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The subject of clean drinking water is one that has been one that has made the news repeatedly for many years. The issue affects 1.1 billion people in the world, but the largest fraction of these can be found on the African Continent. Massive amounts of work from NGOs such as WaterAid and various Blue Peter appeals have continually raised awareness of the problem and have been able to help many people in these areas.

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Ethiopian women carry water from the lake back to their homes at least two times a day.

If a village does not have a well, or clean water piped to them, the only way for them to survive is to walk for many miles to the nearest water source, and then carry the water back with them. This can occur many times a day. Obviously this means that in order to survive, members of the village must spend many hours carrying water instead of completing other, perhaps more productive, tasks.

More often than not, this water is not clean, and therefore not fit for drinking. Other wildlife might use the streams and lakes, and there could be pollution from human sources as well. Contaminated Water can cause Cholera, E. Coli, Dysentery and Typhoid, as well as many other fatal illnesses. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.8 million people die annually from these waterborne diseases every year.

The issue of a lack of water is compounded due to the high temperatures much of Africa, and the prevalence of droughts. People living in affected areas need water not only to drink, but also to maintain their crops and to keep their livestock healthy. Without sufficient irrigation, a drought can lead to massive food shortages, widespread famine, and the subsequent humanitarian crises. Droughts are commonplace in the hottest regions of the continent, particularly on the Horn of Africa.

Sub-Terranean WaterEdit

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A map showing the potential concentration of water under the African continent.

Recent research has discovered that there are vast lakes of water hidden under the bedrock of the African continent.

Every well that you have ever seen takes advantage of similar underground reservoirs, and many such subterranean lakes are well known and well documented, but a recent geological survey in the African continent found out that the water was much more prevalent and much more substantial than anyone could have hoped for.

This map, drawn up in the British Geological Survey Open Report OR/11/067, shows the capacity and location of various Aquifers.

Current estimates suggest that there is likely to be 600 thousand km3 of water in these underground reservoirs. Whilst this may not seem like much, a few calculations shows that this is much more than it seems. We will use the UK's guidelines of around 1.9l of water needing to be consumed per person per day. One cubic kilometre is equal to one quadrillion (1015) cubic centimetres, which is the same as one trillion (1012) litres. 1.75 million km3 can easily support each of Africa's 1.03 billion people. Giving all of these people water each and every day still allows for a water supply for the next 839,977 years (and 117 days).

Obviously this figure is not necessarily the full picture. The water is needed for reasons other than just drinking, and irrigation takes up a much larger supply. Also not all of the 600 thousand km3 is easily accessible, nor all in the same place. Some areas of the continent may still run out of water, unless colossal distribution networks are set up.

Some of this water is reachable by little bore holes fitted with hand powered pumps (as many African villages now have access to), but this quantity of water is only suitable for small-scale use. Larger, industrial boring has not yet been proposed, and has unknown effects for the ecology and environment of the continent.

ProblemsEdit

Ecological DamageEdit

With some of the water shown on the above map being found at a predicted depth of over 250m below ground level, and this will surely take a large scale drilling operation to reach.

History has shown us that large scale industrialised process have the potential to be wildly detrimental to the nearby environment. Not only would the water need drilling, but it would need large plants to pump the water continuously, which would need varying amounts of electricity (which may or may not be generated using polluting fuels). The distribution of the water to the places where it was needed the most would require a network of pipes and sewers, which would require machines to lay.

OwnershipEdit

The underground lakes do in on way conform to various nation's borders, which allows them to be classified as transboundary freshwater resources. This makes things very tricky as it means that no single government can claim stewardship over the entirety of the water, and international law is required to regulate its use. If a nation decides that they own all of the water, and can drill for it with impunity, a neighbour may find its supplies drying up.

Before any attempt to extract this water can be started, lengthy agreements between whole blocs of countries need to be in place to prevent any misuse of the reservoirs.

Stability of StrataEdit

There is a very real possibility that the removal of vast amounts of water could destabilise much of the rock on which the African continent sits. It is unknown how structurally significant the Aquifers are, and what the boring of holes and the draining of lakes would do under the ground.

Non-RenewableEdit

As the water in these underground reservoirs accumulates over thousands (or even millions) of years, this resource, much like oil, is non-renewable. Technically the Aquifers will constantly carry more water around the continent; it might not do so at the rate at which it is being removed.

Without more study into the amount of water that arrives into these sub-terranean, no-one can be sure if the water will run out after ten years or fifty years, and Africa might find itself with a massive water pumping infrastructure and no water to utilise, once again being back in the same situation as they are now.

Would all of the money invested, the damage inflicted, and the tectonic stability threatened, if this source of water will only last for ten or fifty years in some places?

Current LawsEdit

  • The Greening of Water Law, 2010
  • Various Acts governing Deforestation and Environmental Distruction

GlossaryEdit

Aquifer - A layer of the ground capable of holding and transporting water. Wells will usually be drilled down until they reach an Aquifer.

Aquifer Productivity - The amount of water that an Aquifer can produce/generate per unit of time.

Transboundary Freshwater Resources - Water supplies that spam multiple nations. These can be problamatic if the right infrastructure and agreements are not in place to moderate the correct usage. The River Nile is a great example of a particularly poorly managed Transboundary Freshwater Resource.

Research LinksEdit

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