New pollution risk maps for Africa to help with achieving safe water for everyone


Media Release: World Water Day 22 March

New pollution risk maps for Africa to help with achieving safe water for everyone.
Responding to UNICEF/WHO report on Safely managed drinking water

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have published a key Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report on “Safely managed drinking water”[1]. It explains the way that the progress in improving drinking water will be measured across the world in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.1 of achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030[2]. This is an immensely challenging target, particularly in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which failed to reach the Millennium Development Goal Target of halving the number of people without access to an “improved” water source between 1990 and 2015.

For governments, aid agencies and citizens, a key question has been – what do we mean by “safe” water? This new JMP report starts to provide some of those answers. They define it to mean water that is “free from pathogens and elevated levels of toxic substances at all times”.  For many areas, the most accessible safe water is from the ground – from boreholes, wells and springs. But this is not the case everywhere.

There is no question about the importance of groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa, where it provides drinking water supplies for at least 170 million people. In comparison with surface water, groundwater is widely known for its greater reliability, resilience to climate variations and reduced vulnerability to pollution. However, groundwater contamination does occur when waste from households, municipalities, livestock, agriculture, hospitals and industries (including mining) is able to make its way Inadequate management of household and industrial waste is leading to the pollution of groundwater resources in urban centres in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a new landmark study just published[3], reviewed all the available data and studies on urban groundwater across the continent and build up a map of aquifer pollution risk (Fig. 1)

The lead researcher, Dr Daniel Lapworth, of the British Geological Survey, said: “Despite the risk to the health of millions of people across the continent, very little is routinely monitored. If there is any chance of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal targets – and adapting to climate change – it is essential that governments and water utilities routinely monitor groundwater quality and take appropriate action to protect their precious water resources.”

“However, we are excited that our research through has developed a low-cost and robust way for measuring groundwater quality[4], and this approach is being rolled out in our work in Africa and India.”

Fig. 1: Relationship between urban centres in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and estimated aquifer pollution risk using an intrinsic aquifer modelling approach (Ouedraogo et al. 2016). The location of studies included in the paper are shown. Major cities in SSA are shown and are from the ESRI cities dataset (2006)

More information

UPGro is funded by UK Aid; the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC); and the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Knowledge Broker: Skat Foundation, in partnership with the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN)

For more information:

NERC media office
01793 411939 / 07785 459139 /

More details can be found on ; The Knowledge Broker for UPGro is Skat Foundation, based in St Gallen, Switzerland. Contact: Sean Furey ( ) for more information.



[3] Lapworth, D.J., D. C. W. NkhuwaJ. Okotto-OkottoS. PedleyM. E. StuartM. N. TijaniJ. Wright “Urban groundwater quality in sub-Saharan Africa: current status and implications for water security and public health” Hydrogeol J (2017). doi:10.1007/s10040-016-1516-6

[4] Sorensen J, D.J. Lapworth, B.P. Marchant, D.C.W. Nkhuwa, S. Pedley, M.E. Stuart, R.A. Bell, M. Chirwa, J. Kabika, M. Liemisa, M. Chibesa (2015) “In-situ tryptophan-like fluorescence: A real-time indicator of faecal contamination in drinking water supplies” Water Research, Volume 81, 15 September 2015, Pages 38–46

On the road to resilience in Ethiopia

by Barry Hague, NERC (re-blogged from NERC Planet Earth)

It’s time to rethink roads. In the vital fields of flood prevention and water supply, they offer incredible potential to enhance and enrich the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. Dr Frank van Steenbergen of the Roads for Water consortium is helping to drive this remarkable revolution.

Continue reading On the road to resilience in Ethiopia

From Tyneside to Abidjan: UPGro @ 7th RWSN Forum

Pictured: Prof. Richard Carter on the UPGro stand at the 7th RWSN Forum

I had the pleasure of recently attending the 7th RWSN Forum, held from 29th November to 2nd December 2016 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.  The conference is only every five years so I am fortunate that it fell during the third year of my PhD giving me not only the opportunity to attend, but also the chance to contribute some of my own research completed thus far.

