundwater is below the surface, it is more resilient to extreme weather than other water sources – such as lakes, rivers, streams and dams – and is largely protected from evaporation and less susceptible to pollution, the researchers said.

Every country south of the Sahara could supply 130 litres of drinking water per capita per day from groundwater, which would provide people with enough to drink, cook and wash with.


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