Groundwater is a significant component of the hydrogeological cycle and aquifers are an important hydrological unit. Globally, groundwater represents 98 % of the Earth’s unfrozen freshwater. In nature, groundwater drives many geological and geochemical processes and sustains various ecological functions and services. Groundwater should be integrated with economic, social and environmental dimensions of water resources. Many people depend upon groundwater for potable water and for ensuring food security and sustainable living.
Groundwater may also be considered a safe source of drinking water in arid and semi-arid regions and small islands and in emergency situations. The use of groundwater has significantly increased over the last 50 years due to its widespread occurrence, high reliability during drought seasons, mostly good quality, major advances in 24 hydrogeological knowledge, development of modern drilling and pumping technologies and generally modest development costs.
In previous IHP phases, groundwater programmers and projects improved knowledge of groundwater and aquifers worldwide. Collaboration with the GEF as well as with other UN organizations, scientific institutions and universities contributed to improvement of the knowledge of groundwater and its resources and aquifers worldwide. As a result of these collaborative scientific activities, a fairly good understanding exists about shallow aquifers, methods of groundwater resources assessment and development, artificial recharge, groundwater pollution, and methodology of hydrogeological mapping. However, we still face many challenges: the complexity of aquifer systems, the increasing global risk to groundwater depletion, quality deterioration and pollution, growing demand for groundwater resources for drinking and other uses, potential influence of climate change on groundwater system, and resilience of communities and populations dependent on groundwater sources. These challenges call for comprehensive research and studies, implementation of new science-based methodologies and endorsement of principles for integrated management and environmentally sound protection of groundwater resources.
UNESCO Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme
UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP), founded in 1975 and implemented in sixyear programmatic time intervals or phases, is entering its eighth phase to be implemented during the period 2014 – 2021. IHP has evolved from an internationally coordinated hydrological research programme into an encompassing, holistic programme to facilitate education and capacity building and enhance water resources management and governance. IHP facilitates an interdisciplinary and integrated approach to watershed and aquifer management, which incorporates the social dimension of water resources and promotes and develops international research in hydrological and fresh water sciences.
UNESCO-IHP work to build the scientific knowledge base to help countries manage their water resources in a sustainable way is made through a global network that includes:
- World Water Assessment Programme: aimed at monitoring freshwater issues in order to provide recommendations, develop case studies, enhance assessment capacity at a national level and inform the decision-making process. WWAP’s primary product, the World Water Development Report (WWDR), is an annual and comprehensive review providing an authoritative picture of the state of the world’s freshwater resources.
- UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education: UNESCO-IHE is the largest international graduate water education facility in the world and is based in Delft, the Netherlands. The Institute confers fully accredited MSc degrees, and PhD degrees in collaboration with partner universities. UNESCO-IHE carries out educational, research and capacity development activities that complement and reinforce each other in the broad fields of water engineering, water management, environment, sanitation, and governance.
- Affiliated research centers: 25 water-related research centers are working under the auspices of UNESCO on relevant thematic and geographic priorities in their areas of expertise. Since Member States have realized the potential of these centers, the network has been rapidly expanding. Two of these centers are focused on groundwater, namely the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (Netherlands) and the Regional centre for groundwater management for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEREGAS) in Uruguay.
- Water-related chairs: Chairs serve as think tanks and as bridge builders between academia, civil society, local communities, research and policy-making. Chairs are hosted at universities, and promote international inter-university cooperation and networking to enhance institutional capacities through knowledge sharing and collaborative work. They have proven useful in informing policy decisions, establishing new teaching initiatives, generating innovation through research and contributing to the enrichment of existing university programmes while promoting cultural diversity.
Groundwater Systems and Settlements Section
Within UNESCO-IHP Secretariat, the Groundwater Systems and Settlements Section is responsible for groundwater-related activities. Focal areas include:
- Transboundary cooperation
- Groundwater quality
- Groundwater and climate change
- Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR)
- Groundwater Governance
- Small Island Developing States (SIDS)
- International Water Law
UNESCO-IHP Groundwater Systems and Settlements Section works closely with other UN organizations (UNECE, UNEP, FAO, World Bank), donors (GEF, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), INGOs, scientific institutions (IAH) and universities.
The UNESCO-IHP Groundwater Systems and Settlements Section works closely with the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance on topics related to transboundary cooperation.