Water is an important component of our physical environment and it is, above all, indispensable for life on Earth. Groundwater covers a significant part of the corresponding water demands, in particular in areas with a relatively dry climate. Until not very long ago, the invisible groundwater used to be taken for granted in most countries, but this attitude is no longer appropriate. Lessons have been learned during the last half of a century during which different types of pressures on the groundwater resources started and continued increasing steadily. If we want to benefit optimally from our precious groundwater resources and to ensure their sustainability, then we should govern and manage them carefully.
But practice has shown that groundwater management and protection tends to be very difficult. Groundwater is interacting with and affected by various other components of the physical environment; our knowledge of local groundwater systems and their behaviour is often very limited; in addition, each groundwater system has usually a very large number of users and other stakeholders, often with competing or conflicting interests. Adequate governance provisions – related to information systems, institutions, policy and different kinds of support – are required to enable effective groundwater management interventions.
Many groundwater systems around the world (or ‘aquifers’, as exploitable groundwater reservoirs are called) are transboundary, which means that they either extend over two or more administrative units inside a country or are crossed by international boundaries. Evidently, the latter condition adds special challenges to groundwater governance and management: governance of such transboundary aquifers requires harmonization and cooperation across the national borders among the various authorities in charge of groundwater, based on mutual trust and on transparency. World-wide there is not yet much experience on this subject. The GGRETA project (“Governance of Groundwater Resources in Transboundary Aquifers”) aims at gaining experience in this respect, on the basis of three pilot studies of transboundary aquifer systems in different parts of the world: the Trifinio aquifer in Central America, the Stampriet aquifer system in Southern Africa and the Pretashkent aquifer system in Central Asia. These three pilots were selected to represent different major aquifer types and different transboundary contexts.
GGRETA is part of the Water Diplomacy and Governance in Key Transboundary Hot Spots Programme financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and cooperation (SDC) and is implemented by the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP) in close cooperation with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the UNESCO International Groundwater Assessment Centre (IGRAC) and local project teams.
The first phase of GGRETA (2013-2015) was designed as an assessment phase, with three major objectives:
- Focusing the attention of the international community on transboundary aquifers, and providing examples of their assessment and diagnostics
- Assessment of the transboundary aquifers and their context for the three pilot cases (Trifinio, Stampriet and Pretashkent)
- Fostering recognition of the shared nature of the groundwater resource and facilitating cross-border dialogue and technical exchanges