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Acquifera Onlus / Blog  / Water resources and desertification related problems in arid and semi-arid areas: research insight, studies/success stories Giorgio Ghiglieri* a,b

Water resources and desertification related problems in arid and semi-arid areas: research insight, studies/success stories Giorgio Ghiglieri* a,b

a Department of Chemical and Geological Sciences, University of Cagliari, Cittadella Universitaria di Monserrato – Blocco A – Stanza R56 S.P. Monserrato-Sestu, km 0.700 09042 Monserrato Cagliari, Italy, e- mail:

b Desertification Research Centre (NRD), University of Sassari, Viale Italia, 07100 Sassari, Italy.


Among so much literature that addresses issues related to water, we like to start as did the philosopher M. Risse (Risse, 2014) “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water,” so Auden finished his poem “First Things First.”

We find also a great interest on the global debate and narratives concerning water scarcity, water crises and water resource management. As well the various position on water ranging from those viewing water as an economic good to those viewing water as a human right. Sometimes it seems that the debates risk obscuring the cultural, social and symbolic dimensions of water.

Perhaps there is the need for critical approach to map out the mismatch between rhetoric and reality across macro, meso and micro “realms”, calling for explicit links to be made between water and power and politics.

Among so much issues related to water, it is really interesting to settle on different notions on water scarcity. What is it that makes water scarce? Reading the related literature, it is well known that only three per cent of water on earth is fresh and most of this is locked away in the ice cap of Antartica and Greenland. Water scarcity, as it is widespread described, is often presented in absolute and monolithic terms, obscuring the overall meaning of scarcity and its linkages with hydrological, ecological, technological, socio-political, temporal and anthropogenic dimensions. Scarcity is not felt universally by all. One of the clearest examples is that in arid parts of the world, most of them are in the developing countries, people consume 10 liters of water per day. An average European or American, by contrast, consumes up to 500-700 liters per day. It is clear that this depend on the “distribution” of the water availability, but the anthropogenic dimensions of scarcity play an important role when we consider also the water degradation processes in terms of quantity and quality.

As highlighted by Sivakumar, B. (2011) there is an increasing potential for water scarcity, crisis and associated conflicts around the world in the future, especially in developing regions, if the current trend in water consumption and management practices continues.

Some researchers recognize that there will not be enough freshwater in the world. I agree with the assumptions written by Sivakumar, B. (2011) “as for water crisis, one argument is that the world is not facing water crisis because of actual physical scarcities of water, but may face water crisis because of widespread and continuous mismanagement of water This argument is very well supported by the fact that in nearly all developed and developing countries, water management practices and processes continue to be inefficient and suboptimal, including significant leakage/wastage in water supply/use and lack of proper treatment to maintain quality of water for various uses”.

We can also emphasize the absence or lack of attention relatively to evaluate the cost of degradation of water resource.

In brief, it is wrong to conceive of water scarcity in absolute terms, but instead there is an urgent and strong need to link water scarcity with socio-political, institutional, technological and hydrological factors.

It means: a new way of thinking, developing and implementing water planning and management practices.


This chapter provides a brief overview of the water management related problems in Africa and in developing country. We also present some research and demonstrative projects carried out by the author in the last 15 years across Africa. Following are briefly presented some successful stories of projects developed to solve problems of water supply at the local scale and regional-scale. Some of the scientific results of our work are reported in papers that have been published in ISI International peer review Journal (see bibliography).

As reported in Ghiglieri & Carletti (2010) and highlighted by MacDonald et al. (2008), “At least 44% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa (some 320 million people) do not have access to clean, reliable water supplies (JMP, 2004). The majority of those without access (approx. 85%) live in rural areas where the consequent poverty and ill-health disproportionately affect women and children (JMP, 2004). In response, the international community has set the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which commit the UN membership to halve the proportion of

people who are unable to reach, or afford, safe drinking water by the year 2015 (United Nations, 2000)”.

Another objective is to provide a quantity of at least 20 litres per day per person to 60% of the population.

