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Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan agree on framework for joint management of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System


The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS) shared by four countries in northeast Africa (Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan) is the world's largest "fossil" groundwater aquifer, covering some two million square kilometres. Its vast freshwater reserves have the potential to meet growing water demands in the countries. If not managed carefully, however, the aquifer faces over-abstraction and eventual depletion as its water is ancient and non-renewable. To optimize the equitable use of the shared groundwater resource and its sustainability, the four Nubian countries have agreed on framework for joint management of the Nubian aquifer.

On 18 September 2013, the Governments of Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan formalized an agreement for joint management of the shared aquifer. The regional agreement (Strategic Action Programme) was signed at a signature ceremony during the IAEA's 57th General Conference by H.E. Ali Mahamat Abdoulaye, Ministère de l'hydraulique rurale et urbaine, Chad, H.E. Eng. Ahmed Mostafa Emam, Minister of Electricity and Energy, Egypt, H.E. Al Hadi Suleiman Henshir, Ministry of Water Resources, Libya and H.E. D.Tabita Potros Teia Shokai, State Minister, Ministry of Water Resources and Electricity, Sudan and Prof. Seifeldin Hamad Abdalla, Water Resources Technical Organ, Chair of the new Joint Authority.

The SAP provides a framework for agreed collective actions to manage the aquifer. Specifically, it outlines the necessary legal, policy and institutional reforms needed to address the key transboundary concerns affecting the aquifer and their root causes at both the regional and national level.

"This project reflects the determination of our states to move forward in the implementation of an integrated management plan for the water resources and the ecosystems of the NSAS in light of the potential threats imposed by population growth and consequent agricultural, industrial and urban development activities", said H.E. Al Hadi Suleiman Henshir.

The agreement is a successful outcome of an IAEA and United Nations Development Programme - Global Environment Fund (UNDP-GEF) joint project, in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project aimed to assist the four African countries in the establishment of a regional programme framework by first enhancing the scientific data through the preparation of a Shared Aquifer Diagnostic Analysis (SADA). In addition, it sought to improve the cooperation between countries sharing the aquifer.

Over several years, the IAEA, under this joint technical cooperation project, assisted the four countries use isotopes to further strengthen their understanding of the aquifer and its characteristics in order to support its sustainable management. Isotope hydrology techniques have been used to evaluate water quantity, quality and identify pollution pathways.

"The IAEA not only builds technical capacity, it also enables evidence-based decision making. Isotope hydrology has a very large role to play in the identification and mapping of Africa's water resources", said Daud Mohamad, IAEA Deputy Director General, Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications. "The data generated through such joint undertakings will ultimately enable the equitable use of transboundary resources, and will strengthen human wellbeing and security", he continued.

Following the signature ceremony, National Counterparts, UNDP representatives and IAEA officials gathered for a closed business meeting to discuss the next actions to be taken for the implementation of the SAP. The day was concluded with a reception marking this milestone in joint transboundary water resource management.

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