Recently reported in the news, scientists have discovered massive underground reserves of water throughout the continent of Africa. This initially seems like a fairy tale ‘science find,’ and in some ways it is. And it isn’t just Africa that is looking at a very serious problem in the upcoming years, with an exploding population and climate change to contend with. Water is becoming the new gold, and will increasingly be seen as a hugely precious commodity. So this find stands to change the lives of potentially millions of people in a poverty-stricken land? Yes, but as it is with many basic diseases that the west has dealt with long ago, the question is finding the finance to get to the water.
And as some experts noted in a recent Daily Mail article on the find, a cautious approach is necessary – not just drilling massive, invasive bore holes. Roger Calow at UK think-tank the Overseas Development Institute, elucidated, ‘What the science is telling us is that we have more storage in these shallow, relatively unproductive (aquifers) than we thought,’ he said, adding that about 60 per cent of Africans still live in rural areas and 80 per cent of those rely on groundwater systems.” But, to get to much of the water, hand pumps are needed and those cost on average $13,000 a piece, and require maintenance and upkeep. There is also the problem of the deeper reserves, below 50 meters, that will need larger drilling. But, the potential is tremendous – just imagine a crop-starved area like Ethiopia, where only one fifth of the population has access to groundwater, being able to irrigate once barren land.
The fact that the deepest reserves were found in northern countries and the driest regions, like the Sahara desert, add even more heft to the discovery. For a continent that routinely endures hardships, this is a cause for celebration.