Accessibility to drinking water is a fundamental right that is still lacking for a large part of the world’s population (UNEP, 1994). Further, MacDonald et al. (2008) stated: “Across large swathes of Africa, South America and Asia, groundwater provides the only realistic water supply option for meeting dispersed rural demand. There are many reasons for this: it is generally found close to where it is needed, the natural quality is usually good and it is resistant to even prolonged droughts. Alternative water resources can be unreliable and expensive to develop (Foster et al., 2000)”.

However, there are some risks inherent in proceeding with large increases in groundwater use without a scientific approach to, and sustainable management of, groundwater development. Frequently, many rural water supply projects suffer from very little hydrogeological input. Instead, they are seen only in terms of engineering problems: e.g. drilling, pump installation, tanks and taps”. Thompson et al. (2000) wrote: “The benefits and costs of providing a safe, convenient and reliable water supply to people in the developing world has been the subject of a vast and wide- ranging research effort over the last four decades. Research has focused on various aspects: the relationship between water and disease; the efficacy of water supply projects in improving health; the causes and consequences of differential access to, and control of, water resources (particularly with regard to gender and wealth); and the financing of water supply infrastructures. Despite this plethora of literature and research, relatively little is known about a number of key aspects relating to a simple, useful, scientific-based procedure that could be applied in developing countries when planning interventions aimed at improving access to safe water”. Of all the regions of the world, the research gap is most acute for sub-Saharan Africa, a region whose population has the least access to improved water supplies (Cosgrove & Rijsberman, 2000; MacDonald et al., 2005; Pietersen, 2005). Concerning the methodology of work, Cobbing & Davies (2008) highlighted: “Accurate and appropriate data collection during project implementation, together with data interpretation and knowledge dissemination can prevent past mistakes being repeated and, moreover, reduce the ultimate cost of water supply schemes from both a human and a financial point of view”, and Fonjong et al. (2004) stated, “Furthermore, projects of this type must take into consideration the sources and levels of income and other socio-economic aspects of the community, its population

and its system of management, before proposing any technical solutions. In fact, in achieving clean water for all, indigenous knowledge and community participation have a determinant role to play. This is because most top–bottom approaches to water schemes have shown limits in providing safe water to communities. Such failures in water provision and distribution should be considered as a clarion call to encourage community involvement in all water supply schemes. It is also an indication of the need to promote community-based initiatives involving the rural population in the planning, designing, implementation and management of their water resources in accordance with local situations and needs”.

  1. 2 Mauritania

In an attempt to address this problem, a work was carried out within the ACP-EU Water Facility Programme, through the HEFEM Project (HEFEM: appui aux municipalités rurales pour la sécurisation et la gestion de l’eau) (http://www.projet The general objective was to guarantee easier access to water for the inhabitants of 13 rural municipalities of the provinces of Nema and Timbedgha, in the south of Hodh El Chargui, southeast Mauritania.

The project was aimed to improve condition of sustainable infrastructures for water distribution, management and sanitation, and to improve the governance of water resources through technical and financial support. Among the expected results are i) governance and management capacity of local institutions improved; ii) Technical capacity of local authorities and partners on water issues strengthened; iii) Pilot activities for infrastructure settlement realized; and iii) Micro-financing enterprise realized. The project also foresees training activities mainly devoted to local technicians to guarantee that water availability and monitoring also continue once the project activities have ended. Such training activities have also be accompanied by activities to sensitize local population to the correct use of water and to guarantee its availability in the long run. Particularly, we developed a methodology in order to identify sites that were suitable for the realization of productive, protected and correct wells to supply safe water to the rural community. A multicriteria approach to studying hydrogeology was used in the project area. In order to identify some main areas in which to carry out pilot interventions, criteria relating to water accessibility and availability, and to hydrogeological and water quality, were considered (Ghiglieri & Carletti 2010). Moreover, during the project, it was possible to transfer know-how and hand over responsibilities to the local population and bodies.

