OPINION:- It’s time to look underground for climate resilience in sub-Saharan Africa

Karen G. Villholth is a Principal Researcher with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), as well as Coordinator of the Global Groundwater Initiative GRIPP and a team member from UPGro GroFutures

From Thomson Reuters

New research reveals critical groundwater-related climate change impacts and resilience strategies

In 2014-2016, southern Africa saw its worst drought in decades, resulting from the most severe El Niño event in half a century. Leading to sharp declines in crop production, the drought dealt a severe blow to food security, with millions of people across the larger Pacific region facing hunger, poverty and disease.

Nature’s unseen water resource

While we all know groundwater is a key water resource for farmers, small communities and larger cities alike in  sub-Saharan Africa, it is largely missing from existing analysis of climate change impacts on water. Yet, Cape Town, which was greatly supported by groundwater development in its struggle to push back Day Zero when the city was projected to run out of water, shows us that groundwater is key to resilience.

But how does this unseen and relatively untapped resource in sub-Saharan Africa itself react to climate change? This may be the ultimate question as our water resources are finite, increasingly scarce and increasingly in demand. If African countries are to rely on groundwater for future resilience and manage it sustainably, they must quickly gain a better understanding of climate change impacts on this critical resource.

El Niño and extreme rainfall-triggered groundwater replenishment

recent study sheds new light on the climate-groundwater relationship, finding that the 2015-2016 El Niño weather event replenished groundwater very differently in southern Africa and in East Africa just below the equator. Based on a combination of satellite and on-site data analysis, it is part of a growing body of research, to which the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is contributing, in collaboration with UK partners such as University College LondonCardiff UniversityUniversity of Sussex, and British Geological Survey, as well as others in southern and eastern Africa.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO phenomenon, involves the interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean in the tropical Pacific. It is a telling cause of climate variability in the tropics. As an extreme case among historical patterns, the 2015-2016 event had exactly opposite effects on rainfall in southern Africa and East Africa below the equator.

In southern Africa, it resulted in the most intense drought ever recorded for the region, estimated to recur every 200 years.

The authors note that warming caused by human activities has heightened climate risks. They suggest that this has already “doubled the risk of such an extreme… event,” meaning such an intense drought could return every 100 years. The 2015-2016 drought limited the recharge of aquifers and increased demand for groundwater leading to a decline in groundwater storage.

In contrast, East Africa, just south of the equator, saw unusually high – but not extreme – rainfall, likely to recur every 10 years. With 100-150% above normal daily rainfall intensity in many places, this significantly boosted groundwater recharge and storage. At the Makutapora well field in Tanzania, for example, strong groundwater recharge reversed a long-term decline in groundwater storage that had resulted from increasingly intensive pumping to the growing city of Dodoma.

Another new study published in Nature underpins the importance of extreme rain events in restocking groundwater in drylands in sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than being replenished through regular rainfall, groundwater responds best to extreme rainfall events – the type that happens every 10 years or so, and is often associated with large scale climate phenomena like ENSO. The research also found that, since groundwater in drylands is recharged where rain accumulates in surface water bodies such as rivers and ponds, replenishment is further accentuated by more intense rainfall events associated with climate change.

Getting the better of climate change

Sub-Saharan countries are rapidly developing their groundwater resources, and these figure importantly in national development plans aimed at supplying cities with drinking water and enabling farmers to intensify production. Whether such plans come to fruition will depend on sustainable management of groundwater. Indeed, water managers need to understand how climate change impacts groundwater under different conditions and how they can best respond.

Techniques referred to as “managed aquifer recharge”, can channel and capture water runoff from intense rainfall events to more quickly and efficiently replenish groundwater. Thus, when climactic events increase rainfall, water managers and users across Africa can use such techniques to boost groundwater supply.

The extreme events can be predicted with some certainty and with seasonal lead times to help farmers and managers prepare. Combined with efficient resource use and safe wastewater reuse, communities and countries can better adapt to the more severe and frequent droughts, as well as floods, that are sure to come. With these approaches and opportunities, we can help harness the climate solutions that lie underground in the drylands in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

Extreme Floods, the Key to Climate Change Adaptation in Africa’s Drylands

By Isaiah Esipisu  for the Inter Press Service

Photo: A borehole in Kenya’s Turkana County. Experts say that groundwater in drylands is recharged through extreme floods. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

TURKANA COUNTY, Kenya, Aug 8 2019 (IPS) – Extreme rainfall and heavy flooding, often amplified by climate change, causes devastation among communities. But new research published on Aug. 7 in the scientific journal Nature reveals that these dangerous events are extremely significant in recharging groundwater aquifers in drylands across sub-Saharan Africa, making them important for climate change adaptation.

