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Groundwater For The People: Exploring Linkages Between Groundwater Governance, Water Security, And Human Development

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Kirstin Conti (Delft, Netherlands)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 7: Global challenges for water governance,
The links between groundwater governance, water security and human development have yet to be thoroughly examined by academics or practitioners - only Shah (2005), Grey & Sadoff (2007), and Moench (2003) have addressed them directly. It is taken for granted that groundwater is crucial for sustaining human and ecological life and that the connections between human development, water security and rules and norms determining access to and sustainability of groundwater resources are understood. Yet these assumptions can and should be called into question, since these three areas each lack analyses focused on groundwater. Nevertheless, rapid developments in discourses on human development, water security and water governance in conjunction with the finalization of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals necessitate that this linkage be made clear. Consequently, this research will answer the question: how do current groundwater security issues relate to human development and how can groundwater governance regimes at different geographic levels, from global to local, address the resulting challenges and opportunities? Consequently, this research will discuss whether there is a groundwater security issue; describe how groundwater is related to human development; and highlight how groundwater governance regimes address human development at different geographic levels.

The paper will combine literature review and content analysis to meaningfully link the three key concepts of groundwater governance, water security and human development. Given that each concept has been defined multiple ways, are contested to varying degrees, and are utilized across a range of disciplines, the paper will first define these concepts and discuss how they will be operationalized in the analysis via a conceptual framework. Content analysis and literature review will be used to address the research question. Key examples, which demonstrate these issue-linkages, will be highlighted.

Preliminary analysis reviews issues related to groundwater and the human and physical dimensions of security at various geographic levels including, sustainability of groundwater resources, access and allocation of groundwater as well as disaster risk and mitigation. It shows that physical dimensions of groundwater security has challenges regarding the availability and exploitation of the resource; the quality of the water; and changing dynamics due to its connectivity with the environment and global change (Foster & Chilton 2003; Taylor et al. 2013; Wada et al. 2013). It also shows that the severity of these issues increases as geographic scope decreases. Therefore, global security challenges are incipient, while national and subnational challenges are already acute in several cases. An example of such a case is India, which is facing both national and subnational, groundwater security challenges. At both levels, there is the issue of severe depletion and lack of regulation (Rodell et al. 2009; Cullet 2012). Additionally, at the sub-national level there are issues of equity and access due agricultural energy subsidies which may inadvertently preference those with greater access to capital and technology (Shah et al. 2012; Aguilar 2011).

Issues of access and allocation are at the crux of the link between groundwater and human development. Approximately half of the world's population relies on groundwater as their potable supply (Margat & van der Gun 2013). While groundwater is typically thought of in the context of rural water supply, numerous large urban areas rely on groundwater or are developing conjunctive use schemes to relieve stress on surface water sources. Thusly, groundwater has been linked to rapid development in Africa, Asia and Latin America (Wijnen et al. 2012). With increasingly more areas facing water security challenges, rapidly growing economies and population, it is unlikely that universal access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene can be achieved without the development and proper management of groundwater resources. Nevertheless, providing access to sanitation and hygiene cannot be implemented at the expense of the quality of groundwater resources, especially those which are used for drinking water supply. Yet, to enjoy the benefits which groundwater resources can provide the resource must be properly governed.

Groundwater governance regimes at the various geographic levels address human development through the inclusion of various principles and norms. In global-level groundwater governance texts such as the UN Watercourses Convention, UNECE Water Convention and Draft Articles on the Law of Transboundary Aquifers principles such as equitable and reasonable use; the rights of women, youth and indigenous peoples; the human right to water and sanitation; and public participation, among others are part of the institutional dimension of human development. At lower geographic levels, these principles and norms may have been adopted directly into regional or transboundary agreements or may have geographically appropriate counterparts integrated into national or subnational legislation. Nevertheless, gaps remain in terms of implementation and operationalization. For example, the South African Department of Water Affairs states that more than 420 towns and 80 percent of rural villages are largely dependent on groundwater. South Africa has also recognized the human right to water and sanitation in its constitution. Yet, it has faced myriad challenges with operationalization including providing access in townships and rural locations as well as implementing metering and block tariff systems (Bakker 2003). Fulfilling the human right to water may also create challenges regarding the quality and quantity water resources available in this water stressed country (Bluemel 2004).

The discussion above demonstrates that threats to groundwater security also pose threats to access to groundwater in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain human life. It also shows that weak or weakly enforced governance structures can impact allocation of groundwater resources as well as the state of the resource themselves. This results in a veritable web of issues linking human development to the governance and security of groundwater resources from the global to the local. It also shows that these issues may be particularly relevant in the context of rural development but are also increasingly important in urban contexts. However, there is still opportunity to strengthen institutional mechanisms and enforcement which can enhance water security, particularly at the national and subnational levels, and can facilitate equitable access to groundwater resources for the fulfillment of basic human needs. 1. Aguilar, D., 2011. Groundwater Reform in India : An Equity and Sustainability Dilemma. Texas International Law Journal, 46(3), pp.623–653.
2. Bakker, K., 2003. Archipelagos and networks: urbanization and water privatization in the South. The Geographical Journal, 169(4), pp.328–341.
3. Bluemel, E.B., 2004. The Implications of Formulating a Human Right to Water. Ecology Law Quarterly, 31, pp.957–1006.
4. Cullet, P., 2012. The Groundwater Model Bill 13 Rethinking Regulation for the Primary Source of Water. Economic and Political Weekly, 47(45), pp.40–47.
5. Foster, S.S.D. & Chilton, P.J., 2003. Groundwater: the processes and global significance of aquifer degradation. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 358(1440), pp.1957–72.
6. Grey, D. & Sadoff, C.W., 2007. Sink or Swim? Water security for growth and development. Water Policy, 9(6), p.545.
7. Margat, J. & van der Gun, J., 2013. Groundwater around the world: a geographic synopsis, Leiden, Netherlands: CRC Press/Balkema.
8. Moench, M., 2003. Groundwater and poverty: exploring the connections. In R. Llamas & E. Custodio, eds. Intensive use of groundwater: Challenges and opportunities. Lisse, The Netherlands: A.A. Balkema, pp. 441–456.
9. Rodell, M., Velicogna, I. & Famiglietti, J.S., 2009. Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India. Nature, 460(7258), pp.999–1002.
10. Shah, T., 2005. Groundwater and human development: challenges and opportunities in livelihoods and environment. Water science and technology : a journal of the International Association on Water Pollution Research, 51(8), pp.27–37.
11. Shah, T., Giordano, M. & Mukherji, A., 2012. Political economy of the energy-groundwater nexus in India: exploring issues and assessing policy options. Hydrogeology Journal, 20(5), pp.995–1006.
12. Taylor, R., Scanlon, B. & Döll, P., 2013. Ground water and climate change. Nature Climate Change, 3(4), pp.322–329.
13. Wada, Y., Wisser, D. & Bierkens, M.F.P., 2013. Global modeling of withdrawal, allocation and consumptive use of surface water and groundwater resources. Earth System Dynamics Discussions, 4(1), pp.355–392.
14. Wijnen, M. et al., 2012. Managing the Invisible: Understanding and Improving Groundwater Governance, Washington, D.C.

2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin