How an Aquifer Discovered in Africa could help the Water Shortage in Namibia

It is well know that water resources in Africa are scarce; according to a BBC article, there are about 300 million people across the country who don’t have access to safe water. In Namibia, a country that is largely made up of desert and a semi-arid Central Plateau used mainly for rearing cattle, the situation is particularly grave. In Northern Namibia, a population of approximately 800,000 people rely on a canal that brings water into Namibia from Angola.

However, an aquifer recently discovered in Namibia could resolve the situation, potentially for the next four centuries, provided that the water is carefully extracted. If so, it could act as a natural buffer against global warming, providing enough water to cope with fifteen years’ worth of drought.

As the manager in charge of the project, Martin Quinger, from the German Federal Institute for Geoscience and Natural Resources, claimed:

“The amount of stored water would equal the current supply of this area in northern Namibia for 400 years, which has about 40 percent of the nation’s population.”

The water is believed to have been underground for around 10,000 years. Despite that, it is believed that the water is very safe to drink – probably more so than other water sources that have been affected by environmental pollution.

According to Idaho State University, an aquifer is a body of porous rock, through which water is able to flow. Ideal rock types include fractured limestone and soapstone. Groundwater filters through the body of rock to be stored until it is pumped to the surface via a well. The water can remain underground for substantial periods of time; hence the fact that the Northern Namibian supply may have been there for thousands of years. The Namibian aquifer is approximately 300 metres below ground and contains approximately 5 billion cubic metres of water. 

Despite the good news, there are still concerns that the water won’t last if care is not taken to remove it correctly. If the correct technical procedures aren’t followed, the water could be infiltrated by a salt-water aquifer which is just above the new-found freshwater one. The aim of the project, which is funded by the UN, is to educate local Namibians about the water source and how to tap into it correctly and in a sustainable way, because once the funding is gone, the project will need to be handed back over to the local people.

Massive sources of water like this are critical to the African people. Fortunately, it is not the only case in recent history. Earlier in 2012, the BBC reported on a huge reservoir that had been discovered under the Sahara Desert and could serve Chad, Libya and Algeria. Again though, if the water is pumped out in a sustainable way, it could run out much sooner than it should.