The conference delegates came from a mixture of backgrounds, from both local and global scale NGOs to government ministries, and from financiers like the World Bank to pump manufacturers.  It was a great opportunity to share experiences and create connections with people outside of the world of academia and consultancies, which dominated many other conferences that I have attended.

The 7th RWSN Forum was a chance for water infrastructure installers and financiers to learn more about the water resources which they are hoping to exploit.  The conference also allowed water resource researchers to find out what kind of information NGOs and ministries require in order to plan and manage interventions.

There were a number of oral and poster presentations and company stands at the RWSN Forum expounding solutions to WASH shortfalls and food insecurity, such as manual drilling technologies, solar and foot powered pumps, and smart technology to transmit water point equipment performance.  While all of these technologies undeniably have much to offer, without a reliable and renewable water resource their usefulness dwindles.  Therefore, the relevance of the UPGro projects in emphasising sustainable management of groundwater is clear.

An UPGro catalyst grant initiated the AMGRAF (Adaptive management of shallow groundwater for small-scale irrigation and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa) project in 2013.  The catalyst grant funded hydrogeological investigations, the setting up of a community‑based hydrometeorological monitoring programme, and gender separated focus groups in Dangila woreda, northwest Ethiopia.  My own research has developed from the AMGRAF project and concerns the potential for shallow groundwater resources to be used for irrigation by poor rural communities, lessening the reliance on increasingly inconsistent rains.  Research principally focuses on two field sites; Dangila in Ethiopia and in Limpopo province in South Africa.  The resilience of the shallow groundwater resources to climate variability and increasing abstraction is being assessed through modelling.  To construct the models, it is vital to have data on aquifer parameters as well as time series of rainfall, river flow and groundwater levels for model calibration.  The presentation I gave at the forum concerned the computation of these aquifer parameters from pumping tests of hand dug wells and the collection of the aforementioned time series via the community‑based monitoring program.

I enjoyed the week I spent in Côte d’Ivoire, a country that I may never have had the chance to visit without the RWSN Forum.  I believe the connections made with groundwater specialists from around sub-Saharan Africa will greatly benefit my PhD in terms of testing the transferability of the research with data from their countries.  Leaving Abidjan, I had the same feeling as everyone else I spoke to at the conference: “Please RWSN, why does this only happen every five years!”

David Walker, PhD Candidate, Newcastle University, UK – read his RWSN Forum Paper: “Properties of shallow thin regolith aquifers in sub-Saharan Africa: a case study from northwest Ethiopia [061]

UPGro at the RWSN Forum

Groundwater is critical to rural water supply – for many uses and in many parts of the world, not just in Africa. Therefore understanding of aquifers and how to use them sustainably is essential to tackling rural poverty.

So that is why we will be at the 7th RWSN Forum next week in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, to present the work of UPGro and to network with delegates from all over Africa (and the world) on how interdisciplinary research in African groundwater can deliver tangible benefits.

Highlights to look out for:

We look forward to seeing you there!

Cultiver les données : comment les agriculteurs éthiopiens récoltent les données pour favoriser leurs semis #60IAH2016

Quel temps va-t-il faire ? Beaucoup de gens se posent la question, mais pour beaucoup d’Éthiopiens la réponse peut faire la différence entre affluence et pauvreté. L’Èthiopie est un pays riche et divers de près de 100 millions d’habitants, 88 langues différentes et une histoire ancienne et remarquable. Ses hauts plateaux sont humides et fertiles lors de la saison des pluies, alors que ses plaines désertiques comptent parmi les endroits les plus arides de la Terre.

