Vienna — Seeking to improve their management of water resources, four northeast African nations today agreed at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to establish a long-term framework for utilizing a key underground water system. Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan signed a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) that aims to optimize the equitable use of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, a huge water resource that lies beneath the four nations. The SAP also commits the countries to strengthen and build upon a previously existing regional coordination mechanism, in part by establishing a new Joint Authority for the Nubian Aquifer System.
The Programme lays the groundwork for improving cooperation among the four arid nations and for strengthening their capacity to monitor and manage the aquifer effectively. With growing populations and decreasing water availability from other sources in the region, the aquifer is under mounting pressure. Removing water without a clear understanding of transboundary and other implications threatens water quality and has the potential to harm biodiversity and accelerate land degradation.
The agreement resulted from a joint technical cooperation project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the IAEA.
"I congratulate all involved on this significant achievement," said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. "Water is a key resource, and effective management and use of such water resources is essential for the future. The agreement of the Strategic Action Programme is the result of real cooperation between the four States, the Agency and UNDP-GEF. I am confident that this Programme will be a success and will benefit the people of the region. This positive project experience benefits strengthened and expanded cooperation between the IAEA and the UNDP-GEF."
"UNDP would like to congratulate the governments of Egypt, Libya, Chad and Sudan for achieving this important milestone towards the cooperative management of their shared sub-surface waters which will help to ensure maintenance of livelihoods and ecosystems dependent upon the aquifer", said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.
The Strategic Action Programme was signed by Mr. Ali Mahamat Abdoulaye, Ministry of Urban and Rural Water Supplies, Chad; H.E. Eng. Ahmed Mostafa Emam, Minister of Electricity and Energy, Egypt.; H.E. Eng. Al Hadi Suleiman Henshir, Ministry of Water Resources, Libya; Her Excellency D.Tabita Potros Teia Shokai, State Minister, Ministry of Water Resources and Electricity, Sudan; and Prof. Seifeldin Hamad Abdalla, Chair of the new Joint Authority.
The Nubian aquifer is the world's largest known 'fossil' water aquifer system, meaning that the water is ancient and non-renewable.
The joint technical cooperation project began in 2006 and has already completed a sophisticated model of the aquifer to assist the four countries in optimizing use of the aquifer to meet human needs, avoid transboundary conflict, and protect ecosystems dependent upon the resource.
The IAEA contributes to the project in part by employing isotopic hydrology techniques to monitor the quantity and quality of groundwater and how it moves underground.