Story | 25 Mar, 2022

UN World Water Development Report 2022 “Groundwater: Making the invisible visible” officially launched

The UN World Water Development Report 2022 “Groundwater: Making the invisible visible” was officially launched by the UNESCO Director-General at the opening ceremony of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar, Senegal, on 21 March 2022.


The 2022 annual UN World Water Development Report is given over to groundwater, which represents 99% of all liquid freshwater on the Planet. On a global scale, groundwater accounts for half the total volume of water destined for domestic use, and for one-fourth of all water withdrawn for irrigation. Because it is invisible, groundwater tends to be poorly understood and mismanaged. The report notes the vast potential of groundwater as relief for the looming scarcity of good-quality water and as a buffer from the effects of climate variability. Against this backdrop, a compelling case is made for the need to manage the resource sustainably, also with the help of an enabling and effective legal and institutional environment.

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Photo: Pixabay

The domestic laws of countries regarding the management and governance of groundwater, including the institutional arrangements for their administration, attract a dedicated chapter in the Report (chapter 2), while the international law of transboundary aquifers is addressed in chapter 12. In chapter 2, the Report notes and illustrates how domestic laws and regulations dictate access to groundwater, in particular through the instrument of water rights, and regulate human activities that impact the quality of groundwater and cause pollution. The Report notes also how the water laws are instrumental to advancing the human right to water for the satisfaction of basic human needs, access to groundwater for the livelihoods of traditional communities, the land-water interface at discrete points of intersection and collision, and the environment-support function of groundwater in relation to wetlands and oases in particular. The Report recalls also the most authoritative codifications of the international customary law principles that govern transboundary aquifers, i.e., aquifers that are engaged by the international boundary lines of States. In a bid to move forward, countries are invited to commit to developing an “adequate and effective framework for groundwater governance” that includes, among others, “laws, regulations and their enforcement”. In the same context, the priority value of transboundary aquifer cooperation, and the supporting role of international water law, are commended to the attention of States. The Report sits in the context of, and ostensibly promotes, SDG 6 “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. Contributing to the debate around groundwater, and in particular around the legal frameworks for its management and governance, will feature prominently on the WCEL Water and Wetlands SG’s work plan 2022-2025.


About the author:

Stefano Burchi       Photo: Stefano Burchi
Stefano Burchi chairs the WCEL Water and Wetlands Specialist Group, and the International Association for Water Law (AIDA) He is a long-time specialist in the law of freshwater resources, comparative (domestic) and international.







For more information please contact:

Stefano Burchi
Michela Miletto, UNESCO-WWAP



Groundwater – Water law – Transboundary aquifers – International water law - UN World Water Development Report