Dangila woreda (district) est une zone montagneuse dans le nord ouest du pays avec une population de 160 000 personnes environ répartie sur 900 km2. Bien que la zone recoive 1 600mm de précipitations annuelles, plus de 90% des pluies ont lieu entre mai et octobre. Les agriculteurs, qui dépendent de leurs troupeaux et de leurs cultures pluviales, doivent absolument comprendre et prévoir les variations de précipitations pour assurer leur ubsistance. Les statégies traditionnelles, utilisées depuis des millénaires, sont menacées par les effets conjugués des changements climatiques, de la dégradation des sols et de la croissance démographique.

Le manque de données sur les précipitations, le débit des eaux de surface et le niveau des eaux souterraines empêche de savoir exactement ce qui passe actuellement et ce qui pourrait arriver ensuite. Dans la majeure partie de l’Afrique sub-saharienne, les gouvernements n’ont pas assez investi dans le suivi-évaluation des conditions environnementales, qui décline et rend de plus en plus difficile la gestion des ressources en eau.

Et si c’étaient ceux qui ont le plus à gagner d’une compréhension et d’une gestion améliorée des ressources en eau qui pilotaient la collecte des données ? Les communautés sont-elles capables de collecter des données fiables sur la météo, les riviéres et les eaux souterraines ? C’est ce qu’explore une équipe de chercheurs de l’Université de Newcastle au Royaume Uni avec le projet AMGRAF[i] financé par UPGro[1].

Dans une nouvelle publication dans le Journal of Hydrology, David Walker et ses collègues expliquent pourquoi ils pensent que la science citoyenne a un avenir dans les zones rurales d’Èthiopie et au delà :

« Les bénéfices de la participation des communautés aux démarches scientifiques sont progressivement reconnus dans plusieurs disciplines, notamment parce que cela permet au grand public de mieux comprendre la science et de mieux s’approprier les résultats, avec une certaine fierté même. Et cela sert à la fois les individus et les processus de planification locaux. » précise Walker. « Parce qu’il y a si peu de stations de suivi-évaluation officielles, et que les zones à étudier et à gérer sont si vastes, il nous faut penser à d’autres méthodes de collecte des données. »

Le programme de suivi-évaluatio communautaire a démarré en février 2014 et les habitants d’une zone appellée Dangesheta ont été impliqués dans l’implantation de nouvelles jauges pluviométriques et de rivières et dans l’identification des puits adéquats pour le suivi. Cinq puits sont jaugés manuellement tous les deux jours, avec une mesure de la profondeur et du niveau d’eau ; une jauge pluviométrique a été installée dans la métairie d’un résident qui effectuait les relevés quotidiennement à 9h ; deux jauges ont été installées sur les rivières Kilti et Brante et étaient relevés tous les jours à 6h et 18h. Chaque mois, les bénévoles remettaient le registre de leurs relevés au bureau du Dangila woreda district, qui les saisissait dans un fichier excel et les envoyait ensuite à l’équipe de recherche.

Mais ces données sont-elles fiables ? Pour David et ses collègues, c’était une question déterminante pour le succès ou l’échec du projet. La validation des données est toujours un défi, qui souffre généralement de deux types d’erreurs :

Les erreurs d’échantillonage proviennent de la variabilité des pluies, du débit des eaux de surface et du niveau des eaux souterraines dans le temps et dans l’espace. Ce type d’erreur augmente avec les précipitations et diminue avec une plus grande densité de jauges. Le défi dans les zones tropicales comme l’Éthiopie c’est que la plupart de la pluie tombe sous la forme d’orages diluviens, qui peuvent être assez courts et petits et donc faciles à rater, ou bien seulement partiellement relevés, si la densité des stations météo est faible.

Le deuxième type d’erreurs sont les erreurs d’observation, qui peuvent avoir plusieurs causes : des vents forts renversant la jauge, l’évaporation vidant la jauge, et bien sûr l’observateur qui peut ne pas  lire la jauge  correctement ou bien mal transcrire ses observations.

