The myth of plenty. Groundwater resources account for 99% of the Planet Earth’s freshwater, yet only a fraction of this is accessible. Hence, although the volume of groundwater stored on our planet is huge, only a small portion can be used annually without depleting this vital resource. Yet, global groundwater abstraction has increased more than fourfold in the last 50 years along with ‘energizing’ it’s pumping (and often subsidizing this energy). Read more+
Groundwater provides for all the daily water needs for one third of humanity and is crucial for environmental and social ’goods’ upon which cities and rural communities have come to depend. Groundwater is the only source of freshwater for all human needs in many parts of the world and especially in remote and dry areas. It provides a buffer to climatic variability, and acts as storage during drought periods. It also significantly contributes to river flow. Today groundwater is estimated globally to provide 36% of potable water, 42% of water for irrigated agriculture and 24 % of direct industrial supply. Groundwater is also an increasingly important source of drinking water for cities. Some major urban centers are entirely or in majority dependent on groundwater.
Groundwater governance has been neglected. For all too long now, groundwater has too often been ‘abandoned to chance’ – despite the growing resource utilisation and dependence. The lack of effective groundwater governance is one of the root causes of groundwater depletion and degradation of aquifers.
Effective governance needs to start with the knowledge of the resource – where are recharge areas, at what rate, what are sustainable yields, what are flows (quantity and direction). The lack of knowledge and awareness of the role of groundwater and the state of the resource in each country often hampers action. Groundwater is a prime example of "we cannot manage what we cannot measure."
What We Do
Urgent action is needed if the current trends of in the state of groundwater resources are to be reversed and the cost of inaction can be tremendous. The GEF has partnered with FAO, World Bank, UNESCO, and IAH to analyse and consult across the world on the state of groundwater resources and on solutions to address it.
A 2030 Shared Global Vision for Groundwater Governance has been prepared through a worldwide process of consultation to act as an urgent call for collectively responsible action. To achieve the Vision, the GEF and its partners also launched a Global Framework for Action for groundwater governance that comprises the enabling framework and guiding principles for a coordinated action across all levels of governments, private sector, municipalities, civil society, and international organizations and professional associations. Read more+
Furthermore, the GEF has stepped up to this challenge by putting in place a designated program and finance for countries to jointly address groundwater governance and the conjunctive management of surface and groundwater and cooperate on the joint management of transboundary groundwater resources.
Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay collaborated on a GEF international waters project that produced an agreed transboundary diagnostic analysis and a strategic action programme for their large transboundary aquifer system in South America. The project was successful in supporting national inter-ministry committees and achieved the elaboration of a joint institutional, legal, and technical framework for sustainable management---the first large aquifer in the world with such a cooperative framework signed by the Presidents of the 4 countries. The cooperative framework includes principles for transboundary aquifer management contained in UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution A/RES/63/124 on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers. Read more+
Capacity was built to better understand the status of the shared aquifer and possible/existing use conflicts with pollution and over-pumping. National actions were also undertaken in 3 of the 4 countries to improve national groundwater management institutions, including a new water law in one country and integration into existing water management programs with national budgets. This illustrates the catalytic potential of GEF investments. Local demonstrations illustrated how conflicts can be avoided on over-pumping and how recharge areas can be protected from pollution. This project shows that concrete steps can be made to secure future water supplies from shared aquifers that will be critical to address more frequent droughts in a peaceful manner.