  1. 3 Tanzania

The project was aimed at encouraging the birth of sustainable infrastructures for water distribution and waste water management, improve governance of water resources through financial and technical support in the Ngarenayuki e Oldonyosambu Wards (Tanzania). By adopting a local scale approach, infrastructures will be created able to satisfy water needs for human uses, livestock watering and agriculture (cultivation of small pieces of land).

A multidisciplinary research effort, including geological, hydrogeological, hydro-chemical, geophysical and hydrological investigations, was aimed at locating a source of safe groundwater for a district of northern Tanzania, within the western branch of the East Africa Rift Valley, where water shortage is common and much of the surface water carries unacceptable levels of dissolved fluoride (Ghiglieri et al., 2010; 2011). The aims of the study were to identify the main local source of fluoride, to locate aquifers unaffected by fluoride infiltration/release, and to develop strategies to exploit safe groundwater. The methodological approach for the prospecting of safe water in a semi- arid, fluoride polluted region was validated by the drilling of a 60m deep well capable of supplying at least 3.8 l/s of low fluoride, drinkable water. Among the specific objectives, training activities will also be developed to transfer knowledge to the local populations and to raise awareness on the sustainable and compatible use of water (Ghiglieri et al. 2010; 2011).

This research was carried out as part of a project funded by OIKOS Institute (Italy), the Charity and Defence of Nature Fund (private foundation) and the Sardinia local Government (Italy) (Regional Law 19/96: cooperation with developing countries).

  1. 4 Sustainable Water Integrated Management(SWIM)

Funded by the European Commission with a total budget of approximately € 22 million, Sustainable Water Integrated Management (SWIM) is a Regional Technical Assistance Programme aiming to contribute to the effective implementation and extensive dissemination of sustainable water management policies and practices in the South-Eastern Mediterranean Region in view of increasing water scarcity, combined pressures on water resources from a wide range of users, desertification processes and in connection with climate change. The SWIM Partner Countries (PCs) are: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya1, Morocco, the occupied Palestinian territory, Syria and Tunisia.

SWIM aligns with the outcomes of the Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conferences on Environment (Cairo, 2006) and Water (Dead Sea, 2008) and also reflects on the four major themes of the draft Strategy for Water in the Mediterranean (SWM), mandated by the Union for the Mediterranean, namely: Water Governance; Water and Climate Change; Water Financing and; Water Demand Management and Efficiency, with particular focus on nonconventional water resources. Moreover, it is operationally linked to the objectives of the Mediterranean Component of the EU Water Initiative (MED EUWI) and complements the EC-financed Horizon 2020 Initiative to De-Pollute the Mediterranean Sea (Horizon 2020). Furthermore, SWIM links to other related regional processes, such as the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD) and the Arab Water Strategy elaborated respectively in the framework of the Barcelona Convention and of the League of Arab States, and to on-going pertinent programmes, e.g. the UNEP/MAP GEF Strategic Partnership for the Mediterranean Large Marine Ecosystem (MedPartnership) and the World Bank GEF Sustainable Mediterranean.

The Programme consists of two Components, acting as a mutually strengthening unit that supports much needed reforms and new creative approaches in relation to water management in the Mediterranean region, aiming at their wide diffusion and replication.

The prescriptions for improved water management can achieve the proclaimed effects only when the water reform is planned in a holistic manner, including political, institutional, legal, social and economic changes, and with due cross-sectoral considerations, involving agriculture, industry, energy, tourism, domestic use, nature conservation, etc.

