Namibia’s Miraculous Wellspring: Newly Discovered Aquifer Could Help Develop Agriculture

 @JaceyFortin
on July 20 2012 4:41 PM

A new aquifer, called Ohangwena II, has been found in northern Namibia. The vast water deposit straddles the border between Namibia and Angola -- on the Namibian side, it covers about 1075 square miles.

According to Martin Quinger, a project manager from the German Federal Institute for Geoscience and Natural Resources, this is a monumental find.

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 population, he said to the BBC.

In Namibia, finding an aquifer is akin to striking gold. The country's land is the driest in all of sub-Saharan Africa, and the continent as a whole is already seeing widespread droughts due to climate change.

An aquifer is basically a subterraneous chunk of land that is saturated with groundwater. That groundwater can be accessed by wells, although removing it can be risky since aquifers can run dry if too much water is demanded at once.

What we are aiming at is a sustainable water supply so we only extract the amount of water that is being recharged, said Quinger.

And Namibia's aquifer comes with special risks of its own. This trove of fresh groundwater has a smaller aquifer of saltwater sitting right on top of it, and mixing the two would compromise the quality of this valuable find.

If people don't comply with our technical recommendations they might create a hydraulic shortcut between the two aquifers which might lead to the salty water from the upper one contaminating the deep one or vice versa, Quinger explained.

If all goes well, this could be a fantastic find for Namibia. The nation is semi-arid and sparsely populated, with rivers that routinely run dry and very little rainfall. Its western border hugs the South Atlantic Ocean, where the briny waves wash right up onto the barren sand dunes of the Namib Desert. Along the eastern border and into neighboring Botswana, the Kalahari semi-desert is home to dry scrub bushes clinging to red sand.

Between those zones are plateaus with some vegetation and a more temperate climate, and these areas are home to most of Namibia's population.

Namibia is sparsely populated. It has more land than France, but less people than Chicago. The country is rich in mineral resources; it is the fourth largest producer of uranium on earth, according to the U.S. CIA. Still, more than 50 percent of Namibians live below the poverty line.

Politically, the situation is calm. Ever since achieving independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia has operated under a presidential republic that has enjoyed relative stability to this day. Now with a brand new source of fresh water, Namibia could pursue new irrigation products to turn the country's inhospitable land into fertile ground for agriculture. This could do much to ameliorate the poverty that afflicts so many of the country's subsistence farmers, helping the country to make great strides in terms of development.

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