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Comprehensive Assessment Groundwater Synthesis Chapter

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Key questions and messages identified by the team
Draft March 9, 2005

Key Message 1: Groundwater plays a key-and unique- role in physical, biological and human systems.

Role of groundwater in physical systems, connection between surface and groundwater, unique physical characteristics

Role of groundwater in ecosystems

Role of groundwater in supporting agricultural livelihoods

Key Message 2: Reliance on groundwater for food and livelihood is rapidly increasing in many regions, but the resource base and governance systems have not been able to cope. In other regions, opportunities for using groundwater to provide livelihoods has not been fully realized.

Rise of groundwater use in South Asia, China and Mexico (with implications for agricultural output and poverty reduction)

Relatively low but growing use in Sub-Saharan Africa

Low use in Central (and South?) America

Groundwater mining in Middle East/North Africa

The nature of policies, institutions and management structures in the various regions

Rising management challenges
How to control overdraft
How to encourage, or at least not inhibit, groundwater development in currently underutilized areas
How groundwater mining should be managed

The political economy of groundwater as a complicating factor

Key Message 3: Conserving and sustainably managing groundwater for future generations and generating livelihoods in the present, represents a stark challenge for developing countries

Sustainable use of groundwater is a desirable goal, but in many developing countries there may be a direct tradeoff with current poverty reduction. The pros and cons, as well as the probability of actually achieving sustainability, must be considered in developing management plans.

These plans must be done as part of surface water management-and vice versa.

These plans must also consider the indirect benefits of groundwater, such as environmental services (and difference between livelihood generation and enjoyment services)

Management issues must consider differences and interlinkages across scales

Sometimes the problem is an open access problem – this is a different problem than the question of whether or not society should mine the resource [how society should use the resource].

Key message 4: The general options for managing groundwater include instrumental approaches, community management approaches and adaptive approaches.

Which one is most appropriate will depend on country or region specific issues.

Groundwater management laws may not be successful if imposed, (especially if they run counter to the history, customs, or perceived economic benefits to the people and if not imposed incrementally).

The general failure of simple groundwater management solutions is probably in large part due to the interconnections with the broader political economy.

Non-water policies can be used to change groundwater outcomes rather than groundwater policies. High level governance changes may be more effective policies than micro-management of groundwater. [e.g. India & electricity]

Important to consider the dynamic socio-economic [institutional] AND environmental/hydrological context in which the policy will be implemented [numerous examples of failure without this, a few examples of success – Australia]

The possible role of additional data: Compared to many other resources, even basic data which could be used to inform management and decision making is not available. At the same time, it is not always clear how additional data would change decision making.