Groundwater and self-supply: There is more to it than meets the eye

“Groundwater may be out of sight, but it must not be out of mind.”

This year’s tag line of the World Water Day points to the fact that, despite its size and importance, the vast amounts of water right below our feet are often overlooked and forgotten. As a society, we tend to overlook groundwater as a potential source of water for different purposes, and we also forget how fragile it is to contamination.

In low-income settings, the use groundwater is often limited by lack of resources (technology for drilling, energy for pumping, and supply chains to keep these systems operational). Nevertheless, several hundred million people across the globe have been providing water for themselves (“self-supply”), mostly from groundwater:

  • In South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, more than 760 million — or 31% of the population — rely on self-supply for drinking water.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 46 million rural and 125 million urban people rely on private groundwater sources, equivalent to 7% and 33% of the rural and urban population, respectively.

These people tapped into groundwater sources by their own means, usually without support from governments, donors, NGOs or development banks. For more than 1 billion people worldwide, self-supply is the best (and often the only) option to access water. With coordinated efforts and stronger support structures, many more may benefit.

On World Water Day 2022, Skat Foundation and a group of like-minded organisations (WaterAid, SIWI, IRC, Ask for Water GmbH and University of Technology Sydney) jointly developed a fact sheet on groundwater and self-supply, highlighting how the two topics are related. We invite you to read the document, share it widely, and – most importantly – act on it. Here is the list of actions we are proposing:

  • WASH professionals: Recognise the role of individual households in upgrading WASH service levels; support the collection of evidence on the multiple impact of self-supply; support initiatives of market intelligence, capacity building, exchange, and learning.
  • Government entities: Recognise the role and importance of self-supply (e.g., include self-supply in monitoring efforts, recognise it in policies and standards); build expertise in institutions; establish an enabling environment for local private sector actors to thrive; build capacities.
  • Academia: Include technologies and approaches adequate for individual household supply (or small groups) in research projects; include self-supply as an approach; investigate enabling and hindering factors for WASH entrepreneurs to establish a business and thrive; investigate the multiple benefits generated by self-supply.
  • Funding agencies: Include self-supply components in projects, focusing on kickstarting
    market-based mechanisms, promotion, capacity building, market intelligence, research, and evaluations.
  • Implementing agencies (NGOs, UN agencies, etc.): Integrate self-supply components in WASH, rural development, market development and livelihood improvement projects; pilot and showcase technologies that can be taken up by individual households and small groups.

More information

For more information, please check out the fact sheet on groundwater and self-supply or the RWSN website on self-supply.