AMCOW launches its Pan-African Groundwater Program

re-posted from GRIPP

AMCOW, the intergovernmental apex body on water in Africa, was established in 2002 with its secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria, to provide political oversight and promote cooperation, security, social and economic development, and poverty eradication among member states.

The aim is to achieve this through the effective management of the continent’s water resources, and the provision of water supply and sanitation services.In recognition of the importance of groundwater to the continent’s sustainable development, a continent-wide strategic groundwater initiative was part of the resolution of AMCOW’s Sixth Ordinary Session in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, in May 2007.

While initial ambitions evolved around formalizing the initiative as an African Groundwater Commission, subsequent attempts and further analysis carried out at several meetings, including the Technical Advisory Meeting and Africa Groundwater Stakeholders Workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2017, and the 7th Africa Water Week in Libreville, Gabon, in 2018, resulted in the initiative being invigorated as the strategic APAGroP.

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Dr. Karen Villholth, Leader of IWMI’s Research Group on Resilient and Sustainable Groundwater, emphasized the strength in partnerships in bringing forward the agenda of APAGroP (photo: AMCOW).

APAGroP strongly aligns with the AMCOW strategy for the period 2018-2030, guiding its activities and the continent towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the Africa Water Vision 2025 and the AfricaSan Ngor Commitments for sanitation and hygiene.

Dr. Canisius Kanangire, Executive Secretary, AMCOW, expressed his appreciation and satisfaction with the present momentum, and support towards consolidating and further rolling out the Pan-African Groundwater Program (APAGroP).

The Experts’ and Stakeholders’ workshop provided background presentations of APAGroP as well as fruitful deliberation on the state of knowledge and management of groundwater in the African continent.

Presentations were made by AMCOW, international and African research institutions, Regional Economic Communities:

  • Economic Community of Central African States [ECCAS],
  • Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS],
  • Intergovernmental Authority on Development [IGAD],
  • Southern African Development Community [SADC]),

international and intergovernmental organizations:

  •  Center for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe [CEDARE],
  • Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel [OSS]), as well as key international river basin organizations
  • African Network of Basin Organizations [ANBO]) and financing institutions.

The workshop was supported by AMCOW; a recent Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) networking grant to the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the British Geological Survey (BGS); and the successful research program – Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro),

It helped crystalize a way forward in further harnessing and harvesting best knowledge and practice around groundwater to support sustainable development in the continent. GRIPP was strongly represented at the workshop through the following partners:

  • Africa Groundwater Network (AGW-Net);
  • Association of Water Well Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioners (AWDROP);
  • BGS; Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany;
  • International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH);
  • International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC);
  • IWMI;
  • Skat Consulting Ltd. (Skat);
  • The World Bank (WB); and
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP).

These partners expressed strong interest in further supporting the rollout of APAGroP.

Photo: AMCOW

AMCOW Pan-African Groundwater Programme gets underway in Nairobi

Research can only make a difference it is seen and understood by the people who can use it to make a difference. This is why UPGro is delighted to be participating in the new African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) Pan-African Groundwater Program (APAGP).

Today in Nairobi, is day one of a two-day workshop to discuss and plan how the new program will work and brings together a critical mass of national and international decision-makers and experts, facilitated by Dr Andy Bullock from the UPGro Knowledge Broker Team and Dr Kirsty Upton and Dr Karen Villholth of UPGro, Groundwater for Resilience in Africa Network (GRAN) and GRIPP. There will be inputs from senior UPGro researchers, including Prof. Japhet Kashaigili, Prof. Seifu Kebede, Dr Yahaya Nazoumou, and UPGro Ambassadors from the Africa Groundwater Network, Dr Callist Tindimugaya and Prof. Moustapha Diene.

We are looking forward to find practical ways to support this Pan-African initiative to strengthen sustainable groundwater management and use.

Follow what is happening on Twitter – follow  @amcowafrica

Picture: Event publicity posted via @amcowafrica

Wikipedia Edit-a-thon helps spread groundwater knowledge

(photo: Brighid O’Dochartaigh, BGS @beodoch)

Yesterday, delegates at the IAH 2019 Congress, in Malaga, took part in an official Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, led by BGS. This is an event where people get together to edit Wikipedia – often focused on a specific topic. It is an opportunity for people with similar interests to get together to improve the content of Wikipedia, while learning how to edit the online encyclopaedia.

