by Dr Fabio Fussi, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca
The role of groundwater data in rural water supply has changed markedly in over the last few year:
6th RWSN Forum in Kampala, 2011: Some pilot projects of groundwater data collection and organization is presented. Uganda is presenting its groundwater atlas, a promising example for other countries.
7th RWSN Forum in Abidjan, 2016: there were entire sessions dedicated to groundwater data collection, mapping, analysis and application, with presentation of country programs from national water institutions, some example of international projects to create continental or world groundwater database (e.g. the groundwater atlas of Africa from the British Geological Survey) and application of groundwater data analysis.
What has raised the interest up to this level? There are several factors:
- Data collection has become easy, with IT tools available in portable devices and smartphones for water point mapping. The increased availability of information has allowed to use these data to take decision about groundwater development and monitoring.
- Depletion of groundwater resources (both in quantity and quality) requires the definition of sustainable groundwater development strategies and monitoring the effectiveness and impact of their implementation.
- International donors have an increased interest to support countries to create groundwater information system, and national water institutions have, in several cases, understood the importance to put effort in this.
This seems a promising path for the future to support an effective and sustainable use of groundwater. However there are critical factors that must be taken into consideration:
- An increasing amount of data are available, but still there is lack of control in their quality. National databases are full of information, but limited effort is spent to revise them and depurate from mistakes. If this aspect is not properly considered, the risk of incorrect interpretation is high, leading to the formulation of incorrect strategies.
- Despite of the huge amount of information and the availability of powerful tools to process it, the level of data analysis to deepen our understating of groundwater system and give a practical support for complex decisions seems still basic. At this time we need creativity, technical capacity and collaboration between decision makers and scientist to unlock the potential of massive groundwater databases.
- An unbelievable amount of information is available, held by national water authorities and organizations involved in groundwater development. Most of this information is in hard copy, almost unused, not yet transformed into numeric database. This task is huge and time consuming, but if we can support it, we avoid the risk to loose relevant data and in they can be easily used to take decisions.
In the coming years the effect of climate change and the increase in water needs (due to population growth and improved living conditions) will lead to a more intense exploitation of groundwater resources, whose feasibility and sustainability must be carefully evaluated by a detailed interpretation of reliable data.