IAEA Empowers African Scientists to Manage Mapping of Regional Groundwater Resources

Source: www.gulfoilandgas.com 4/5/2024, Location: Africa

Scientists in the Sahel are finding quality groundwater sources -- thanks to a nuclear technique and a decade of support and training from the IAEA.

Water resources in Africa are under pressure due to growing water demand, water quality degradation and climate change. On the continent, more than 41 groundwater aquifers are shared by two or more countries, making a joint approach to protection beneficial.

To strengthen characterization, management and monitoring of groundwater resources in Africa, the IAEA is supporting African experts to use nuclear techniques such as Isotope hydrology. By analysing naturally occurring isotopes (a type of atom) in groundwater, scientists can assess the age, vulnerability and sustainability of water resources. The analysis of nitrogen isotopes in water can also be used to work out the source of pollutants which threaten aquifers, strengthening water security and resilience planning.

The IAEA is equipped with a state-of-the-art Isotope Hydrology Laboratory, which maps water and provides scientific insights for the sustainable management of water resources like rivers, lakes, and underground aquifers.

Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA has been providing training, support for academic research and equipment to African scientists in the Sahel region, which has particularly scarce water resources and is dependent on groundwater.

Following earlier projects, experts from the 13 countries in the Sahel can now better characterize shared groundwater resources in five basins in support of sustainable socioeconomic development. The current project builds on a decade of work by countries in the Sahel region, supported by the IAEA, to address water scarcity and support its transboundary management. It is now being expanded to include shared basins in the south of the continent and to introduce the use of nitrogen isotopes for water quality studies.

Scientists participating in the project have already confirmed the presence of a large amount of quality groundwater in the Sahel basins using isotope hydrology. This is a key discovery, considering the important role that groundwater can play in water supply for the region.

The IAEA has recently provided the Applied Hydrology and Environmental Geology Laboratory of the University of Lomé, Togo, with a laser isotope analyser used to measure stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in water samples. The laboratory is operated by Togolese scientist Goumpoukini Boguido.

“Today, it is thanks to the support of the IAEA in my training that our laboratory produces high-quality analytical results and can conduct research projects and provide good quality analytical services even outside Togo”, said Boguido, who completing his doctoral degree with the support of the IAEA.

Scientists participating in the project have already confirmed a large amount of quality groundwater in the Sahel basins using isotope hydrology. This is a key discovery, considering the important role that groundwater can play in water supply for the region.

Through South–South cooperation, Boguido carries out physico-chemical and isotopic analyses of water samples collected in various parts of the region. He also supervises students at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels.

Head of the HydroGeosciences and Reservoirs Laboratory (LHGR) at the University of N'Djaména in Chad, Abdallah Mahamat Nour, said the IAEA technical cooperation project had helped his work as a postdoctoral fellow.

"My postdoctoral project has made it possible to make significant progress in understanding the water resources of the Lake Chad basin,” said Mahamat Nour. “The support has enabled me to set up a number of tools and equipment that are now very useful for the LHGR laboratory activities”. Mahamat Nour also supervises the research work of several Chadian IAEA fellows, guiding them in their research projects using isotope hydrology.

Through an IAEA postgraduate programme for doctoral, master’s and postdoctoral fellows, students are learning to better characterize water samples to map groundwater resources, leading to regional self-reliance in isotope hydrology. The programme has enrolled 60 students, among whom 21 are women. Seven students have already completed the course and graduated.

Collaborative scientific publications involving authors from the participating countries are appearing in scholarly journals – an excellent example of South-South cooperation.

Building on the initial phase of the current project, it is now expanding its scope from the Sahel to include other parts of Africa. The programme will continue to support the existing network of countries in the Sahel region and will seek to increase coverage to include Member States in the south of the continent sharing water resources, such as the Orange River, the Medium Zambezi Aquifer System, the Inkomati-Maputo and the Greater Okavango River Basins.

The IAEA has implemented a series of large-scale projects on the Sahel region's water resources assessment and management through its technical cooperation programme. The projects support the sustainable management of shared groundwater resources in the region, contributing to regional and local socioeconomic development in line with Sustainable Development Goal 6 and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

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