African Water Reserves – Up Until Now – Have Been An Unknown Quantity

May 29, 2012

Researchers are gaining a better idea about how much water Africa holds in vast, untapped reservoirs. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, Pete Spotts reports on a study conducted by the British Geological Survey and University College London that quantifies for the first time the extent of the continent’s underground water reserves and to some extent how accessible they are.

At a time when many African countries are attempting to ramp up agriculture production, the report may have implications about where farm expansion might or might not be possible. Among the findings:

  • The amount of water stored in the underground aquifers is some 20 times more than that in all the continent’s lakes and 100 times that received from annual rainfall.
  • The largest reserves lie beneath Libya, Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, and Chad, but are located far from population centers and stopped accumulating about 5,000 years ago.  Consequently these reserves will be difficult and expensive to access.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa contains smaller aquifers that are closer to cities and villages, making them easier and more economical to tap into but also more vulnerable to contamination.
  • These aquifers should, in theory, meet demands of rural communities and small irrigation needs if they are properly controlled. However, odds are that commercial-scale farming and urban centers would provide an unsustainable drain on the reserves.

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