Continue reading Extreme Floods, the Key to Climate Change Adaptation in Africa’s Drylands

Download now: Groundwater’s Contribution to Water Security in Africa

We are delighted to announce that the latest UPGro Working Paper is now out and ready for download.

Edited by Dr Kirsty Upton and Dr Kerstin Danert, this paper has been prepared by researchers within the UPGro (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor) Programme, along with colleagues from the International Association of Hydrogeologists, Africa Groundwater Network, and GRIPP.

It is intended as a working paper, presenting a summary of our current understanding of groundwater in Africa along four themes:

  1. urban water security,
  2. socially inclusive and sustainable rural water services,
  3. groundwater for agricultural growth and transformation, and
  4. groundwater resources and renewability.

Achieving water security for Africa presents a challenge, particularly given the increasing pressures on water resources related to population growth, climate change, rising living standards and land use change.  Water security can be defined as the availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks to people, environments and economies (Grey & Sadoff, 2007).

Groundwater – the fresh water naturally stored in rocks beneath the ground surface – makes a significant contribution to the security of water supplies for both domestic and productive uses across the African continent.  Its importance and use are increasing markedly.

Groundwater can help achieve universal and equitable access to resilient water services for both rural and urban populations in Africa.  With the relevant methods and expertise, groundwater can be found across much of Africa, with even the least productive aquifers often capable of providing sufficient yields to supply communities with handpumps or low-intensity, small-scale irrigation schemes.  The volume of water stored underground in Africa – estimated to be 20 times more than the freshwater stored in lakes and reservoirs – can also provide a critical buffer against short-term rainfall variability, making groundwater reserves less vulnerable than surface waters to drought.  Groundwater is also less vulnerable to contamination.

The implications of resilient, safe, and sustainable water services for all, where groundwater forms a critical part of an integrated approach to water resource management, are significant and wide-reaching in terms of national growth, economic development and poverty reduction.  Groundwater development is not, however, without risks. Securing equitable access to groundwater for both domestic and productive uses across rural and urban Africa requires a detailed understanding of groundwater resources coupled with adequate governance arrangements so that the potential gains of groundwater investment can be balanced against the associated risks for people, the environment, and the economy.

Download now

 

Congratulations to Jacob Katuva – the latest UPGro Doctor

Jacob Katuva (left) and his PhD supervisor, Prof Rob Hope (via @rhope06 on Twitter)

Huge congratulations to Dr Jacob Katuva (Gro for GooD/University of Oxford) who yesterday passed his viva to secure his PhD on Groundwater and Welfare!

Jacob has been core part of UPGro since the beginning and has represented the Gro for GooD project and UPGro as a whole many times over the last 6 years.

He follows the success of fellow Gro for GooD Early Career Researcher, Dr Johanna Koehler (below) who received her PhD earlier back in March:

Johanna
Dr Johanna Koehler somewhat pleased to be awarded her doctorate (via @JohannaKoehler  on Twitter)

Here are some highlights from both of them:

Films & Interviews:

A Microsoft film about Oxford’s work on smart handpumps:

Jacob presenting his poster at the UPGro booth at the 2014 IAH Congress in Marrakech, whilst still at Rural Focus Ltd (apologies for poor sound and the caption error)

Presentations:

Papers:

 

Lord of the Rain: how radio can help African farmers combat drought

Today on the Guardian news website is an excellent short film “Lord of the Rain” that highlights the challenges facing farmers in the remote Omo region of Ethiopia.

Traditional knowledge is being challenged by climate change, and as the young man in the film says: “My dad predicts the weather with the traditional way, but I do it with science.”

The film shows how radio programmes are used to give vulnerable and remote communities access to reliable weather forecasts to help plan their planting or cattle movements.

Researchers in the UPGro BRAVE project are developing similar ways for remote communities in Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso. Bringing state-of-the-art climate, weather and groundwater monitoring and modelling to bear on the challenges facing these farmers: when is the best time to plant, when are their wells most likely to dry out.

In the village of Poa, Burkina Faso, researchers from the University of Reading, with local partners, including Christian Aid, have been monitoring groundwater responses to rainfall and working with farmers to understand the implications for their farming calendar – when to plant their onions, cabbages, tomatoes and aubergines.

