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IAEA & Environmental Partners Help Protect Shared Water Resources

The IAEA is increasingly working with environmental partners to help countries manage their water resources for use today and tomorrow. (Photo credit: J. Perez Vargas/IAEA)

The IAEA is working more closely with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and other partners to help countries assess and manage limited water resources. The results of the shared expertise are proving especially valuable for transboundary water problems facing countries in Africa, Asia and other regions.

Among other areas, the IAEA supports UNEP´s Global Environmental Monitoring System/Water (GEMS/Water) programme on water quality assessment including conducting laboratory inter-comparison testing to ensure accurate and precise measurement of water quality. This collaboration has helped in expanding the networks of laboratories in the developing member states globally. The Agency also provides expertise for shared aquifer management projects in Africa funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by UNEP. The joint efforts were among topics addressed by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer at meetings in Vienna in early May.

An aquifer in the North-Western Sahara, for example, is an important freshwater source for the people of Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. With increasing scarcity of clean surface waters it is vital the aquifer is preserved for peoples´ use both today and in the future.

The joint project involving the IAEA and UNEP as well as other partners such as UNESCO, FAO and OSS, is helping these three countries to use isotopic and nuclear techniques to protect their shared water source. If uncontrolled, exploitation of the aquifer could reduce it from a strategic water reserve to a degraded resource and fuel conflicts about its use. Isotope hydrology offers a set of unique tools that provide comprehensive information about the aquifer as an underground water system. It gives the countries scientifically sound information on which they can base management decisions about the aquifer. Better management will mean that the aquifer is less likely to suffer from pollution and rapid depletion.

The North-Western Sahara aquifer is one of several areas of joint IAEA and UNEP work to bolster freshwater supplies. As part of the growing cooperation between the two UN organizations, the IAEA contributes key inputs on global freshwater quality to GEMS/Water, which develops and maintains a global freshwater quality information system with a series of national and international partners. That information is shared through a variety of mechanisms including the Internet and publications to support global and regional environmental assessment and reporting processes in the United Nations system and other international agencies. The IAEA hosted the UNEP GEMS/Water Technical Advisory Group Meeting in Vienna in early May, 2005.

A lack of drinking water or adequate sanitation kills 1.7 million people a year, 90% of them children. The IAEA is helping countries gain "know-how" and key data needed to better manage and protect their valuable water supplies. "Knowledge is power," says Mr. Pradeep Aggarwal, Manager of the IAEA Water Resources Programme. "Sound scientific information is vital for a country to strategically manage and protect its water supplies for long-term sustainability."

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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