Why an edit-a-thon for the Africa Groundwater Atlas?

There was very limited content in Wikipedia related to groundwater or hydrogeology in Africa, The aim of this edit-a-thon is to create new “Groundwater in…” pages for every country in Africa, based on the content of the Africa Groundwater Atlas, but summarised and edited for a more general audience.

Through this, we hope to make groundwater information more accessible to a wider audience and increase the awareness of groundwater issues in Africa.

Want to get involved, but not in Malaga? Worry not:

Create your own Wikipedia account

You’ll need a Wikipedia account in order to start editing. You can create your account before the edit-a-thon to speed things up – Create a Wikipedia Account.

You’ll set up a Username that will be visible to everyone viewing any pages that you edit. You don’t have to use your real name if you don’t want to – but you can if you want. Note that accounts (and usernames) are for individuals and not organisations.

Getting started with Wikipedia editing

In the edit-a-thon we’ll lead you through everything you need to know about editing Wikipedia pages! But if you want to get started learning how in advance, try the Wikipedia Adventure, where you can learn to edit Wikpedia in about an hour.

Want to know more or need help?

Drop us an email at AfricaGWAtlas@bgs.ac.uk with the info above and we can tell you more about helping remotely!

After the event we will upload all the resources you need to get involved and create new Wikipedia pages on groundwater in Africa in your own time to a Google Drive Africa Groundwater Atlas resource folder.

Pages created and edited yesterday:

New drafts that you can help with:

 

Download digital country hydrogeology maps of Africa from the Africa Groundwater Atlas

The Africa Groundwater Atlas has released digital, GIS-enabled, national-scale hydrogeology maps for 38 African countries, which are freely available to download.
The online, open-access Africa Groundwater Atlas was launched in 2016.

It brings together groundwater information from many sources and provides a consistent overview of groundwater resources at a country scale for 51 countries in Africa. It is widely used by hydrogeologists, water supply practitioners, policymakers and others across Africa and beyond.

The atlas was developed by the BGS in partnership with the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) Burdon Groundwater Network for Developing Countries and groundwater experts across Africa. It was funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and UK Aid through the UPGro research programme.

The new country hydrogeology maps show the hydrogeology (aquifer type and productivity) and geology (with particular relevance to hydrogeology) at a scale of 1:5 million. At the moment, maps for 38 countries are available to download; maps for the remaining countries will be released later.

The maps are provided as free-to-download shapefiles (.shp), also known as ESRI ‘shape’ format. There is a single shapefile for each country, which contains attribute information for geology and hydrogeology themes in attribute tables. Each shapefile is provided with layer files with legends for geology and hydrogeology in English and, for selected countries, French or Portuguese. A user guide gives supporting information about the maps, how they were developed and how they can be used.

The successful, sustainable development of groundwater resources is critical to future safe water supplies in Africa and has a key role in future economic and social development and food security. Doing this depends on a good understanding of groundwater and hydrogeology. All too often, high-quality information about groundwater in Africa – even where it exists – is hard to find.

The Africa Groundwater Atlas is helping increase awareness and availability of information about groundwater in Africa. The country hydrogeology maps are available to download from the Africa Groundwater Atlas at http://www.bgs.ac.uk/africagroundwateratlas/index.cfm

For more information, please email AfricaGWAtlas@bgs.ac.uk.

Hidden Crisis project presentation in the China Africa water Forum Series No. 7, at Windhoek, Namibia

By Dessie Nedaw
8 August 2019

The China Africa Water Forum is a platform for all professionals within the fields of water science and technology in Africa and China. The China Africa Water Association also referred to as CAWA, is a non-profit organization that predominantly organizes annual events. One such event was held for three days from July 22 to July 24, 2019 in Windhoek, Namibia with title “Risk Reduction through Sustainable Water Management in Developing Countries”.

The conference was the seventh of the series held under the title China Africa Water forum. The conference has been prepared in collaboration between China Africa Water Association and Namibia’s chapter of Association of Hydro-geologists and other stakeholders. 