Whether elaborating on an IWRM Plan, a Water Strategy and/or a Water Efficiency Plan, it is well recognized that there are no universal blueprints or one-solution-fits-all. Country particularities need to be taken into account along with proper consideration of the various competing and often conflictual water users and uses. At transboundary level, the implementation of plans becomes even more strenuous, as it involves different national sovereignties with differing needs and priorities. Having said that, it is also well acknowledged that there is a wealth of valuable experiences to be shared at the regional, sub-regional, national and local levels and a promising ground for coordinated strategic planning. Knowledge and experience sharing along with the potential replicability of good/best practices needs strengthening with emphasis on multi-stakeholder involvement in order to ensure transparency, accountability, ownership and eventual endorsement (SWIM-SM Project; 2013)

The two SWIM Components are: A Support Mechanism (SWIM-SM); Five (5) Demonstration Projects. For more information please visit or contact

1.5 Tunisia and Algeria: WADIS MAR Project (Water harvesting and Agricultural techniques in Dry lands: an Integrated and Sustainable model in MAghreb Regions) Integrated (Sustainable) Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to

maximize economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the environment. IWRM strategies are based on the four Dublin Principles presented at the World Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Soil and water resources of arid and semi-arid regions are limited. Particularly, surface water supplies are normally critically unreliable, poorly distributed and subject to high evaporation losses. Despite or because of these problems, the optimum course of action for sustainable water resources management in arid and semi-arid areas will, in most case, be a combination of surface and groundwater use, with a range of storage options (Cosgrove and Rijsberman, 2000).

Reliable water resources data are a prerequisite for rational development, though these are generally sparse in arid and semi-arid regions (Simmers, 2003). On a smaller scale, generally, water harvesting techniques might catch water during rainfall events in order to recharge an aquifer, thus impeding the quick runoff out of a catchment area. This is particularly important for people living in semi- arid regions characterized by erratic rainfall and prolonged periods of drought, where every drop of water count. In such regions surface and sub-surface flows are intermittent and some form of storage is essential (i.e. contour terracing, graded and field bounding, strip cropping, check dams, ponds, micro-dams, etc). An alternative or supplementary activity to water harvesting is the artificial aquifer recharge. This technique is a process of induced groundwater replenishment (Murray and Harris, 2010; De Vries and Simmers, 2002; Ghiglieri, 1994).

The successful operation of an artificial recharge facility depends largely on an effective management strategy and on the availability of sufficiently skilled staff to carry out the necessary tasks. Among several technical aspects, before developing an artificial recharge facility, the viability and feasibility of the project should be assessed to verify that: (i) artificially recharged water does not cause geochemical reactions to occur in the subsurface that adversely impact aquifer water quality; (ii) water quality analyses of the possible sources of water for artificial recharge and water currently present in the aquifer to be recharged must be obtained; (iii) adequate permeability, thickness, and lateral extent occur to achieve the desired performance standards for the artificial recharge facility.

The project “Water harvesting and Agricultural techniques in Dry lands: an Integrated and Sustainable model in MAghreb Regions”(WADIS-MAR) ( is one of the five Demonstration Projects implemented in the framework of the Sustainable Water Integrated Management (SWIM) Regional Programme (, and has been funded by the European Commission.

WADIS-MAR is implemented in Algeria and Tunisia with the objective to contribute to improve the living conditions of rural populations in arid and semi-arid target areas of the Maghreb region, which are actually suffering under scarce water conditions and of bad water quality. Within selected target areas erratic behaviour of rainfall events over brief intervals often produce short and intense floods events, which converge into ephemeral wadi beds. Most part of the available superficial waters is thus lost, providing scarce benefits for households living in surrounding areas.

The project aims to contribute to an integrated, sustainable water harvesting, artificial aquifer recharge and sustainable agriculture management in the watersheds of Oued Biskra, in Algeria, and Wadi Oum Zessar, in Tunisia.

In particular WADIS-MAR aims at leading to the:

  • improvement of traditional water harvesting systems (i.e. jessour and tabias) by applying “soft” modern rehabilitation interventions;
  • increasing groundwater availability through artificial aquifer recharge and promoting the use of modern techniques (i.e. gabions, recharge wells, infiltration basins);
  • managing flood flow, run-off and hence reduce erosion;
  • enhancing water quality by reducing pollution caused by non-use of agricultural best practices;
  • promoting water efficient farming systems and the use of more stress-tolerant crops.

