UN and multilateral agency attention to groundwater and aquifer management

In 1997, the International Association of Hydrologists established a Commission on Transboundary Aquifer Resources Management, coincidental to the adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN Watercourses Convention). In 2000, the UNESCO

Intergovernmental Council at its 14th session approved joint activities on transboundary aquifer issues among the International Association of Hydrologists, the UNESCO International Hydrology' Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Europe. This joint effort produced a framework document on Internationally Shared Aquifer Resource Management. Subsequently, the programme has grown to include regional initiatives in the Americas, the Balkans and Europe (Puri & Aureli 2005).

The International Atomic Energy Agency fills an important technical niche in the effort to better manage transboundary aquifers. Agency experts use isotope science to determine the origin, age and renewal rate of groundwater and whether aquifers face contamination risks. Isotope techniques are particularly useful for mapping slow-recharge and non-renewable groundwater resources, which are at risk of rapid depletion if not managed carefully.The Agency has worked to model, characterize and monitor transboundary aquifer systems for a series of projects in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, including the Nubian, North-western Sahara and Iullemeden Aquifer systems of Northern Africa and the Guarani Aquifer in South America (International Atomic Energy'Agency [IAEA] 2013).

The global environment facility

GEF was launched as a pilot effort in 1991 and broadened into a major global programme in 1994 (GEF 2013). The GEF brings 183 countries together with international institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector in order to address global environmental issues and support national sustainable development initiatives. GEF is an independently operating financial organization that provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer and persistent organic pollutants (GEF 2013). GEF takes a multi-level approach in the international waters sector, providing support for global actions and conventions, regional (catchment) analysis and action planning, and support at national and local levels. By design, GEF is focused on achieving global environmental benefits, and its international waters portfolio covers nearly all large freshwater catchments globally, with 156 GEF recipient countries and 24 non-recipient countries cooperating on transboundary water resource management (GEF 2020).

Transboundary groundwater and aquifers were added to GEF programming during the 2nd fund replenishment (GEF-2), and now include 19 projects. Of these, all but two are focused on specific transboundary' aquifers. Eight of the projects have been completed, using $27.83 million in GEF trust fund grants and an estimated S25.58 million in co-finance.The 11 with concepts or projects approved bring the total anticipated GEF trust fund commitment to $83.84 million, with an estimated SI.28 billion in anticipated cofinancing. Eight of the recently approved projects build from previous GEF transboundary aquifer projects (Guarani, Dinaric Karst, Nile Basin, Nubian Sandstone, Iullemeden Aquifer, SADC Groundwater, Nile Basin, Northwest Sahara).

The overriding development objective for most GEF transboundary aquifer projects is to help beneficiary countries jointly elaborate and implement a common institutional and technical framework for the management and preservation of the aquifer. The typical programme of support emulates the two-phase process developed and honed in the GEF International Water surface water programme: a transboundary diagnostic analysis is carried out to determine aquifer pressures and measures (Uitto 2004; Pernetta & Bewers 2012), then a Strategic Action Programme is drafted for partnering countries to agree on concrete actions designed to mitigate threats and protect the shared groundwater resource (Uitto 2004). Support is also provided for enhancing institutional capacities to manage groundwater and reduce pollutant risks. In addition, stakeholder awareness efforts are launched to change local perceptions in order to enable better groundwater management.

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