Your can find out more about this work in Burkina Faso in this short report by Narcisse Ghahl, and the recent RWSN-UPGro webinar on communicating groundwater-climate behaviour with African farmers.

If you want to find out more about want is happening in Ethiopia, the UPGro GroFutures project is researching how groundwater can be used to improve rural livelihoods; and the REACH research programme is working on three aspects of water security, and recently published these guidelines on how to recruit and manage citizen scientists to measure water levels and flows, based on pioneering work in Ethiopia by the University of Newcastle.

And finally, if you want to delve more into the latest in African climate research, then visit Future Climate for Africa

Webinar: Communicating groundwater-climate behaviour with African farmers

As part of RWSN webinar series on “Leave No-one Behind” we have webinars tomorrow in English and French on “Communicating groundwater-climate behaviour with African farmers”.

This webinar presents two examples of work from the UPGro: Núria Ferrer and Dr Albert Foch from the Universtat Politéchnica de Catalunya (Gro for GooD project) will show what global and regional climate variability, and climate change, means for soil water and groundwater in coastal Kenya, on which farmers depend. Cristina Talons, from the Lorna Yong Foundation (BRAVE project) will then present their work in Burkina Faso and Ghana to communicate with farmers using radio to provide essential support to their livelihoods in the face of climate challenges.

Register for the English (13:30 British Summer Time) https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_fdI-9RUSRciYum2COSP6Kw

Register for the French (11:00 Central European Time): https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ab4HDYCRS5uoCHdanZAw3A

I hope you can join us, and if you can’t the recordings will be available afterwards here https://vimeo.com/ruralwater and here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_HF52TbX73xANXQ_ezXrEg/videos

Groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa – special issue of Hydrogeology Journal

The IAH Hydrogeology Journal has published a special issue focusing on groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa and good overview is provided in the online Preface.

The main UPGro contributions are:

Prof. Dan Olago (University of Nairobi / Gro for GooD) Constraints and solutions for groundwater development, supply and governance in urban areas in Kenya

Dr Callist Tindimugaya (MWE Uganda / UPGro Ambassador) Review: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable groundwater management in Africa

UPGro T-Group research finds cancer-causing viruses in Kampala and Arusha slum groundwater

by Isaiah Esipisu and Dr Jan Willem Foppen (T-GroUP)

In Summary

  • The study found that most groundwater in the two slums contains traces of herpes virus, poxvirus and papilloma virus.
  • Cancer is one of the top killer diseases in East Africa, blamed for nearly 100,000 deaths every year.

Watch EGU press-conference presentation by Dr Foppen (start 18:00 minutes into recording)

Researchers from IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and their peers from Uganda and Tanzania have found traces of 25 DNA virus families — some of them with adverse health risk for humans — in underground water in the slums of Kampala and Arusha.

The study, whose findings were presented at the Assembly of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna on Monday, found that most groundwater in the two slums contains traces of herpes virus, poxvirus and papilloma virus.

CANCER

The latter could be one of the causes of cancer in East Africa.

“These viruses have never been found on such a large scale in ground water. Perhaps it is because there has never been an in-depth analysis,” said Dr Jan Willem Foppen, one of the lead researchers and a hydrologist at the IHE Delft — the largest graduate water education institution on the planet.

Cancer is one of the top killer diseases in East Africa, blamed for nearly 100,000 deaths every year.

According to the latest report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, some 32,617 new cases were reported in Uganda last year, with 21,829 deaths.

32,617 DEATHS

In the same period, Kenya recorded 47,887 new cases and 32,987 deaths while there were 42,060 new cases in Tanzania with 28,610 deaths.

Scientists have therefore expressed concerns that the widespread use of groundwater in slums for cooking, cleaning and bathing poses a risk for the residents.

In the two-year study, the scientists analysed surface water (river and drain), spring water, wells and piezometers (groundwater from specific depth) in the three countries.

“We found 25 DNA virus families, of which 14 are from above ground hosts like frogs, mice, rats, cows, horses, monkeys and humans,” Dr Foppen said.

DISEASES

Of the human disease causing pathogens found in the samples, herpes virus and poxviruses can lead to skin infections while the papilloma cause some types of cancers such as cervical, laryngeal and mouth.

“This could be just a tip of the iceberg. We have not found all the viruses. We found the most abundant ones,” Dr Fopen said.

“Let’s do something about sanitation. Let us improve our sources of drinking water and identify new pathways with communities towards sustainability.”

