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Friday, May 27, 2022

He successfully drilled for water thousands of times in South Africa.

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They call him the Prophet of Water: with his long white beard and thinning hair, he certainly looks like it. Gideon Groenewald has drilled more than 8,000 wells in his 66 years of life: 98 percent of them are said to have been successful.

The doctor of geology lives in Middelburg, a town in South Africa’s Karoo semi-desert, which has long had to make do with very little rainfall, only around 350 millimeters a year. When European settlers took over the Karoo 200 years ago, they could only raise sheep there. The seemingly endless landscape with its strange hills was too dry for cows or even agriculture.

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The Karoo regularly suffers from drought: in the last nine years it has hardly rained. The heather bushes turned into dead, black thickets and farmers had to reduce their flocks of sheep by two-thirds. The last time there was a similarly long and devastating drought was 220 years ago, says Groenewald: traces of it can still be seen in the plants or on the semi-desert floor.

Karoo residents, whether they are farm owners or agricultural workers, saw their existence threatened: if the South African aid organization “Gift of the Givers” had not asked the water prophet for help, hundreds of thousands of sheep and hundreds of people could have lost. their lives.

But Groenewald had well after well sunk into the ground: in all, he drilled more than 500 wells into the Karoo soil. Since then, the geologist has been revered here like a saint: “Without him we would have been lost,” says sheep farmer Sybil Visagie. “Uncle Gideon,” as he calls himself, is more humble: “I only used what our Creator gave us.”

As much groundwater as the Nile carries in 15 years

Groundwater is the largest reserve of usable water in Africa. It is estimated that its volume south of the Sahara will be the same as that transported by the Nile in 15 years. Oddly enough, only five percent of the groundwater in the southern part of the continent is used, writes water expert Bradley Hiller in The British Guardian: “Its potential is huge.”

In other parts of the world, the underground reservoir drilled to irrigate fields has triggered agricultural revolutions: as in California, India or China. But not in sub-Saharan Africa.
On the one hand, experts like the geologist Gideon attribute it to a lack of knowledge: not all countries have a water prophet.

As a former employee of the South African National Parks Authority, he learned about geology, botany and, above all, about the habits of wild animals: with this knowledge, he can now identify underground water reservoirs better than others. However, the fact that wells are quite rare in southern Africa is also due to the costs incurred: the prices of the pumps imported from Europe and the electricity that had to be specially brought in were too expensive by African standards. But today, the pumps operated by a few solar modules are imported from China and are available in a package for as little as 500 euros.

Groundwater levels will be calculated to the millimeter.

However, managing groundwater aquifers remains difficult: unlike dams, their water level cannot be seen with the naked eye. However, modern technology also solves this problem: groundwater levels have been measurable to the millimeter for a long time, says “Uncle Gideon”.

But what happens when aquifers are pumped dry? This problem arises at most with groundwater reservoirs that are thousands of years old and, like those under the Sahara, are no longer replenished, says Groenewald. The vast majority of aquifers are replenished with every rain, like the dams that abound in southern Africa. Unlike reservoirs, in underground reservoirs valuable water does not evaporate: they are much cheaper than surface water.

Municipalities in Namibia’s capital Windhoek, one of the world’s driest cities, have copied a US method of extending the life of an aquifer: pumping excess water underground during rainy seasons, which then it is available in times of drought.

Two bombs have already been stolen.

The technology is complicated, however, because dirt must not enter the underground reservoir: otherwise the reservoir would fill with sediment. In Windhoek, two of the eight bombs intended for this purpose have already been stolen: this is also to be expected on the poor continent.

Otherwise, the Groenewald water prophet is relaxed about the future. He prophesies that the current drought will be followed by a wetter period, like all droughts to date: “Our creator arranged it that way,” he is sure. And if the Creator continues to be supported by countless wells, future catastrophes could be avoided.

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