The WLE 2016 Annual Report > Influencing policy and decision making

Prashanth Vishwanathan/IWMI

Finding the right balance to sustainably manage groundwater

Dr. Prasun Gangopadhyay measures the water collected in a pond created for Underground Taming of Floods for irrigation (UTFI) at Jiwai Jadid, UP India.

Policy makers and other decision makers across Africa and Asia are increasingly looking to groundwater to help address variability and ensure reliability of water resources. Knowing and understanding where and how to sustainably develop groundwater is key. Equally important is to identify where overexploitation is taking place. Practical tools for addressing overuse and mismanagement can help ensure that groundwater remains available for generations to come.

Innovative research by WLE is supporting the development of sustainable groundwater policies for increased social, environmental and economic outcomes. It is also supporting sustainability of urban aquifers via inter-sectoral water transfers. Additionally, WLE is enhancing community management of groundwater resources through experimental games.

For example, WLE has developed an interactive online tool that water managers can use to visualize and assess sustainable groundwater abstraction scenarios at various scales. The assessments are based on calculations of the contributions of surface and groundwater to environmental flows (i.e., the water flows required to sustain ecosystems). This global environmental flow information will help inform some specific targets and measurements for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2016, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which leads WLE, launched a global partnership, the Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP). The aim of this initiative is to embed sustainable groundwater practices at the heart of natural resource management towards achievement of the SDGs. The initiative is forging new partnerships, sharing solutions, scaling-up successes and helping to address knowledge gaps.

The groundwater opportunities and challenges in Africa may be different from those in Asia, but WLE has developed a range of solutions that fit the needs of policy and other decision makers in their specific regions and local contexts.

Scaling up sustainable groundwater use in Africa

IWMI, as part of WLE, has mapped the irrigation potential from renewable groundwater in Africa. Researchers have also developed transboundary aquifer maps for the continent, which identify renewable groundwater resources as those still available after human and environmental demands have been accounted for. In Africa, only 1% of cultivated land (approximately 2 million ha) is currently irrigated using groundwater, compared to around 14% (approximately 38 million ha) in Asia. Overall, groundwater resources in Africa are plentiful but unevenly distributed and underutilized. This abundance represents a huge untapped opportunity for Africa to improve food security and livelihoods through groundwater-supported irrigation.  

Some African farmers have already begun to embrace groundwater irrigation. The WLE maps suggest that the area in Africa irrigated with groundwater could be sustainably expanded beyond the current 2 million ha to 40 million ha. The maps offer guidance to water managers and investors for sustainably scaling up use of groundwater for agricultural production.  

However, this expansion of groundwater use in Africa needs to be done carefully and with a thorough understanding of each specific region's context and sustainable limitations. There is a lot of unexploited potential, for example, in the semi-arid Sahel and eastern regions from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe. In contrast, groundwater resources in parts of southern Africa and northern Africa have already been exploited beyond sustainable levels and, as a result, now need improved management options.

Reinvigorating the sustainability of groundwater resources in Asia

In Asia, groundwater resources have been widely developed, and places such as western and southern India are now suffering from unsustainable overexploitation. To help address these challenges, WLE has developed a set of management tools and policy options. These foster an in-depth understanding of hydrogeological, institutional and stakeholder contexts. At the same time, they focus on potential incentives for reducing groundwater withdrawals that don't significantly impact farmer livelihoods.

WLE research and field-testing of technologies in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have focused on identifying ways to harness floodwater in the monsoon season and use it to replenish groundwater resources for irrigation during the dry season. The Underground Taming of Floods for Irrigation (UTFI) initiative aims to tackle two challenges at once  - annual flooding and groundwater overexploitation. UTFI is a collaboration between WLE and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). It uses floodwater to recharge groundwater aquifers in order to improve the sustainability of the resource.

Through this initiative, a pond in the village of Jiwai Jadid, 20 kilometers east of the town of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, was renovated. The renovation allowed diverted floodwater to percolate through recharge wells, thereby replenishing aquifers and raising groundwater levels.  In the dry season, this water can be re-accessed for irrigation. 

Based on the results of this pilot, Rampur District has now included UTFI in its District Irrigation Plan and has set aside US$ 1.2 million from government funds for implementation. In the year ahead, similar trials are planned in Vietnam, Bangladesh and elsewhere in India.  

Learn more about what WLE is doing to build farmer resilience through sustainable groundwater use and management.

in 2015 wle: field tested 62 technologies and natural resource management practices, helped 125,000 farmers to apply new technologies or management practices, supported improved technologies or management practices on 2.5 million hectares

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In 2015 WLE: established 41 multi-stakeholder platforms and influenced 200 policy processes

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