“Groundwater: So What?” Keynote by Prof. Richard Carter

In his key note speech, Professor Richard Carter urged the delegation at the 41st IAH Congress to do more to explain why groundwater matters and why hydrogeological science is important.

“I wish there was a District Water Officer or a Finance Minister speaking here, perhaps both instead of me, asking you what all this groundwater science means for them and the decisions they have to make.”

During the course of his half hour talk, Professor Carter focused on some the complex reasons why rural water supplies in Africa often fail:

“Developing groundwater for rural water supply should be simple. What we see is that many boreholes and pumps abandoned and not working. There are too many broken and failing pumps or boreholes.”
“What water point functionality data shows from various countries is that 20-30% of points fail in the first year and then there is attrition from then on.”

He outlined some of the common failures but highlighted that these were just symptoms of a wider problem:

“poor appreciation and understanding by political leaders, practitioners and public about how groundwater works.”
What do they want or need to know? They need to understand the importance of groundwater as :
1) a resource
2) a buffer against short term variability of rainfall and runoff
3) a (generally) good quality resource
There does need to be some quantitative understanding of what renewable resource is available; abstraction rates; and the relative water demands coming from agriculture, industry, urban and rural water supply.
Also needed among finance and economic development ministers is how groundwater can enable or inhibit development ambitions, and also the value of groundwater protection and long term monitoring.
Professor Carter described the UPGro programme and the challenges of doing true interdisciplinary research so that the social and geo-science work seamlessly together to deliver evidence and tools that are more likely to be taken up and used by those who can make a difference to the lives of millions living in poverty across Sub-Saharan Africa.
He concluded:
“We need good science, to support groundwater development, but as scientists we need to become more politically savvy and better communicators to make our science and research relevant to policy and practice.”