WADIS-MAR will, thus, take into account past local traditional experiences and will implement a sustainable water and agriculture management system based on participative and bottom-up

approach. For both target areas, expected results concern the implementation of: (i) a sustainable Integrated Water and Agricultural Management (IWAM) System; (ii) best-agricultural practices and rational irrigation techniques; (iii) actions to improve capacity and awareness of local and national institutions.

The project has important replication potential. The strengthened capacity of regional and national authorities and the enhanced inter-sectorial coordination promoted through the project is creating an enabling technical, policy, legal and institutional environment towards successful Water and Agriculture Management technologies and approaches. The best practices, so produced, will eventually benefit other regions in Algeria and Tunisia through the implementation of across- countries activities directed to exchange experiences and lessons learnt. Moreover, through the envisaged dissemination activities, other Mediterranean countries could take advantage from gained experience about the possible solutions to water scarcity and overexploitation in arid and semi-arid areas applied by WADIS-MAR, resulting in the up-scaling and replication of the project’s achievements.

The project was implemented by:

  • Desertification Research Centre (NRD), University of Sassari, Italy, (coordinated by Giorgio Ghiglieri);
  • Universitat de Barcelona (UB), Spain;
  • Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel (OSS), Tunis Carthage, Tunisie;
  • Institutes des Région Arides (IRA), Médenine, Tunisie;
  • Agence Nationale des Ressources Hydrauliques (ANRH), Alger, Algerie. The time span of the Project is three years from December 2011 to June 2016.

1.6 Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Project FLOWERED (de-FLuoridation technologies for imprOving quality of WatErandagRo-animal products along the East African RiftValley in the context of aDptation to climate change) June 2016-ongoing

Flowered project (aHorizon 2020 European funded project: Grant Agreement-N.690378) (, ledby University of Cagliari (Italy) and coordinated by Giorgio Ghiglieri.

FLOWERED (de-FLuoridation technologies for imprOving quality of WatEr and agRo-animal products along the East African Rift Valley in the context of aDaptation to climate change) objective is to contribute to the development of a sustainable water management system in areas affected by fluoride (F) contamination in water, soils and food in the African Rift Valley countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania), thus to improve living standards (environmental, health and food security) of their population. FLOWERED aims to study, test and implement innovative defluoridation technologies for drinking and irrigation water that will mainly operate at small village scale and to develop an integrated, sustainable and participative water and agriculture management at a cross-boundary catchment scale.

The proposed scientific approach in FLOWERED is based on a detailed knowledge of the geological and hydrogeological setting that controls contamination of water that constitute the prerequisite for the implementation of a sustainable water management and for the proposal of sustainable and suitable strategies for water sanitation and agricultural system. Innovative agricultural practices will be assessed, aiming to mitigate the impacts of F contamination of water and soil on productivity of selected food and forage crops and dairy cattle health and production. The development of an innovative and shared Geo-data system will support the integrated, sustainable and participative management system.

FLOWERED, focusing on innovative technologies and practices and taking into account local experiences, will implement an integrated water and agriculture management system and will

enable local communities to manage water resources, starting from using efficient defluoridation techniques and applying sustainable agricultural practices.

The integrated approaches improve knowledge for EU partners, local researchers, farmers and decision makers. The Project through the involvement of SMEs will strengthen the development co- innovative demonstration processes as well as new market opportunities.

Implementation of 8 Work packages (WP)n to achieve the FLOWERED objective WP1 – Advancing hydrogeological knowledge

WP2 – Developing mitigation options for fluoride contamination in agriculture and livestock system

WP3 – Developing innovative water defluoridation technologies WP4 – Innovative Geo-Data system for knowledge management WP5 – Socio-economic Analyses

WP6 – Dissemination and Exploitation of results and Communication activities WP7 – Management

WP8 – Ethics requirements.

FLOWERED is coordinated by the Department of Chemical and Geological Sciences – University of Cagliari and it involves 13 Partners of 7 different countries: Ethiopia, Italy, Kenya, Spain, Tunisia, Tanzania, United Kingdom.


