In a first-of-its-kind meeting, representatives of the four countries sharing the Senegal-Mauitania aquifer met in in February in a transboundary collaboration to exchange the current state of knowledge on the complex system that supplies water to The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, and Senegal.
With an area of approximately 350,000 km2, the aquifer (ILLUSTRATION) is the largest in the Atlantic margin of Northwest Africa and the groundwater it contains is a strategic resource for sectoral and drinking water for an aggregate population of more than 24 million, including the cities of Dakar and Bissau.
The Geneva, Switzerland. meeting was significant in that it represented the first step towards enhanced cooperation, bringing together the four States as well as the main transboundary basin organizations of the region: the Senegal River Basin Development Organization and the Gambia River Development Organization. This level of participation by the basin organizations facilitated the exploration of institutional innovation avenues for their potential involvement in groundwater management in addition to their already existing surface water management mandate, according to a press release from the University of Geneva.
The group addressed several challenges such as the risks associated with salinization, various sources of pollution, and the impact of climate change on the variability of precipitation necessary for groundwater recharge. The discussions included active contributions from experts and technical and financial partners. The meeting facilitated an update on the current knowledge of the aquifer system, an exchange on its related management issues, and the identification of possible options for cooperation to promote the sustainable management and use of the aquifer.
Of particular note is that the increased pressure on the aquifer has been aggravated by the absence of a cooperation framework at regional level. The press release indicates that “the States identified that enhanced cooperation could generate a wide range of benefits, particularly in terms of economic, social and environmental benefits (eg the possible increase of revenues in small irrigated agricultural projects and the reduction of production and operating costs for drinking water supply), as well as benefits from regional economic integration and peace and security (e.g. regional stability conducive to investments and combating rural depopulation).”
The States agreed to set up a working group to carry out a comprehensive inventory of the existing knowledge of the basin and to outline a joint project for resilient resource governance for the sustainable and peaceful development of the region.
This project could be supported by a consortium of partners, including the technical and financial partners that contributed to the roundtable (AfDB, BGR, GWH, IAEA, IGRAC, SDC, State of Geneva, UNECE and UNESCO).
The roundtable was jointly organized by the Secretariat of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) hosted by UNECE and the Geneva Water Hub, a center of excellence on hydropolitics and hydrodiplomacy attached to University of Geneva (UNIGE), which hosts the secretariat of the Global High Level Panel on Water and Peace.