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protests over the depletion and contamination of groundwater resources famously led to the closing of a Coca-Cola factory in the village of Plachimada, India, in 2005. 

Widespread protests over the depletion and contamination of groundwater resources famously led to the closing of a Coca-Cola factory in the village of Plachimada, India, in 2005. 

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Dr Jacobsen, why is it important to talk about groundwater?

It’s important because groundwater is such a vital resource that is coming increasingly under pressure around the world. Two thirds of the world’s drinking water come from groundwater reservoirs. More than one billion rural households in Africa and Asia alone depend on groundwater for their livelihoods and food security. Climate change increases this dependency on groundwater only further.

What does it mean to “make the invisible visible”?

Many people, including decision-makers, are not aware of the importance of groundwater. We don’t see the water tables dropping; most of us only notice there’s a problem when the wells start to dry up, or when our rivers which are fed from groundwater run dry, which is already happening in many places. In most countries, the state of groundwater resources is not well known because they are not being monitored, much less regulated.

Your position paper calls for groundwater to be used “in a fairer way,” why?

It’s unacceptable that this vital resource is being exploited unchecked to increase profits in industry, agriculture and mining while the consequences of falling water tables and groundwater pollution are mostly and most acutely felt by the poor populations, by indigenous people, by smallholder famers and so on.

We therefore demand that groundwater must not be used to maximise profits, increasing inequalities and making life even more difficult for communities that are already struggling. It has to be used in a more sustainable way and with the goal to overcome global poverty and social injustice.

That is not only true for groundwater though, is it?

Absolutely, using water resources in a more sustainable and a fairer way is a key challenge talking about all types of water sources and aquatic eco-systems, unfortunately. The lack of awareness is particularly pronounced when it comes to groundwater though, which is why it is good that the UN is drawing attention to this issue this year.

What actions can we all take to preserve groundwater?

Some things that can be done on the individual level include using water carefully, not using bottled water, and so on. But mostly better groundwater use is a political question. Groundwater is not regulated enough, and we do not know enough about our groundwater resources. We need better information on groundwater first and, based on that, regulate it. One has to do lobby work, go to the street, expose the misuse of groundwater, and demand from politicians at all levels to better protect groundwater.

More information:

Groundwater is a common good (pdf, English)

Groundwater: a hidden treasure we need to protect, say EWN members (WCC news release 22 February 2022)

UN World Water Development Report 2022: Groundwater: Making the invisible visible