Department of Chemical and Geological Sciences University of Cagliari, Italy Desertification Research Centre University of Sassari, Italy

Centro di GeoTecnologie University of Siena, Italy

Departament de Cristallografia, Mineralogia i Dipòsits Minerals, Facultat de Geologia Universitat de Barcelona Spain

Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences, University of Aberystwyth, UK College of natural Sciences University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, School of Science, University of Eldoret, Kenya Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Tanzania

Oikos East Africa,Tanzania

Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel International, Intergovernmental Organization operating in Africa’s Sahara-Sahel Region

Hydro Technical Engineering S.r.l., Italy Planetek Italia S.r.l., Italy

D D’Enginy Biorem S.L., Spain Geomatrix PLC, Ethiopia


This chapter provides a brief overview of the water management and desertification related problems in Mediterranean areas. We also present some research and demonstrative projects carried out by the authors in the last 15 years. Some of the scientific results of our work are reported in papers that have been published in ISI International peer review Journal (see bibliography).

The Convention to Combat Drought and Desertification (UNCCD), adopted during the Conference of United Nation on Environment and Development held in Rio, defines Desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas” deriving mainly from negative human impacts. The word “land” in this context comprises soil, water resources and natural vegetation (UNEP, 1994). This definition, which focuses mainly on soil degradation, may need an integration related to water resources. Moreover, the meaning given to the word “desertification”, in common language, is generally linked to the concept of partial or total lack of water.

Both from a qualitative and a quantitative point of view, surface and groundwater resources are an essential factor for the conservation and development of any form of life. In fact, they represent an absolutely indispensable factor for the survival and the harmonic development of the natural environments and also for the socio-economical growth of the territory. The deterioration of the water resources, which have negative impacts on the natural environments and on the socio- economic growth of an area, is a key indicator of desertification (UNEP, 1994; Barbieri et al., 2005; Ghiglieri et al., 2006, 2009b). Such deterioration is actually one of the direct or concomitant causes of land degradation, rather than an effect of the desertification processes objectively noticeable, as in the case of damages occurring in the soils or woodlands.

In the frame of the multidisciplinary research activities for combating and/or mitigating desertification, a proper water resources management plays an important role in the water conservation in terms of both quality and quantity (Barbieri et al., 2005; Ghiglieri et al., 2006, 2009a).

The following experiences has been carried out in the framework of the RIADE-PON Project 2002- 2005 (Integrated Research for the Application of innovative technologies and procedures for combating Desertification) ( The project was implemented by: Desertification Research Centre (NRD), University of Sassari, Italy; (Advanced Computer Systems) A.C.S. S.p.A., Italy; Agency for New Technologies on Environment and Energy (ENEA), Italy.

The project is concerned with the methodological approach on the sustainable management of water resources aimed ultimately at defining measures for combating desertification. The primary object is to explore and develop models and strategies for innovative and sustainable water resources management solutions, adopting a multidisciplinary approach, at the drainage and/or hydrogeological basin scale in a Mediterranean context, using a case study from a pilot area in Sardinia as a basis. Criteria for selecting the pilot area were dictated by the need for specific features such as the presence of surface water bodies (rivers, channels, dams, etc.), of confined and unconfined aquifers and of urban agglomerates and productive activities, thus with competing water demands. An area was identified in the NW part of Sardinia (Italy), in the Nurra region, specifically the basin draining into the Calich lagoon (Ghiglieri et al., 2006, 2009a). The last few years have seen a significant increase in development applications along the coastal belt and numerous tourist resorts, urban infrastructures and industrial activities have sprung up. Demand for the resident and tourist population along the coast, together with agricultural demand for coastal farmland, is usually satisfied by reservoired water. However, during droughts or certain periods of the year, water becomes scarce and in these situations groundwater represents the only alternative and hence strategic resource.

