Groundwater Governance

In SSA, there are customary or traditional mechanisms to regulate groundwater use in some areas. However, there have been relatively few efforts to develop formal groundwater governance mechanisms in most of the continent. This may be in part because of the general belief that groundwater potential has not been fully exploited and so the need for governance has not generally arisen. The lack of formal groundwater governance mechanisms may also be related to the fact that formal water policy in general has not received much emphasis until recently. Examples of this can be observed in Burkina Faso and Ghana where national water policies are still to be put into practice. Whatever the case, in many countries in SSA, the mechanisms for water governance in general, at least formally, were weak or non-existent prior to the recent set of water policy reforms that sprouted across Africa since the late 1990s. If the situation for surface water is bad, mechanisms for groundwater governance are as bad or worse.

However, the past few years have been marked by significant reforms in the water sectors in a number of countries in SSA. The aims of the reforms are numerous and these are summarized by Van Koppen (2002) as:

• Better integrate the management of water resources (multiple-use sectors; quantitative and qualitative; beneficial and non-beneficial uses; surface and groundwaters; hydrological, legal and institutional aspects; water and other sectors; governments and other stakeholders).

• (Further) prioritize domestic water supply in rural areas usually through local government and in urban areas sometimes through new public-private partnerships for water supplies (Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia).

• Harmonize fragmented pieces of formal legislation into new policy and legislation.

• Specify the role of the government - invariably the custodian of the nation's water resources - complementary to newly established decentralized basin authorities and in some cases national bodies, such as the Water Resources Commission in Ghana or parastatals like the Zimbabwe National Water Authority.

• Shift and decentralize the boundaries of lower-level water management institutions to basins in order to better match hydrological reality.

• Design and implement national water right systems, accompanied by water charges and taxing.

• Stimulate users' participation, especially in basin-level and lower-tier water management institutions.

• Protect water quality and environmental needs.

• Improve hydrological assessments and monitoring for surface and groundwaters and ensure public availability of data.

• Promote international cooperation in trans-boundary basins.

• Redress the race, gender and class inequities of the colonial past (in Zimbabwe and South Africa).

The limited use of groundwater has perhaps meant little need for governance structures in the past. The situation has changed in some areas, with problems of overabstraction arising. Potentially, such cases will benefit from some form of regulation, and the reforms in the water sector offer opportunities for better control and regulation.

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