Bilateral and multilateral cooperation projects related to groundwater

Especially since the 1960s, numerous international projects have been carried out in the context of development cooperation or cooperation between 'befriended nations'. The general idea behind these projects is that the development of a country or a part of it may be accelerated by international cooperation, either in a bilateral (country-to-country) or in a multilateral setting (country and international organization). The projects are operating on the basis of a mix of national and foreign or international inputs, with a formal project agreement as a certain guarantee for having these inputs available when they are needed. Inputs from the donor countries or international organizations tend to include financial support, vehicles, equipment and other materials, as well as personnel for supplying professional capacity and/or transfer of knowledge and technology.

A substantial part of all these development cooperation projects was and still is related to water resources, and many of these focus on groundwater. Since the 1960s, several donors and recipient countries have become aware that available groundwater resources were being underused in many areas, due to limited knowledge on these subsurface resources or due to insufficient access to the technology or the funds needed to exploit them. Unlocking this natural resource to its full extent was therefore seen as a promising strategy to improve economic and social development. This idea has triggered a large number of groundwater projects all over the world. Many projects focused on regional exploration and assessment of groundwater resources to provide a basis for implementing groundwater development initiatives. Even more projects have been given the explicit objectives to drill large numbers of wells and to assist the local population in making efficient use of the tapped groundwater resources. The impacts of these projects are enormous. Many areas in the world where groundwater abstraction used to be insignificant have changed into areas of intensive groundwater exploitation within a few tens of years, yielding immense social gains by securing water supplies and providing water for economic activities such as irrigated farming. The aquifers of these areas are tapped now by large numbers of wells, many of them much deeper than the traditional ones.

Important multilateral donor agencies involved from the onset in these international groundwater-related projects are the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Office for Technical Co-operation (UNOTC, later renamed to UN/DTCD and successively UN/DESA), and other organizations within the UN system such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank (IBRD). On a more regional level, the European Union (EU; formerly the European Economic Community or EEC) and the Organization of American States (OAS) should be mentioned. Bilateral donors with respect to the above-mentioned groundwater-related projects are also numerous. They include donor agencies such as the British ODA (now DFID), the French ORSTOM, the German GTZ, the Japanese JICA, the American USAID, the Dutch DGIS, the Danish DANIDA, the Swedish SIDA, the Norwegian NORAD, the former USSR government and many others. Examples of this category of international cooperation projects on groundwater are presented in Boxes 16.1 and 16.2.

While groundwater exploitation quickly intensified in many parts of the world and produced enormous benefits, problems related to groundwater

Box 16.1. Groundwater Resources Development in the Altiplano, Bolivia, 1969-1973. (From Naciones Unidas, 1973.)

• Cooperation between government of Bolivia and UNDP;

• UN-OTC support (10 foreign experts) having the lead in all operations;

• Focus on regional development of the Altiplano by exploration, exploitation and use of groundwater;

• Approximately 120 wells drilled and provided with motorized pumps;

• Demonstration of the use of groundwater for irrigation;

• Only limited attention for institutional development and transfer of knowledge;

• Main project output: wells, pumps and increased irrigated area.

Box 16.2. Water Resources Assessment Programme Yemen (WRAY), 19821995. (From Negenman, 1995.)

• Cooperation between governments of Yemen and the Netherlands (DGIS);

• Technical support by TNO experts, limited in number (2-4 residents, on average) and in an advisory role;

• Focus on institutional development and transfer of knowledge;

• Part of the institutional development was the development of a structural national water resources assessment programme as a basis for water resources development and management;

• Main output: a national organization competent regarding water resources matters and provided with advanced technical knowledge and tools.

gradually surfaced. Some of these were a direct consequence of intensified groundwater development (groundwater depletion, activated sea water intrusion, modified ecosystems, land subsidence, etc.); others - such as groundwater pollution - were largely caused by external factors that have become more prominent recently. Growing awareness on these problems and their implications for sustainable development has reshaped the groundwater-related international cooperation programmes. The focus has been gradually shifted from groundwater development to groundwater resources management. The related projects now often address groundwater in an integrated water resources management (IWRM) context and/or they implement measures for protecting and augmenting the groundwater resources. This shift in approach has been adopted by virtually all recipient countries and donor organizations mentioned above.

Early projects were generally very much focused on physical outputs and often paid insufficient attention to the national counterparts involved. Transfer of knowledge was often unintentional and occurred as a 'spin-off'. Over time, awareness has grown on how crucial the national institutions and their staff are for sustainable effects of project efforts. This progressive awareness has modified the approach in most programmes and projects. Progressively, more attention is being paid to structural transfer of knowledge to local counterparts and to institutional development.

The objectives of the international groundwater projects as described above are not limited to giving support to agriculture. Many of the projects have been designed primarily for other purposes, such as rural domestic water supply, urban water supply or water resources management. Nevertheless, international cooperation projects have played an important role in the agricultural groundwater revolution. They have mobilized know-how from all over the world that facilitated tapping large quantities of groundwater for agricultural purposes, and the examples provided by the international projects have stimulated private initiative and investment in groundwater development enormously. The main challenge today is to make the fruits of this development sustainable, by properly managing and protecting the groundwater resources.

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