« C’est compliqué de relever les erreurs mais c’est possible, surtout en faisant des comparaisons statistiques avec les résultats de stations météo et d’autres sources bien établies» confie Walker. « Nous constatons que les données collectées par les communautés sont plus fiables que celles collectées par télédétection satellite. »

Nous espérons que cette approche prometteuse sera davantage soutenue et sera utilisée plus largement, mais quels sont les secrets et les défis d’une participation communautaire réussie ?


« Les gens sont au cœur du processus, donc la sélection des bénévoles est une étape fondamentale pour éviter la falsification des données ou le vandalisme » conclut Walker. « Les retours sur les résultats sont aussi absolument cruciaux: les données peuvent être présentées et analysées avec la communauté lors d’ateliers ou de réunions collectives, leur permettant ainsi de prendre des décisions sur la meilleure utilisation des précipitations, des eaux de surface et des eaux souterraines pour garantir l’approvisionnement en eau de leurs fermes et de leurs familles. »

Ces travaux de recherche se poursuivent grâce à une bourse[2] de REACH : Améliorer la sécurité hydrique pour les populations pauvres, un programme piloté par l’Université d’Oxford.

[1]               « UPGro – Libérer le potentiel des eaux souterraines pour les populations pauvres » est un programme de recherche international de 7 ans (2013-2019) qui est co-financé par le Département pour le développement international (DFID) du Royaume Uni, le Conseil de Recherche pour l’environnement naturel (NERC) et le Conseil de Recherche Economique et Sociale (ESRC). Il vise à renforcer et améliorer les données factuelles sur la disponibilité et la gestion des eaux souterraines en Afrique Sub-Saharienne (ASS), afin de permettre aux pays en développement de la région et à leurs partenaires d’utiliser ces eaux souterraines de façon durable au bénéfice des populations pauvres. Les projets UPGro sont interdisciplinaires, liant sciences sociales et sciences naturelles pour relever ce défi.


[i]               AMGRAF: Adaptive Management of GRoundwater for small scale-irrigation and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan AFrica: and

UPGro at the 43rd IAH Congress, Montpellier

Many UPGro researchers will be assembling in Montpellier, France for the 43rd Congress of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH).

If you are going, looking out for the following presentations (the abstract links won’t work until after 25 September). You can find the full online programme on the event website:

Continue reading UPGro at the 43rd IAH Congress, Montpellier

Data farming – how Ethiopian farmers harvest data to help their crops

What’s the weather doing? It’s a question that obsesses many but for many Ethiopians it is question that makes the difference between plenty and destitution.  Ethiopia is a rich and diverse country that is home to around 100 million people, 88 different languages and imbued with long, diverse history. Its highlands are seasonally wet and fertile and its lowland deserts are among the most parched places on Earth.

Dangila woreda, or district, is a hilly area in the north west of the country with a population of around 160,000 people spread across an area of about 900 km2. Although the area receives rainfall at around 1,600mm a year, over 90% of this falls between May and October.  For farmers, who depend on livestock and rainfed crops, understanding and predicting these rains is crucial to their livelihoods. Traditional strategies, which have served for millennia, are coming under threat from new pressures of shifting climate patterns, land degradation and population growth.

Exactly what is happening now and what is likely to happen in the future is uncertain due to the lack of rainfall, river flow and groundwater level data.  Throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa, under-investment by governments has led to a widespread decline in environmental monitoring, and this in turn makes water resources management harder and harder.

But what if those who stood to gain most from better understanding and management of water resources were those leading the data collection? Can communities reliably collect accurate weather, river and groundwater data? This is the question that is being investigated by researchers, led by Newcastle University in the UK through an UPGro-supported[i] project called AMGRAF[ii]).

In a new paper in the Journal of Hydrology[iii], David Walker and his colleagues explain why they think citizen science has a future in rural Ethiopia and beyond:

“The benefits of community involvement in science are being slowly recognised across many fields, in large part because it helps build public understanding of science, ownership and pride in the results, and this can benefit both individuals and local planning processes,” said Walker.  “Because there are so few formal monitoring stations and such large areas that need to be understood and managed, we need to think differently about how data collection can be done.”

