Sub-Saharan Africa is endowed with abundant mineral wealth. The mineral industry is the backbone of the economy for most countries in the region, and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. The mineral export constitutes an important source of this region’s gross income, and in many countries mineral exploration and production comprise a major part of their economic activities and employment.
Currently, however, most mining industries in the region are challenged with high exploration costs; insufficient numbers of well-trained manpower; inadequate infrastructure for research, development and innovation; and less efficient mining practices. These factors have resulted in less productive and competitive mining and processing operations. Even after more than a century of geological mapping, mineral exploration and mining activities, large tracts of the African terrain are still unmapped, and geological research has not received the needed attention and priority. As a result, mineral resources of many countries in the region are either under-exploited, or their potential still remains unknown. However, despite this, investments in exploration and development in the minerals’ industry has slowly gained momentum in the last few decades.
Further, the African Union’s vision seeks to have a mining sector that is transparent, equitable and with an optimal mineral resources’ exploitation level that underpins broad-based sustainable growth and socio-economic development (African Union, 2009).
Sustainable development and socio-economic upliftment of Africa is not only underpinned with management of its mineral resources, but also a proper utilization and management of its precarious groundwater resources. Groundwater forms the most important source of water supply in many of the continent’s urban, peri-urban and rural areas. However, it has suffered from inefficient and uninformed development and management practices arising mainly from users’ and managers’ inadequate understanding of the resource. Currently, there is inadequate hydrogeological information and/or data, and knowledge of the available groundwater resources in most of Sub-Saharan countries, in terms of both its quality and quantity. As such, the resource is confronted with numerous challenges that include, under exploitation of the resource. Further, by virtue of the resource being invisible, it is also threatened by potential over-abstraction, contamination from rapidly urbanizing centres, and climate variability in the context of climate change. However, these issues are now beginning to receive the much needed attention, as most countries within the Sub-Saharan region are trying to adopt integrated water resources management principles through legislative (policies and laws) changes.
In the above context, the Conference is being organized at an opportune time, when most African countries are in the process of drafting or revising mining strategies, laws and regulations targeted to be completed by 2018, and which puts them in line with the African Mining Vision-2009. Hopefully, these will ensure an equitable and better managed mining sector, along with the regard for the quality and quantity of Africa’s water resources; these are keys for the resources’ sustainable development and the well-being of Africa’s people.
A sound investment environment and opportunity in Africa can bring a greater socio-economic benefit to the continent’s broader community, as well as provide good investment returns to investors. What is needed at present is, increased investment in research, development and innovation with adequate environmental considerations that are backed by pragmatic policies and legislations to ensure better management of the mining and water resources sectors. To achieve these results, it needs renewed global and regional attention on fundamental geoscientific research for advancement in knowledge and understanding of academic interests, which will be able to guide future exploration and exploitation of new mineral and groundwater resources, and address environmental and many other pressing issues in the exploitation of these resources.