UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Simon Damkjaer

Although global water resources cover two-thirds of Earth’s surface, only 2.5% is in a freshwater state, of which a mere 0.3% is readily available for human consumption.  Water use has been growing at twice the rate of population rise over the last century, and by 2050, 40% of the global population will live in areas of severe water stress.

In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), an estimated 44% population increase by 2025 will cause a rapid rise in the need for water use and abstraction.  Providing reliable water supplies throughout the continent will be highly dependent on the development of groundwater resources.

A recent study has estimated that the volume of groundwater in SSA is more than 100 times that of annual renewable freshwater resources and 20 times that of freshwater stored in lakes.  In addition, predicted effects of climatic changes in Eastern Africa will cause an intensification of rainfall, which will favour groundwater recharge.  Groundwater, thus constitutes a key resources to ensure water security in light of growing pressures, from population rise, agriculture demand and land-use changes. 

Many groundwater management regimes in E.A. are often restricted to the licensing of abstraction through permits which is linked to land-ownership, and thus failing to recognise aggregated impacts of multiple and individual extraction on exploited aquifers, which in combination with unlicensed abstractions and a disregard for renewability of the resource,  risks unfolding a “Tragedy of the Aquifer Commons”

Collaborating with the DFID-NERC-ESCR funded research programme “Unlocking Potential of Groundwater (UPGro)” this research will apply a national and international groundwater law lens to analyse and assess the current state of groundwater law in selected countries and how the notion of sustainable utilization is addressed in light of a changing climate. 

Furthermore, newly discovered groundwater reservoirs, in the Turkana Region will be of particular interest in order to investigate what strategies countries have in place for the sustainable exploitation of newly discovered groundwater resources, whilst also revisiting the idea of a “resource curse” in light of simultaneous oil discoveries.


Simon holds a B.Sc. in Environmental Geography from UCL (2010) and an M.A. in International Environmental Law & Sustainable Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies (2012). 

His Master’s thesis provided a critical analysis of the UN International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on Transboundary Aquifers, where he used jurisprudence and case-law analysis of international water law principles to evidence the need for a critical revision of Article 3 of the Draft Articles, if a strong international legal framework for transboundary aquifers indeed is to be achieved.

In parallel with his Master’s degree, Simon worked as Head Freshwater Resources Researcher for The Environmental Justice Foundation; a Legal Researcher for ClientEarth; a Freelance Environmental Consultant; and is a permanent Member of the International Secretariat of WaterLex.  Simon was been involved in the launch of the think tank WaterLex’s legal database on the realization of the human right to water at the 6th World Water Forum (2012) with current UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Right to Water.

Simon has recently worked at the Danish Embassy in Uganda, where he functioned as Secretariat to the Danish Chairmanship of the Water Development Partner Group and advised on the drafting of the Danish International Development Agency’s (Danida) Programme Document for continued Danish  support to the Ugandan Water Sector (2013-2018) getting approval of a budget grant of USD65 million. 

Simon has also held a seat at the Stockholm International Water Institute’s (SIWI) Young Scientific Programme Committee for the 2013 World Water Week.