The opening speech by Minister of public enterprise has emphasized the current fresh water supply challenge of Namibia facing and the possible solution of desalinization as the future option. The Chinese Ambassador in Namibia has emphasized on the neeed of China Africa partnership in a win-win strategy based on mutual benefits. He mentioned the similarities of challenges faced by both China and Africa and stressed some of the innovative approaches and technologies in China stressing the importance of the forum for transfer of skill and knowledge.  Nearly 25 presentation from Africa and China covering a wide range of water related topics focusing in reducing risk of water supply, management and sustainable utilization water resources, transport and diffusion of water pollutants and exploration and development of groundwater has been addressed during the three days conference.

The Hidden Crisis project work was presented at the conference within the groundwater exploration and development theme – highlighting the work of the project to apply a tiered approach to assess functionality of handpumped borehole supplies in terms of different levels of performance. The findings have shown this approach to be helpful to unpack national statistics and develop more nuanced understanding of functionality within the country. 

The experience has given opportunity to highlight the project and also given good opportunity to share ideas from other professionals, particularly Chinese water experts. Ethiopia has formally requested to be the next organizer of China Africa water forum in the meeting.

Figure: Dessie Nedaw

Groundwater timeline shows the importance of good management to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP)

GRIPP and partner representatives at the launch of the Groundwater and SDG infographic during the 2nd SADC Groundwater Conference. From the left: Arnaud Sterckx, IGRAC; Karen Villholth, IWMI, Kirsty Upton, BGS, Brighton Munyai, SADC-GMI; Julian Conrad, Geohydrological and Spatial Solutions International (GEOSS) and IAH. An infographic entitled ‘GROUNDWATER – Critical for Sustainable Development’ illustrating a…

via Groundwater timeline shows the importance of good management to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP)

Technical brief now available – Project approach for defining and assessing rural water supply functionality and levels of performance

The Hidden Crisis project team have now published a Technical Brief on the methods developed and used by the project to assess rural water supply functionality and levels of performance – now available from here.

This technical brief is aimed at sharing the learning and approaches developed by the project to look at how the functionality and performance levels of boreholes equipped with handpumps (HPBs), can be assessed using a common set of definitions and methods. A tiered approach to defining and measuring functionality was found to be useful to examining functionality for different scales and purposes of monitoring. 

The report is aimed at national and regional actors involved in the provision and monitoring of rural water supply functionality.

The brief sets out the tiered functionality definitions, and accompanying survey methods, which were developed by the project and have been applied in functionality surveys across Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi .

Photos: BGS © UKRI. Survey 1 Field teams, Uganda and Malawi

Rural water supply: a political economy analysis

The Hidden Crisis project team examined the political economy of rural water supply (RWS) in Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi during 2017 and 2018. These are based on literature and interviews with government staff and water sector stakeholders to unpick systemic obstacles to sustainable access to water.  

The three reports summarising the key findings are now published – and available from here.

The findings provide an insight to some of the key structural factors which affect RWS performance (historical, institutional, actors) in the three countries – examining systematic factors, decision making logic and opportunities for reform.

Photo: BGS © UKRI. Hand-pumped borehole water supply, rural Malawi.

Different perspectives on ways to make a living from groundwater, in Tanzania and Ethiopia

Lessons from the GroFutures Multi-stakeholder Workshops in the Great Ruaha Basin, Tanzania, and Upper Awash Basin, Ethiopia

by John Thompson, Imogen Bellwood-Howard, Gebrehaweria, Gebregziabher, Mohammad Shamsudduha, Richard Taylor, Devotha Kilave, Andrew Tarimo and         Japhet Kashaigili

Identifying and characterising groundwater development pathways

More than four years ago, an international group of collaborators embarked on a comparative study of ‘Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa’ (GroFutures – http://grofutures.org/) in three ‘basin observatories’, the Great Ruaha in Tanzania, the Upper Awash in Ethiopia, and the Iullummeden in Niger and Nigeria. One key aim of the project was to identify a range of existing, emerging and potential ‘groundwater development pathways’ in each basin.