Decreasing availability and deteriorating quality of water caused by excessive and irrational water consumption may restrain development of local agricultural, industrial and tourist activities resulting in adverse social and economic repercussions. However these environmental degradation processes can be checked and reversed by means of targeted interventions and adopting appropriate policies for effective water resources management.

Therefore, a multidisciplinary research project has been drawn up and tested for the purpose of collecting the necessary information required for developing integrated and sustainable water resource management solutions, also taking into consideration recently enforced national and European legislation. Moreover, adopting an interdisciplinary approach, indicators of environmental quality are identified and the information gleaned from the methods conventionally used for assessing the condition of integrated water resources is integrated with information obtained for the entire study area. The chemical and biological properties of the water resources are then correlated with the effects of antropogenic pressure, land use changes and environmental transformations. The study also aimed to use the indicators of environmental quality identified for groundwater resources to gain a better understanding of desertification processes and consequently mitigate its effects.

The results are usable both for developing an operational tool for local administrators for proper water management, for implementing an integrated model to simulate the physical phenomena and as a decision support for sustainable water resources management and to combat desertification (Ghiglieri et al., 2006, 2009a, 2009b).

Another example of successful story is the KNOW Project (Implementing the Knowledge of NitrOgen in groundwater) (2012-2015) financed by Sardinia local Government (Italy) (RAS, LR7/07 CRP 27101). The partnerships of the project are: Department of Chemical and Geological Science, University of Cagliari and Desertification Research Centre (NRD), University of Sassari. The project aims to implement the knowledge on nitrate flow in groundwater. the research topic is part of a wider issue of desertification induced by anthropogenic pressures and focuses on the study of some geochemical -biological-physical processes that contribute to the quality degradation of water resource. Groundwater contamination by nitrogen compounds is considered to be particularly relevant in the European Community. Through the Nitrate Directive (ND, 91/676/EEC) the EU countries must define the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs), develop protocols of good agricultural practice and set up action programs for the management of farm manure. In addition, the European water bodies should reach a “good status” chemical (and quantitative) within 2015. In Sardinia, it has been already identified a NVZ of agricultural origin (Arborea Plain), along with several areas that are potentially vulnerable to nitrates.

The main objectives are:

  1. evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of geochemical and isotopic tracers (oxygen-18, deuterium, nitrogen-15, sulphur-34 and boron-11) as indicators for the definition of the groundwater recharge areas and the identification of nitrate pollution sources in NVZ of Arborea and Nurra;
  2. define, by means of mathematical models, the relationship between agricultural practices and the water quality that contributes to recharge the aquifers;
  3. test innovative and integrated techniques aimed to define adequate protocols for detection, monitoring and processing of qualitative and quantitative parameters of water resources. The project will last three years. The expected results will be achieved through an integration of geochemical, hydrogeological and agronomical skills available among the research partners. The results achieved through the project, will be fundamental for planning appropriate actions for reducing the contamination by nitrate, and monitoring programs directed to the protection of water bodies in order to promote a sustainable use of regional water resources.


Water is a prerequisite for life. Good water management promotes economic and social progress. However, poor water management hinders development and people suffer. Prosperity in many countries stems from significant investments in water infrastructure, water institutions and good water resource management.

Water is a finite and vulnerable resource. Current global population growth rates mean that more and more people and economic sectors are competing for water. Increasing scarcity, stress, pollution and other threats will aggravate this competition.

Water also destroys. Many countries regularly suffer droughts, floods, hurricanes and other disasters that destroy lives, drain economies and hinder growth.

Water is crucial for food security and human well being. The growing global demand for food and bio-energy, and the recent rises in food prices, slow down progress in reducing poverty, but increase demand for water from the agriculture and energy sectors.

Water is tied to global challenges. Climate change is one of the most formidable long term challenges faced by the global community. And it is the poorest people on the planet who will feel its effects most deeply. Dealing with these issues requires a holistic and coordinated approach to water allocation, management and development—an integrated approach. Fragmented responsibilities for developing and managing water resources and, more importantly, a lack of

dialogue, make sustainable management impossible. To get the most benefit from sustainable management, both horizontal dialogue (across different sectors and the environment) and vertical dialogue (across different tiers of authority and in policy and decision making) are essential.

