From 7 to 8 December 2022, the UN held its annual Water Summit on Groundwater. The Summit was preceded by a side event which was held on 6 December 2022. The UN-Water Summit on Groundwater, including its side event, took place at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris and was planned as a hybrid meeting.
The UN Groundwater Summit aimed to put groundwater at the forefront of the international scene. The Summit used the UN World Water Development Report 2022 as basis and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 Global Acceleration Framework as guideline to steer actions towards more responsible and sustainable use and protection of this precious resource.
UN Groundwater Summit: Making the Invisible Visible.
Pavlos Tyrologou, EFG’s External Relations Officer.
The Summit’s event discussed a diversity of topics related to Groundwater. Speakers from across the world and from heterogenous backgrounds intervened at the side event. Pavlos Tyrologou, External Relations Officer at the European Federation of Geologists (EFG), actively participated in the Summit on behalf of EFG as a speaker on the “Groundwater and the right to a healthy environment” session organised by Humanright2water, Deltares, Action centre la faim & Solidarité International.
The baseline for this session was that Groundwater is central to the right to a healthy environment and the right to clean drinking water. However, the understanding of groundwater resources is often overlooked in planning and regulatory processes. Moreover, during humanitarian crises, the power of institutional systems is often reduced, environmental monitoring programmes are put on hold or discontinued, and groundwater evaluation and management are often neglected.
The main objective of the session was therefore to create a dialogue between the humanitarian sector, governments and groundwater professionals by presenting the unique challenges of groundwater management in these crises. It was an opportunity for speakers and participants to engage in a dialogue discussing the link between groundwater surveillance and humanitarian crisis, how the potential of groundwater can be harnessed, and how groundwater management can be included within strategies for fragile situations.
The session discussed how Groundwater availability, quality and quantity have become a driver of displacement and migration, and how Groundwater can be part of the Human Rights policy and action to create resilience and prosperity in regions which are experiencing migrations.
The dialogue aimed to contribute to improving the understanding of the link between the right to a healthy environment and the right to groundwater, to strengthen policy to improve crisis management for vulnerable people. It also aimed to give participants an increased understanding of the needs of the humanitarian sector and the socio-economic policy development in relation to groundwater policy recommendations, to support the inclusion of groundwater strategies and improve access to water.
Source: UN Groundwater Summit 2022
In addition, another session entitled “Role of GW in addressing the challenges of SDGs” was held during the Summit. The moderator of the session was Patrick Lachassagne, President of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) French Chapter.
This session showed how hydrogeology is an applied science and that there are a lot of Groundwater experts all around the world. It also stressed on the fact that we have in our hand the technical tools and the method to work. However, each site is unique. This is why we need data which will allow us to manage Groundwater. We also need legislations, laws and guidelines to help in the management of Groundwater, because many aquifers are located at different political units (local, regional, national and international). In most cases, bottlenecks stem from the difficulties in governance between these different levels.
Governance should be flexible enough to manage Groundwater at the international scale but also at the local scale (wells). We also need more financing and political action to help groundwater play the role it should play to achieve the SDGs.
Another interesting session was the one entitled “Innovation contribution to solve groundwater challenges and accelerate transitions”, during which Marco Pettita, Vice-President of IAH (International Association of Hydrogeologists) for Programme and Science and past Coordinator of the Panel of Experts on Hydrogeology of the EFG, also gave a talk. The session discussed how research and innovation can contribute to solve the UN SDGs, and in particular what are the groundwater challenges there. We usually say that water is too little or too much, too expensive, too polluted or even too wasted. But if we look to groundwater as an invisible resource, then we do not know when we are missing water or when it is polluted. This is particularly true when we are discussing research and innovation. Water has always been at the center of innovations.
Marco Pettita and Pavlos Tyrologou.
There are identified challenges in: i. Obtaining synergies between science, technology, innovation and education/capacity building. We need to train the new generations of scientists and decision makers ; ii. Joints efforts for innovative funding and financing schemes for the development of knowledge and solutions. It’s a constant task for everyone. Why we need that? To provide new solutions or implement solutions which are already in place; iii. Support for open science and data as a driver of innovative solutions; iv. Consider equity (not only gender but every equity on earth) at its core for being mindful of social, economic and environmental impacts.
The baseline for this session was ‘what we know about research’, ‘what we don’t know about research’, ‘what is unknown known’, i.e. in some areas other sectors have provided solutions and we don’t know them, and the unknown unknowns’, i.e. what is totally ignored.
There’s a link between the SDGs and groundwater which is very important. The SDGs can reinforce sustainable groundwater management. Some of them have a mixed effect and some of them are conflicting. This stresses the need to develop science and innovation to better connect SDGs to groundwater research and also to develop indicators. We need more relevant knowledge on linking the SDGs to groundwater management to obtain sustainable groundwater management. A way to do this on the global scene is to develop the UNFC, which is a project-centered tool. The multiple values of water must be reconsidered. And, water has to be placed at the center of the socio-economic systems and not only consider the uses we make of it. The identified challenges must be addressed by more systemic and multi-stakeholder approaches to co-construct solutions adapted to different realities.
At last, it is worth mentioning that the Summit closed with a call for the donor community, the private sector, and civil society to increase efforts to better manage groundwater. Governments and stakeholders are called upon to put forth rapid action towards “financing sustainable groundwater management, development and use; collection and sharing of data and information; strengthening human and institutional capacity; leveraging and scaling up innovations for groundwater management; and financing for groundwater governance.” This call to action will be the common theme leading the discussions at the UN 2023 Water Conference which will be held in March 2023 at the UN Headquarters in New York City.
Joint message from UN-Water Summit on Groundwater, 2022. United Nations, https://www.unwater.org/news/joint-message-un-water-summit-groundwater-2022?utm_content=bufferba6b9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer. 30-01-2023
About the Author: Yuyu is EFG’s Assistant Project Officer. She is supporting the team in administrative and communication-related tasks and is also involved in several of EFG’s EU funded projects. After spending most of her childhood in Congo, Yuyu travelled to China, where she studied Mandarin. Yuyu then moved to Brussels, where she is currently based. She holds an undergraduate degree in Germanic Languages and Letters. After following a career pathway in the financial sector, Yuyu decided to change gear by pursuing what she loves most, natural sciences. This has led her to graduate with a Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management.
Disclaimer: This article expresses the personal opinions of the author. These opinions may not reflect the official position of the European Federation of Geologists (EFG).