Report examines groundwater and its susceptibility to degradation

Groundwater resources, upon which two billion people depend for drinking water and irrigation are under increasing stress, says a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Jun 19th, 2003

June 19, 2003 -- Groundwater resources, upon which two billion people depend for drinking water and irrigation are under increasing stress, says a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The International Development Target on the environment and sustainability stems from the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This target states that "There should be a current national strategy for sustainable development in the process of implementation in every country by 2005, so as to ensure that current trends in the losses of environmental resources are effectively reversed at both global and national levels by 2015".

Nowhere is there more need for a sustainable approach than in the development of the world's aquifers. Through this book, the United Nations Environmental Programme aims to raise the profile of groundwater resources, so easily overlooked because they are hidden from view.

The publication provides an overview of groundwater occurrence and of the main issues affecting its quantity and quality. We see how the resource is used in our cities, in industry and mining, in agriculture and rural water supply; how it sustains many of our wetlands; how in its own undramatic way groundwater has become an integral part of billions of people's lives. Numerous examples illustrate the consequent resource management issues and underline the need for active management, not development by default.

The report lists 12 megacities which are dependent on groundwater. Agriculture in several Arab and South Asian countries relies for more than 50% on groundwater. In rural India, 50% of irrigation water and 80% of drinking water, comes from underground.

While the subsoil may reduce or eliminate some pollutants from entering the groundwater, pesticides and nitrates are often not broken down and some rock strata let sewage bacteria seep through.

Among the solutions the report suggests are: integrated water resources management (IWRM); promotion of alternative less water intensive rural livelihoods, such as brick making and textiles; and groundwater monitoring and early warning systems.


Produced with the support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Belgian Development Corporation (DGDC), this review is intended for planners and other decision-makers at national/provincial government level and for the general reader. UNEP intend it to contribute to the consciousness-raising process necessary to achieve the International Development Target for the environment. As the authors point out, future generations are due no less.

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