Water shortages. A driver of conflicts???


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Ghiglieri G., Barbieri G., Vernier A, Carletti A., Pittalis D. 2010. Sustainable water resources management to combat desertification in the Nurra region, northwestern Sardinia, Italy – Italian Journal of Agronomy – Desertification and Environmental Vulnerability Vol 5 , No 3 Suppl. (2010) pp 7-14 – ISSN 1125-4718

Ghiglieri G. Carletti A. 2010. Integrated approach to choosing suitable areas for the realization of productive wells in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa (southern Hodh El Chargui, Mauritania SE)”

– Hydrol. Sci. J. 55(8), 1357- 1370. Taylor & Francis ISSN 0262-6667 –

Ghiglieri G., Pittalis D., Cerri G., And Oggiano G. 2012. Hydrogeology and hydrogeochemistry of an alkaline volcanic area: the NE Mt. Meru slope (East African Rift – Northern Tanzania). Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 529–541, 2012 doi:10.5194/hess-16-529-2012

Ghiglieri, G., Carletti A. Pittalis D. 2012. Analysis of salinization processes in the coastal carbonate aquifer of Porto Torres (NW Sardinia, Italy). J. Hydrol. Vol. 432-433 pp 43–51 (2012), doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.02.016ISSN 0022-1694)

Motroni, A., Canu, S., Fiori, M., Ghiglieri, G., Sassu, E. 2009. Combating drought and desertification through calibration of a decision support system (SSD) for the integrated management of water resources Nurra: Estimated irrigation requirements. Italian Journal of Agrometereology ISSN: 2038-5625

Murray, R., Harris, J., 2010. Water banking: a practical guide to using artificial groundwater recharge. Strategy and guideline development for national groundwater planning requirements. Department of Water Affairs, Pretoria, South Africa, 24pp.

RIADE Project 2003-2006. Integrated Research for Applying new technologies and processes for combating Desertification,

Risse M. 2014. The Human Right to Water and Common Ownership of the Earth. The Journal of Political Philosophy: Volume 22, Number 2, 2014, pp. 178–203

Simmers, I., 2003. Hydrological processes and water resources management. Understanding water in a dry environment. IAH Book 23. ISBN 9058096181, Balkema Publisher, 341 pp.

Sivakumar, B. 2011. Water crisis: From conflict to cooperation—an overview. Hydrol. Sci. J. 56(4), 531–552.

UNEP 1994. United Nations Convention to Combact Desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought anf/or desertification, particularly in Africa. UNEP, Genève.

WADIS-MAR Project website

Flowered Project website

Flowered publications

*Giorgio Ghiglieri è Docente di Idrogeologia Applicata e Instabilità dei versanti per gli studenti del Corso di Laurea Specialistica in Scienze e tecnologie Geologiche dell’Università degli Studi di Cagliari.

E’ stato responsabile scientifico e coordinatore di numerosi progetti nazionali ed internazionali ed attualmente dei progetti europei:

  • WADIS-MAR – Water harvesting and agricultural techniques in dry lands: an integrated and sustainable model in maghreb regions. Progetto finanziato dalla EU EUROP AID
  • FLOWERED de-FLuoridation technologies for imprOving quality of WatEr and agRo-animal products along the East African Rift Valley in the context of a Daptation to climate change. EU H2020
  • GOBenin: Implementation of national water policies in the Commune of Abomey-Calavi – Progetto finanziato dalla EU EuropeAid.

E’ coautore di numerose pubblicazioni prevalentemente nel campo dell’idrogeologia applicata e del dissesto idrogeologico. ORCID:

E’ responsabile del laboratorio TeleGis-UNICA( e del laboratorio di Geologia Applicata e Idrogeologia del DSCG-UNICA.

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