• Industry: Government & Public Sector
  • Date: 11/5/2013

Case study: The Guarani Aquifer 

Lying underneath an area that spans parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina is the Guarani Aquifer System, a hydrogeological reserve potentially containing enough freshwater to supply the world's population for 200 years.1

At 1.2 million square kilometers, the Guarani is currently the source of drinking water for 15 million people, primarily in Brazil.2 Given projected increased demand for water and stress on supply in the region, the aquifer represents an essential strategic resource that requires careful management.3 Karin Kemper, a water resource specialist with the World Bank has described the Guarani system as "a striking example of an international water body threatened by environmental degradation. Without better management, the aquifer is likely to suffer from pollution and rapid depletion."4 The need for four countries to cooperate and coordinate management of this shared resource makes such protections all the more challenging.

Spurred on by assistance from the World Bank's Global Environment Facility and the Organization of American States, the four countries that share the Guarani Aquifer have taken significant steps towards a multinational governance model to manage the long-term sustainability of the aquifer. This effort represents a positive example of cooperation efforts beginning before pollution or depletion reach critical levels.5 In 2010, the countries signed the Agreement on the Guarani Aquifer, institutionalizing a cooperative governance model that includes regional, national, and local elements.6

The need for multinational governance approaches will only increase in importance as resource stress pressures accelerate over the coming decades. If the Agreement on the Guarani Aquifer is to serve as a model, it will need to continue to evolve in the face of changing circumstances. In particular, enhanced efforts to monitor and manage the impacts of agriculture activities on the "recharging" of the aquifer will be essential to future success.7 Furthermore, the new risks and challenges posed by climate change could place stress on the Agreement and other multinational governance arrangements such as Canada-US shared governance of the Great Lakes.8

1Anabel Symington. 13 April 2010. "The Guarani Aquifer: A Little Known Water Resource in South America Gets a Voice." Columbia University Earth Institute.
2International Atomic Energy Agency. "Guarding the Guarani: Improving Management of South America’s Precious Groundwater". Accessed 26 August 2013.
3Abel Mejia, Miguel Nucete Hubner, Enrique Ron Sanchez and Miguel Doria. 2012. "Water and Sustainability: A Review of Targets, Tools and Regional Cases". United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (PDF 7.01 MB). pp. 35.
4International Atomic Energy Agency.
5Joshua Newton. "Case Study of Transboundary Dispute Resolution: The Guarani Aquifer". Oregon State University Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation. Accessed 26 August 2013.
6Luiz Amore. 7 September 2011. "The Guarani Aquifer: From Knowledge to Water Management". International Journal of Water Resources Development. Volume 27, Issue 3. pp. 463-476.
7Stephen Foster, Ricardo Hirata, Ana Vidal, Gerhard Schmidt and Hector Garduño. November 2009. "The Guarani Aquifer Initiative – Towards Realistic Groundwater Management in a Transboundary Context". World Bank Water Partnership Program. pp.13.
8Heather Cooley and Peter Gleick. 4 July 2011. "Climate-Proofing Transboundary Water Agreements". Hydrogeological Sciences Journal. 56:4. pp. 711-718.


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