This work linked interdisciplinary, multi-scale research with a deliberative, multi-stakeholder engagement process in order to inform groundwater planning processes in the basins. Attempts were made to co-locate physical infrastructure to assess groundwater recharge and storage (i.e. piezometer arrays, soil-moisture probes, rain gauges) with key stakeholder communities where the social science was conducted (i.e. household surveys, rapid rural appraisals, well inventories) (Figure 1). The ultimate aim of GroFutures is to generate new evidence and policy relevant insights to open up new pathways towards more sustainable and ‘pro-poor’ groundwater futures in the wider region.

Figure 1. Characterising Groundwater Development Pathway

Slide1

Six groundwater development pathways by the GroFutures Social Science Team during the course of the research. These ‘stylised’ pathways are representative of broader trends found in the three basin observatories. Each has been characterised in terms of its socio-economic functions; physical dimensions; stage of development; technology; ownership, management and governance arrangements; legal aspects of land and water access; alignment with national policy; and – importantly – its implications for poor water users (a key consideration of the project).

To analyse the longer-term sustainability of groundwater in the basins, the GroFutures Physical Science Team attempted to ‘stress test’ or quantify the impacts of groundwater development pathways, together with the impacts of climate and land-use change, on groundwater recharge and storage in each basin. Employing a groundwater flow model using MODFLOW-2005, run via using the open-source, GIS-based interface (QGIS) that has been developed as part of the newly available FREEWAT platform under a HORIZON 2020 project, the team assessed the hydraulic impacts of pumping under a range of boundary conditions, including variable recharge, over different time scales. These impacts were represented in a set of maps for selected sub-basins in which our social science and physical science teams collected detailed primary hydrogeological and socio-technical data and also drew on relevant secondary information.

A simplified sketch was also prepared to provide a visual representation of each pathway. A key assumption is that these pathways may well co-exist over time and meet the needs of different users. However, there may be cases where there is serious competition and trade-offs between them, leading to positive and negative impacts for different water users and for the environment.

The six pathways and the summary of the modelling ‘stress testing’ for the Great Ruaha and Upper Awash Basins are outlined below. The maps below show the ‘baseline’ groundwater level for each of these, without any pumping. For each pathway, a possible arrangement of wells is suggested, which extract specified volumes at specified depths. The pumping in each pathway gives a new groundwater level, lower than the baseline, projected five years into the future. How much lower depends on the amount of pumping. The new groundwater level for each pathway, can be compared to this baseline. The diagrams and maps presented here come from the pathways described for the Upper Awash. The first five pathways affect the shallow aquifer, while the large-scale commercial agriculture pathway influences the deeper Upper Basaltic Aquifer.

Pathway 1: Small-scale, self-supply for multiple uses

Slide2

Tanzania: Evident now in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is minimal: groundwater levels fall less than 2 metres over the entire study area with a decline of less than 1 metre over half of the study area. This pumping is not expected to impact the area covered by wetlands or their operation.

Ethiopia: Evident now in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is minimal: groundwater levels fall less than 2 metres over the entire study area with a decline of less than 1 metre over ~70% of the study area. This pumping from shallow wells (<80 m below ground level) is not expected to impact baseflow to streams.

Pathway 2: Small-scale private supply for smallholder intensified agriculture

Slide3

Tanzania:  Not evident yet though promoted in policy

The impact of this pathway on the water table is moderate: groundwater levels decline up to 4 metres over approximately 40% of the study area with declines of less than 3 metres in 60% of the study area. This pumping may locally impact the yields and operation of shallow wells; the impact on wetland extent or operation is not expected to be substantial.

Ethiopia: Evident now in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is moderate: groundwater levels decline 2 – 3 metres over approximately 25% of the study area with declines of less than 2 metres in 65% of the study area. This pumping from shallow wells (<80 m below ground level) may locally impact yields and operation of shallow wells; the impact on baseflow to streams is not expected to be substantial.

Pathway 3: Medium-scale municipal supply for multiple uses

Slide4

Tanzania: Evident now in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is moderate: groundwater levels decline less than 3 metres over the entire study with declines of less than 2 metres over half of the study area. This pumping may locally impact the yields and operation of shallow wells; the impact on wetland extent or operation is expected to be minimal.

Ethiopia: Evident now in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is moderate: groundwater levels decline less than 3 metres over the entire study with declines of less than 2 metres over 70% of the study area. This pumping from shallow wells (<80 m below ground level) may locally impact the yields and operation of shallow wells; the impact on baseflow to streams is expected to be minimal.

