African aquifer called 'huge' in groundbreaking water study


Only 42% of Nigeriens have access to drinking water. The rest of the population goes directly to the source in rivers or natural stormwater reserves, and is exposed to the consumption of dirty water. A woman and her children washing ropes on natural stormwater on March 6, 2009 in Niamey, Niger.


Pascal Parrot

Scientists have released the most comprehensive survey yet of African subterranean water resources, also known as aquifers.

These aquifers contain many times the amount of water found on the surface, the BBC wrote. For a continent where 300 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and demand for water is expected to "grow markedly" over the coming years, the impact could be broad.

Some of the maps can be viewed at the British Geological Survey

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The water is estimated to measure at two thirds of a million cubic kilometers, according to Of that, the water that's available for human extraction measures at 100 times the total surface water on the entire continent, according to the abstract of the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters

Noting many countries with vast aquifer resources are categorized as "water scarce," the abstract continued, "the quantitative maps are intended to lead to more realistic assessments of water security and water stress."

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The largest deposits are in northern Africa, in counties like Libya, Algeria, and Chad. "The amount of storage in those basins is equivalent to 75 meters thickness of water across that area - it's a huge amount," Helen Bonsor of the British Geological Survey, told the BBC. 

However, the study warned against attempting to extract the water all at once. It suggested aquifers would best be used in rural areas far from water resources. Due to low rainfall, the aquifer would not be sustainable if large urban areas began to extract for their own needs.

Alan MacDonald of the BGS told the BBC, "Appropriately sited and developed boreholes for low yielding rural water supply and hand pumps are likely to be successful."

That said, the authors suggested careful extraction could be used to help shield from the buffeting associated with weather and climate change.