IWMI support for making groundwater visible

The importance of water is enshrined in Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Groundwater, however, often suffers from being out of sight and therefore out of mind. As long as the water is coming out of a well or borehole now, long-term changes in what is happening underground in aquifers may be ignored.

To address this challenge, in January 2019, UN-Water agreed that the theme for World Water Day in 2022 would be Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible. Subsequently, they also announced a Groundwater Summit to be held in 2022 in connection with World Water Day, which would give even greater attention to the topic.

This priority focus on groundwater is something IWMI has been working towards for years. So, in 2019, one of our priorities was to continue strengthening alliances to build on the momentum of the enhanced focus on groundwater in 2022.

We were one of five globally representative authors who published a call to action on Global Groundwater Sustainability in the journal Nature. By the end of 2019, the Global Groundwater Statement, which calls for “…action to ensure groundwater benefits society now and into the future,” had received support from more than 800 global scientists, practitioners and experts in more than 80 countries.

In September, the Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP) published a timeline of the past 7,000 years of groundwater development and management. The timeline is another part of our strategic effort to draw attention to the issue of groundwater.

IWMI also launched a strategic initiative in September – the Groundwater for Resilience in Africa Network (GRAN) – to strengthen the evidence base for sound groundwater policy, and to work with partners to ensure that groundwater is included in broader water resources development and management policies across the African continent. This aligns with the concurrently established African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) Pan-African Groundwater Program (APAGroP). APAGroP offers IWMI and research and practitioner organizations collaborating in GRAN a unique opportunity to provide the evidence-based information, policy advice and networking that will support the achievement of sustainable groundwater development in Africa.

In Southeast Asia, the longstanding work of IWMI and partners in Laos has informed government policy around groundwater. Although considered as having abundant water resources, changing climates are affecting water cycles in the country, which up to now has been more concerned with surface flows through the Mekong Delta. For four years, we worked with farmers to show how their livelihoods could be improved through the use of groundwater to cultivate high-value crops, as long as the resource was carefully managed.

It was the first multidisciplinary research effort to look at groundwater issues in the country, and when it ended, communities and policy-makers came to appreciate that groundwater management and capacity building at all levels are good for development. The Lao government started to emphasize sustainable groundwater development in its national priorities. A case study published in 2019 highlighted the lessons learned during project implementation, which may help others working on groundwater under similar conditions.

Groundwater is finally recognized as an integral element of sustainable development. Even beyond Goal 6, water is so closely entwined in so many other SDGs, including food security, sustainable cities, climate adaptation, health, and environmental protection, that it is imperative that IWMI continues to do whatever possible to facilitate the good governance of this vital resource.


The Groundwater Statement has no formal funding with participants freely volunteering time and support. The leadership team includes Tom Gleeson, Karen Villholth, Richard Taylor, Deb Perrone, Jay Famiglietti, David Hyndman, Anne van Loon and Yoshi Wada. The website and graphics team includes Rich Pauloo, Aakash Ahamed and Corey Scher, with infographics by Form New York. The communications team includes Mark Ferguson and Stefan Siepman.

The Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP) partnership, led by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), will strengthen, expand and connect current groundwater initiatives. View the full list of partners.

The project ‘Enhancing the resilience and productivity of rainfed dominated systems in Lao PDR through sustainable groundwater use’ was carried out by IWMI and partners. Project partners from the government and academic institutions included the Lao Department of Water Resources (DWR), the Natural Resources and Environment Institute (NREI) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE), Lao Department of Irrigation (DoI) from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), and the Faculties of Water Resources (FWR) and Environmental Sciences (FES) of the National University of Laos (NUOL). Other partners included Khon Kaen University (KKU), Thailand, home to a national groundwater research center, and the regional Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Japan, a partner of GRIPP. The project was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), and supported by Funders contributing to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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