By Khalifa Hemed
Published March 31, 2023
The governments of Ethiopia and of The Netherlands, supported by World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), and Children Investment Funds Foundation, call for the creation of a Groundwater Access Facility (GaFa) to sustainably use millions of cubic kilometres of untapped groundwater reservoirs in Eastern Africa, AKA The Horn of Africa, that is currently experiencing the worst drought in 73 years and is about to face its sixth consecutive failed rainy season.
Hunger and water shortage are a reality for more than 15 million people across Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South-Sudan and Sudan. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, more than 36 million people need emergency assistance to survive and up to 26 million of them are acutely food insecure.
Presented on 24 March at a side event at the United Nations 2023 Water Conference titled ‘Climate Resilient Groundwater as Catalyst for Sustainable Development in Africa’s Borderlands – A Shared SDG Agenda’, the initiative seeks to mobilise Governments, UN and partners’ efforts to provide water in the region of Africa that is most affected by chronic drought and severe food insecurity.
The region is rich in underground water which, with the right development investments, could become a sustainable and climate-resilient source of water for the whole region. The Groundwater Access Facility (GaFa) for the Horn of Africa’s borderlands would enable critical investments in pre-feasibility analysis and project pipeline development in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
“The discovery of deep groundwater lakes in the Horn of Africa is a game-changing opportunity to provide a sustainable solution to the suffering of millions in the region. We must collaborate across the UN system with the World Bank Group, regional bodies and Member States to create investment facilities for this innovative solution,” Ahunna Eziakonwa, United Nations Assistant-Secretary General and UNDP Regional Director for Africa, stressed.
In the Horn of Africa, water is central to accelerating development, social cohesion, and conflict resolution, particularly in borderland areas.
“Groundwater provision can play a key role in increasing resilience, bringing development and stability. It is often the only reliable source in times of drought. However, it is still most underexploited and we now need a regional approach and long-term framework for the area,” stated Boutheina Guermazi, World Bank Group’s Director for Regional Integration in Africa.
“Individual initiatives are not sufficient in addressing the water crisis and mobilizing effective and lasting response in this region. It will only be through joint, ambitious, collective actions that we will be able to foster a water secure region,” stressed Sanjay Wijeskera, Director of Programmes, UNICEF.
The event also showcased dedicated investments being made in these borderlands areas by IGAD and member states, with support from the World Bank Group – Groundwater for Climate Resilience (HoAGW4CR) special programme, UNDP Africa Borderlands Centre, and UNICEF country teams. These investments identify, develop, and distribute climate resilient groundwater for agro-pastoralism and domestic use in selected borderland locations in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.