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Sharing Water in the Parched Sahel

The Sahel

In June 2012, the IAEA initiated a regional long-term project - with thirteen participating countries - that aims to enhance these countries' knowledge and understanding of the five large transboundary aquifers that they are sharing in the Sahel region. (Photo: R. Quevenco/IAEA)

World Water Day 2013 focuses on the opportunities for cooperation in the use of fresh water resources - a shared asset that is vital for sustainable development. The IAEA supports sustainable water resource use by helping countries measure and monitor their shared fresh water resources. Often fresh water crosses national borders, and underground aquifers store fresh water in reservoirs that likewise span national borders. Mapping and understanding these priceless resources helps to ensure that countries can develop science-based, long-term strategies for allocating and managing fresh water equitably and sustainably.

In Africa, the IAEA is undertaking a large scale, four-year technical cooperation project on water resources assessment and management in the Sahel region. The project will utilize upon isotope techniques in the hydrological studies. The detailed hydrological studies in the Sahel region will cover five aquifers: the Iullemeden Aquifer System, the Liptako-Gourma-Upper Volta System, the Senegalo-Mauritanian Basin, the Chad Basin and the Taoudeni Basin. The five trans-boundary hydrological systems are shared by thirteen IAEA African Member States: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, and two non-IAEA Member States, Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia.

With the decline of fresh water resources in the Sahel region, a large-scale project was needed to address issues at both the macro level (trans-boundary water resources) and micro level (potable supply consumption). Strong partnerships are being developed with multi-stakeholder groups in the region as a part of the project's water cooperation focus.

"Water is a shared resource and its management needs to take into account a wide range of interests, offering many opportunities for cooperation among users, particularly those of the Sahel region," IAEA Deputy Director General for Technical Cooperation Mr. Kwaku Aning said.

Building Scientific Capacity

Policy makers need reliable scientific data to develop a strategic action programme that can be managed at the trans-boundary level. To generate that data, scientists need to be trained in the relevant methodologies and analytical capacity needs to be installed. Therefore, the technical cooperation project is building that capacity to fill the data gaps. Currently, five expert consultations are being conducted in twelve countries, focusing on the five aquifers. These expert missions provide advisory support to national experts within the aquifer systems, to fine tune the methodologies for on-going sampling campaigns. The sampling will generate isotopic data that offers much greater analytical precision than conventional methods to deliver a better understanding of the aquifers' recharge rates, geochemistry and other key parameters needed to manage water resources with equity. Three countries in the region have acquired laser equipment's for analysis through this project. The technicians training will be completed in the near future and the IAEA Member States using this new equipment will play a pivotal role in data analysis within the region. Further support will also be provided through the project's regional designated centres.

Analysis at a Regional Level

The Sahel project will further conduct a shared aquifer/basin diagnostic analysis of the five Sahelian trans-boundary systems' priority issues, threats, and their root causes, National teams of stakeholders will prepare a shared aquifer/basin diagnostic analysis report at the national level for each trans-boundary system. The findings will be integrated at the regional level to provide a complete report for each system, which may lead to the development of a strategic action plan.

Closing Data Gaps

The project will continue to offer means to close the key gaps in the methodology, data and capacity to be able to better support strategic planning decisions, use appropriate technical approaches and focus on isotopic techniques and applications under the supervision of the IAEA. Additionally, the project will identify and collect the missing data required to gain a better overview and understanding of the selected systems. At a regional level, isotopic data will be collected and compiled, while isotope hydrology techniques will be introduced into the regional monitoring programme.

Raising Public Awareness

The Sahel project is raising public and stakeholder awareness through its outreach programme and in collaboration with its partners. It informs the stakeholders and public about the sustainable use of water resources and the role that isotope technology plays in supporting conventional methods used in the management of water resources.

-- By Eric J.Cole, IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation


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