World Water Day: highlighting the importance of groundwater

Since 1993, the United Nations Organization (UN) celebrates this day, which today focuses on groundwater.

To celebrate the relevance of this input, the UN commemorates World Water Day since 1993 every March 22. The resource is of vital importance for many of the daily activities of the human being, and also for industrial activities related to the productivity of the world economy. However, in agriculture, both descriptions merge, to create a vital industry for the survival of the human being. By 2050, the demand for food and agricultural products is expected to increase by 50%.

This year the organization has decided to give greater focus to the use and care of groundwater. Aquifers, containers of rocks, gravel, and sand for groundwater, feed lakes, rivers, wetlands, and ultimately oceans. The main source of recharge is rain and snow, which after the advance of climate change and rising temperatures are becoming increasingly scarce, reducing the availability of groundwater in the affected areas.

Wells, deep drilling made to find aquifers and thus have access to water, is one of the methods used in countries to obtain this resource. 40% of the water used for irrigation in the world comes from aquifers according to UN data. In agriculture, the lack of rain affects the availability of the resource in the wells; Those who had already invested in this infrastructure now face water shortages, in what was previously sufficient volume for their crops.

The decrease in aquifers also affects the flow of rivers and lakes, natural sources of fresh water used for food production. That is why the importance of agricultural technology to improve irrigation efficiency should be highlighted. Just as engineering helps to improve the efficiency of the use of this resource, genetics and nutrition contribute to improving the tolerance of plants to water stress, to obtain fruits of the same quality, but with less need for irrigation. Investing in both advances must be part of future planning considering that climate change will not stop, and therefore, water scarcity will continue to be a problem for agricultural activity.

But it is not only the improvement of its use that must be taken care of for agriculture, but also its contamination. Agriculture is estimated to be the most polluting industry of aquifers according to the UN. The same organization explains that nitrate is the most widespread underground contaminant in the world, while herbicides and pesticides, through their misuse and application, can filter from the surface layers of the substrate to the underground aquifers, contaminating the water with carcinogenic and toxic substances. This effect can affect crops, reducing their production, usefulness and safety, in addition to making this water difficult or impossible for human consumption.

The International Organization affirms that worldwide the management of groundwater and its regulation for agriculture are difficult to apply. From the legal point of view, the UN recommends monitoring and regularizing access to groundwater, as well as human activities that influence its quality, in addition to seeking to provide access to water for basic needs; facilitate access to groundwater for subsistence use and small-scale production; regulate the use of land that hinders the process of extraction and recharge of groundwater; and regulate the creation and operation of groundwater user associations with adjudication, monitoring and surveillance powers. All this is due to the fact that the biggest problem is overexploitation, occupying more of an aquifer's resources than it is recharged.

However, they highlight that, in the short term, for Agriculture, the best solution continues to be the application of irrigation and water efficiency technologies to improve the use of the resource and take care of its future availability.

Catalina Pérez R.- Blueberries Consulting

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