The community-based monitoring programme was started in February 2014 and residents of an area called Dangesheta were involved in the siting new rain and river gauges, and identifying wells that were suitable to be monitored.  Five wells are manually dipped every two days, with a deep meter to measure the depth from the ground surface and the water level in the well; a rain gauge was installed in the smallholding of a resident who then took measurements every day at 9am; two river gauge boards were installed in the Kilti and Brante rivers and were monitored daily at 6am and 6pm. Every month, the volunteers would then give their hard copy records to the Dangila woreda government office, who then typed them into an Excel spreadsheet and emailed to the research team.

But is this data any good? For David and his colleagues, this was a critical question that could make or break the whole approach.  The challenges of data validation are substantial, and there are generally two types of error:

Sampling errors come from the variability of rainfall, river flow and groundwater level over time and over area. The sampling error increases with rainfall and decreases with increased gauge density. A challenge in tropical areas, such as Ethiopia, is much of the rain is high-intensity thunderstorms, which can be quite short in duration and small in size, and therefore easy to miss, or only partially record, if the density of monitoring stations is low.

Observational errors are the second type, and can come from a number of things:  wind turbulence, splashing around the gauge, evaporation can affect how much is in the rain gauge, and then the observer might not read the gauge accurately or make a mistake or unclear notation, when writing the measurement down.

“Tracking down errors is tricky, but it can be done, mainly through statistical comparison with established monitoring stations and with each other,” said Walker. “What we found was that the community collected data is more reliable than that gathered through remote sensing instruments from satellites.”

It is hoped that this promising approach can attract further support and be used more widely, but what are the secrets, and challenges, to making community monitoring work?

“People are at the heart of this process and selection of volunteers is crucial to avoid problems with data falsification or vandalism,” concluded Walker.  “Feedback is absolutely vital and through workshops and meetings the data can be presented and analysed with the community so that they can make decisions on how best use the available rainfall, river flows, and groundwater to provide secure sources of water for their farms and their homes.”


Research continues through a research grant[1] from REACH: Improving water security for the poor, a programme led by Oxford University.

Figure 1:


[i] “UPGro – Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor” is a seven-year international research programme (2013-2019) which is jointly funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and in principle the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It focuses on improving the evidence base around groundwater availability and management in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to enable developing countries and partners in SSA to use groundwater in a sustainable way in order to benefit the poor. UPGro projects are interdisciplinary, linking the social and natural sciences to address this challenge. T

[ii] AMGRAF: Adaptive Management of GRoundwater for small scale-irrigation and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan AFrica: and

[iii] D. Walker et al, “Filling the observational void: Scientific value and quantitative validation of hydrometeorological data from a community-based monitoring programme” Journal of Hydrology 538 (2016) 713-725

New UPGro YouTube Channel!

You can now find a wealth of interviews, presentations, field vlogs and more at the UPGro YouTube Channel.  Highlights include:

  • Interviews with key African groundwater researchers: listen to their perspective and experiences
  • Presentations from the Catalyst projects, originally given as RWSN-UPGro webinars, they are now edited for easier viewing and for use in teaching and training.
  • Interviews and presentations from numerous events where UPGro researchers have been presenting their work and the issues around groundwater in Africa.

New Arsenic & Fluoride mapping tool

The Eawag “Groundwater Assessment Platform”, funded by SDC, is now live:

“Over 300 million people worldwide use groundwater contaminated with arsenic or fluoride as a source of drinking water. The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) has developed a method whereby the risk of contamination in a given area can be estimated using geological, topographical and other environmental data without having to test samples from every single groundwater resource. The research group’s knowledge is now being made available free of charge on an interactive Groundwater Assessment Platform (GAP). enables authorities, NGOs and other professionals to upload their own data and generate hazard maps for their areas of interest.”  More.. 

Other interesting and recent research and reports on fluoride and arsenic in groundwater:


Coming very soon – the Africa Groundwater Atlas