The failure of borewell drilling can often be avoided if data on rural water sources are collected and kept in an accessible format. A landmark project in Malawi demonstrates the value of data gathering and is doing this through involvement with local communities, technical consultants, contractors and the ministry.
Government water authorities and aid agencies are receiving conflicting messages about groundwater availability in sub-Saharan Africa. ‘Good news’ articles suggest that groundwater is available in abundance. ‘Bad news’ articles report water-point failure caused by depletion of groundwater storage rather than the more widely recognized mechanical failure of pump or borehole structure. These contradictory messages need to be read in the perspective of the scale of the assessment being described. Although there is plenty of groundwater in Africa, it is neither evenly distributed nor universally accessible. There are places where the groundwater resource renewal cannot keep pace with demographic stress and the local aquifer is drying up; groundwater in Africa is not just a water supply issue but has also become a complex management, maintenance, and regulatory problem. Lessons need to be learnt, not least with regard to the sustainable achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; the key lesson is that government and aid agencies need to recognize that groundwater is a finite resource of limited capacity.