It is evident that the success of groundwater development and management depends to a large extent on local efforts in collecting relevant information and on the local expertise available. If the local dimension is so important, what are the potential benefits of taking a global or regional perspective, by sharing knowledge and experience across and far beyond national boundaries?
In this context it is useful to make a distinction between generic knowledge and area-specific information. Generic knowledge is in principle universally applicable; hence sharing this knowledge on a worldwide scale produces efficiency, as pointed out at the beginning of this section. Important actors involved as well as programmes and activities they have embarked upon for globally disseminating this generic knowledge are reviewed in the following sections.
The value of sharing area-specific information internationally may seem less obvious at first glance. However, it becomes more evident in the context of specific challenges:
• Managing transboundary groundwater resources: This is an emerging issue. Many countries share aquifers with neighbouring countries and there is a growing need to jointly manage them (or at least coordinate management efforts) because of steadily increasing pressures such as scarcity, pollution and environmental impacts. International exchange of information on shared groundwater systems is among the first and most indispensable steps to put the process towards transboundary aquifer management into motion.
• Understanding global or regional patterns and processes: This is obviously of first importance for those studying groundwater phenomena at a global, continental or other supranational scale (e.g. world water balance, world climatic processes, occurrence of different types of water-related problems). However, it is useful as well to those focusing on spatially more restricted areas, by providing an overall context and reference, and by making them more aware of patterns and how these are produced.
• Recognizing potentials, problems and trends related to groundwater: For groundwater investigators and planners alike, analogies between different areas of the globe may be of great help in the preliminary estimation of groundwater potentials and in the early diagnosis of trends and problems. Global patterns of relevant variables may reveal similarities that provide a basis for tentative diagnosis. The basic principle is that information collected for more intensely investigated, monitored or pressured areas may give hints on likely conditions or trends for analogous areas that have been studied less and/or have been exposed thus far to a lower external pressure.
• Benefiting from experiences gained under similar or analogous conditions: This is related to the previous comment. Observed similarities or analogies in groundwater conditions are a support in developing ideas on appropriate action for groundwater development, use and management. Knowing the actions implemented elsewhere under similar or analogous conditions enriches the overview of possible actions to be considered. Knowing whether (and why) they have been a success or a failure helps in making optimal decisions and avoiding less effective measures. • Contributing to standardization of variables, methods and observational practices: It is clear that the potential benefits outlined above, but also the validity of research outcomes based on data from different areas, depend on the consistency between all data-sets used. Lack of standardization in definitions, observational practices and methods for processing may lead to serious errors in interpretation. Sharing area-specific information internationally will undoubtedly contribute to international standardization, which will raise the quality of any analysis based on international data-sets.
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