An underground solution to drought?
(Image by Charles Nambasi from Pixabay)

An underground solution to drought?

Whilst the incidence of drought in the Horn of Africa has been increasing, so too have ground stores of water.

Summary: Researchers from the universities of Cardiff, Bristol and Berne found that whilst over the last 40 years droughts have been happening more frequently in the Horn of Africa, water storage underground has been increasing suggesting that groundwater resources could offer solutions to mitigate the worst impacts of droughts.

Why this is important: Drylands cover more than 40% of the Earth's land surface with the bulk in Africa. However, more than 25% of drylands can be found in developed nations.

The big theme: Water is the critical resource to sustain life on this planet. It is essential for our bodies and those of the other living species on the planet as well as being an important resource in industry. Its availability, especially in potable form, is a macro risk factor as well as being an opportunity for innovation that investors can drive. Another risk factor for investors is that of stranded assets in those industries being transitioned from such as fluid fossil fuels. Could innovative redeployment of those assets both physical and intellectual present an opportunity to counteract that risk in areas such as water?


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The details

Summary of a research paper from Geophysical Research Letters

More than 60% of the population living in the Horn of Africa Drylands (HADs) suffer moderate or severe food insecurity which is more than any other region in the world. It is a pastoral agricultural economy (i.e. livestock dependent) and so closely tied to the weather and climate. The rainfall is highly variable, seasonal and has been inconsistent over the past 40 years with droughts becoming more severe and more frequent with knock on effects for food and water security. For example, the 2016-2017 drought led to more than 13 million people facing extreme hunger as crop yields were low.

Researchers from the universities of Cardiff, Bristol and Berne analysed rainfall and water storage data and found that while total seasonal rainfall in HAD had declined in recent decades, especially during the agriculturally important 'March-April-May' rainy season, total water storage had actually increased between 2003 and 2016. Heavy rain showers have become more common and are effective in refilling ground stores of water.

The team concludes that it would be possible to identify those areas of HAD where groundwater could become more abundant and investment in monitoring and building of local sand dams and groundwater pumping equipment to use these aquifers to provide reserves during dry periods and increase the resiliency of the region.

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