Versions of this article have been published in:

Further papers and data will be published soon.

New state-of-the-art research collection on groundwater sustainability across Sub-Saharan Africa

An important new collection of papers has just been published online in the Hydrogeology Journal:

Substantial increases in groundwater withdrawals are expected across Sub-Saharan Africa to help nations increase access to safe water and to amplify agricultural production in pursuit of UN SDG 2 and SDG 6.  Long-term groundwater-level records or chronicles play an important role in developing an improved understanding of the hydrogeological and climatic conditions that control access and sustain well yields, informing where, when and how groundwater withdrawals can sustainably contribute to building resilience and alleviating poverty.

There are four papers in the collection (and an overview essay) that provide a sample of the new research outputs emanating from The Chronicles Consortium and UPGro GroFutures:

  • Evidence from chronicles in seasonally humid Benin and Uganda show annual cycles of replenishment from direct, diffuse recharge generated preferentially by heavy rainfalls. Kotchoni et al. show how chronicles from different geological environments in Benin can be modelled very effectively on a daily timestep with an improved watertable fluctuation model.
  • In semi-arid southwestern Niger, chronicles show that recharge to weathered crystalline rock aquifer systems occurs directly from rainfall but is restricted by a thick clayey aquitard developed from schist. However, greater recharge is shown to occur indirectly via riverbeds of ephemeral streams which provide preferential pathways through the saprolite.
  • Evidence from the Makutapora Wellfield of semi-arid central Tanzania that groundwater, abstracted at rates exceeding 30,000 m3/day, is sustained by episodic recharge associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Further, abstracted groundwater is partially modern, derived from rainfall within the last 10–60 years.
  • Studies from Benin and Niger highlight the low storage of weathered crystalline rock aquifers and the importance of modern recharge in sustaining groundwater use. The low storage and low but highly variable hydraulic conductivity of weathered and fractured crystalline rock aquifers found over more than 40% of Sub-Saharan Africa may, however, have a potential advantage. Such aquifer systems restrict opportunities for intensive and competitive abstraction and are thus potentially self-regulating. Low-intensity groundwater abstraction distributed across the landscape also complements existing land-tenure systems in many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa dominated by smallholder agriculturalists.
  • The chronicles provide invaluable datasets to help direct assessments of past impacts of climate variability—e.g. ENSO, Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO)— and abstraction on groundwater storage. Such records, when continuously updated, can also provide key input to water resources management by tracking emerging risks to water security from groundwater storage decline or groundwater flooding (e.g. Murray et al. 2018).
  • Regional-scale (>50,000 km2) networks of long-term piezometric records can also be used to test the reliability of largescale, satellite observations from the Gravity Anomaly and Climate Experiment (GRACE). Indeed, the emergence of GRACE measurements of changes in total terrestrial water storage adds a potential tool, albeit at a much larger scale (>200,000 km2), to estimate changes in groundwater storage where records do not exist. However, there are substantial uncertainties from such estimates.

For full details read:

Please note that all five papers are open until 30 April, after which only 3 of the papers will be Open Access.

Text adapted from Topical Collection: Determining groundwater sustainability from long-term piezometry in Sub-Saharan Africa

Job: AMCOW Groundwater Desk Officer

Closing Date: 4 March, 2019

African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW)

AMCOW is an intergovernmental, Pan-African, non-budgetary institution working under the Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment of the African Union (AU), and provides political oversight on water resources and sanitation in Africa. AMCOW’s mission is to promote cooperation, security, social and economic development, and poverty alleviation among member states through the effective management of the continent’s water resources and the provision of water supply and sanitation services, and is mandated to provide political leadership in the implementation of the African Water Vision 2025 and water components of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

The Groundwater Desk Officer will be responsible for setting up and operationalizing the groundwater function at AMCOW Secretariat. He/she will coordinate all groundwater activities with the view to shaping knowledge and action on groundwater development and management on the continent. Specifically, the position holder will:

Systematically map and maintain an updated database of stakeholders engaged in groundwater activities on the continent.  This includes having a clear understanding of the types and sizes of such institutions/organizations, and their thematic and  geographical foci.

Work with such identified institutions/organizations with the view to establishing coordinating and collaboration  mechanisms and platforms for groundwater activities in Africa.

Lead in Collating, Analyzing and Managing Knowledge on Groundwater with the intention of shaping opinion and  influencing action on sustainable groundwater development and management in Africa, at appropriate levels.

Click here more for details…