Pathway 4: Medium-scale private supply for commercial agriculture

Slide5

 Tanzania: Not yet evident in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is moderate: groundwater levels fall up to 4 metres in approximately 40% of the study area with declines of less than 3 metres in 60% of the study area. This pumping may locally impact the yields and operation of some shallow wells; the impact on wetland extent or operation is expected to be minimal.

Ethiopia: Evident now in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is substantial: groundwater levels decline between three and five metres over approximately 28% of the study area with declines of less than 3 metres in 60% of the study area. This pumping from shallow wells (<80 m below ground level) is expected to impact yields and operation of some shallow wells as well as baseflow to streams.

Pathway 5: Medium-scale private supply for livestock husbandry

Slide6

Tanzania: Not yet evident in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is moderate: groundwater levels fall up to 4 metres in approximately 40% of the study area with declines of less than 3 metres in 60% of the study area. This pumping may locally impact the yields and operation of some shallow wells; the impact on wetland extent or operation is expected to be minimal.

Ethiopia: Not yet evident in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is substantial: groundwater levels decline between 3 and 5 metres over approximately 28% of the study area with declines of less than 3 metres in 60% of the study area. This pumping from shallow wells (<80 m below ground level) is expected to impact locally the yields and operation of some shallow wells as well as baseflow to streams.

Pathway 6: Large-scale private supply for commercial agriculture

Slide7

 Tanzania: Not evident yet

The impact of this pathway on the water table is substantial: groundwater levels fall 4 to 6 metres in approximately half of the study area. This intensive pumping of groundwater would impact the yields and operation of shallow wells; intensive pumping would also reduce the supply of water to wetlands impacting the extent and functioning of wetlands and related ecosystem services.

Ethiopia: Evident now in this basin

The impact of this pathway on the water table is very substantial: groundwater levels decline by more than 5 metres over approximately 27% of the study area with declines of 3 – 5 metres over 55% of the study area. This intensive, dry-season pumping of groundwater from deep wells (180 to 300 m below ground level) would impact the yields and operation of deep wells.

 Analysing the Stress-Tested Pathways

In June and July 2019, colleagues from Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the ESRC STEPS Centre, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and University College London (UCL), in collaboration with partners at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and Addis Ababa University (AAU), hosted two multi-stakeholder workshops at which the groundwater development pathways were assessed using Multicriteria Mapping (MCM) (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Participants at the GroFutures Multi-stakeholder Workshops in Tanzania and Ethiopia

Slide8

MCM is multi-stage interview and engagement approach which helps stakeholders to explain their views and priorities in a structured and systematic way without necessarily identifying a single ‘best’ decision but to highlight underlying criteria that influence people’s perceptions of different options or pathways. The GroFutures team used MCM software developed by the University of Sussex and STEPS Centre with stakeholders representing a range of actor groups from local to basin to national levels with knowledge and interest in groundwater development and management.

In both workshops, the GroFutures team trained a group of Research Assistants recruited through SUA and AAU to serve as MCM facilitators in the workshops. The invited participants represented a range of stakeholder groups – e.g. local domestic water users; local irrigators; district agricultural and water officials; NGO representatives; national agriculture and water officials; private sector representatives; livestock sector representatives (Tanzania). This allowed the team to cluster them into specific interest groups. Each group was assigned one facilitator to assist them in reviewing the six ‘stress-tested’ pathways and analysing them against a core set of criteria provided by the GroFutures Team – i.e. equitable access; environmental sustainability; and ease of operation and maintenance – as well as their own specific criteria.

The groups spent the afternoon of the first day of the workshop defining their criteria and then used the morning of the second day to scoring the pathways against the core criteria and their own additions. For each criterion and pathway, an ‘optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’ score was given on a scale of 0 (low) to 100 (high). The facilitators encouraged the participants to explain why they used each criterion and scored each pathway as they did.

This information was captured in the MCM software so that we had a clear description of the decision-making behind the scoring. After they completed the scoring, participants were invited to weight their criteria from most to least important, to add further insights into their preferences.

After all participants have done this, the researchers can combine the data from each participant and analyse the whole data set to understand similarities and differences between groups.

Slide9

 

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.