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

“Extreme floods to bring good tidings to Tanzania city” UPGro in The East African

By ISAIAH ESIPISU

Mention of the word El Niño sends shivers to several communities in Africa who live in lowland areas. However, these extreme rainfall phenomena are exactly what Dodoma desperately needs to sustain lives of the speedy growing population in Tanzania’s capital city.

A team of local and international scientists from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and University College London (UCL) in collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation including the WamiRuvu Basin Water Board have been studying the Makutapora well-field (the only source of water for Dodoma city) to understand how the groundwater responds to different climatic conditions and human consumption.

“Based on the results, the government will be in a position to make informed decisions on whether to keep abstracting water only from Makutapora or find supplementary sources of water to meet the ever growing demand,” Lister Kongola, retired government hydrologist

“Through our research, we are seeking to understand groundwater resources in Makutapora, the renewability, the sustainability and critically how people use this precious resource,” said Richard Taylor, a professor of hydrogeology at the UCL and the Principal Investigator for a project known as GroFutures.

And after a few years of intensive research, the scientists have discovered that the well-field found in an area mainly characterised by usually seasonal rivers, vegetation such as acacia shrubs, cactus trees, baobab among others that thrive in dryland areas can only be recharged during extreme floods that often destroy agricultural crops and even property.

Dodoma became Tanzania’s capital city in 1974, though the administrative offices remained in Dar Es Salaam. Given a fact that the entire Dodoma region is semi-arid with an average annual rainfall of 550 mm, the current population of about 500,000 residents entirely rely on groundwater from the Makutapora well-field, from which they pump out 61 million litres of water every day, according to government records.

However, since 2016 when President John Pombe Magufuli issued an executive order to relocate all government ministries and institutions as well as diplomatic offices from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the city has become a beehive of activities as people and authorities rush to put in place the right infrastructure to accommodate the expected rise in population.

As a result, the demand for water is expected to rise amid the changing climatic conditions, putting much more pressure on the Makutapora well-field.

“Makutapora is quite a special site, given that it is the longest known groundwater level record in Sub Saharan Africa,” said Prof Taylor. “A study of the well-field over the past 60 years reveals that recharge sustaining the daily pumping of water for use in Dodoma city occurs episodically and depends on heavy seasonal rainfall associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation,” said the professor.

So far, according to the loggers (data registering equipments) installed in several monitoring wells within the Makurapora basin, the water level has been declining since 2016 when the positive recharge was recorded following the 2015-16 El Niño rains.  The scientists attribute the decline to heavy abstraction of the water for domestic use, but also, the researchers are in the process of finding out if tough climatic conditions, changes and variations could be another factor.

“In the end of the year 2015, we installed river stage gauges to record the amount of water in the streams. Through this, we can monitor an hourly resolution of the river flow and how the water flow is linked to groundwater recharge,” said Dr David Seddon, a research scientist from UCL.

According to Lister Kongola, a retired hydrologist who worked for the government from 1977 to 2012, the demand for water in Dodoma has been rising over the years, from 20 million litres in the 1970s, to 30 million in the 80s and to the current 61 million litres per day at the moment.

“With most government offices now relocating from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the establishment of the University of Dodoma and other institutions of higher learning, health institutions, and emergence of several hotels in the city, the demand is likely going to double in the coming few years.

Already, President Magufuli has issued 62 land title deeds for construction of diplomatic missions and five others to accredited global organisations to facilitate the shift from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma.

“The ongoing study is a stitch in time,” said Kongola. “Based on the results, the government will be in a position to make informed decisions on whether to keep abstracting water only from Makutapora or find supplementary sources of water to meet the ever growing demand,” he said.

One of the alternative options would be to construct dams and also explore alternative sites with reliable aquifers. The other option is to pump water all the way from Lake Victoria which is over 600 kilometres away from Dodoma.

The good news, however, is that seasons with El Niño kind of rainfall are predictable. “By anticipating these events, we can actually amplify them through some very minimal but strategic engineering intervention that might allow us to actually increase the amount of water replenishment in the well-field,” said Prof Taylor.

Also read and listen to:

The Top 4 Welfare Priorities for Kwale County, Kenya

My name is Jacob Katuva and I’m a researcher with Oxford University. I largely work in the water and poverty area. My research has been in Kenya – Kwale County specifically – where I’ve been looking at the links between water and welfare. Kwale County has a population of close to 900,000 people. The majority of the people there – over 70% – live below the poverty line and the main source of water for the community drinking water supplies is groundwater through handpumps.

We did a socioeconomic survey in Kwale County where we interviewed 3500 households or thereabouts in the year 2014. We repeated the same survey on the same households again in the year 2015 and the year 2016. In terms of analysis, we developed a welfare index from about 29 indicators from the socioeconomic survey and we had weights which were informed by Principle Component Analysis and this welfare index was computed for all the three years and we were able to actually see the changes in welfare and we were also able to map all the households and understand where the poor are and what their needs are.

Moving on, we investigated the links between water and welfare and what we found was that water services and here I’m talking about reliability, affordability, safety of water, and proximity to water infrastructure – all this actually accounts for at least 20% of the variation in household welfare which was quite substantial.

Findings from this work have been developed into policy briefs. Different policy briefs have been shared with different departments within the County Government, and also the Governor.

In terms of modelling welfare, we found that there are four priority goals that the County needs to focus on for sustainable development in the county. So if they want to improve people’s welfare they need to focus on four priority goals. Number one: The first goal is to maintain primary education while maintaining access to primary education; Number two is to improve access to reliable, affordable and safe drinking water sources within the county; Number three is to improve access to household energy sources by expanding the national grid or also investing in small scale solar systems; and the final priority goal was to end open defecation as this was the largest cause of reduced welfare in Kwale County.

More information:

Also from Gro for GooD:

Scientists look underground for a solution to feed the ever growing population in Africa

LISTEN NOW: Prof Richard Taylor, the Principal Investigator for the GroFutures project explains what the project is all about in SoundCloud interview.

Africa’s population is projected to hit 2.4 billion come the year 2050. This means that demand for food is going to increase exponentially. But the challenge is that this is happening in the wake of the changing climatic conditions with a threat of reduced agricultural productivity, and the shrinking of arable land due to tough climatic conditions, quest for development, and human settlement.

To bridge the gap, scientists among other experts have pointed out that there is urgent need for investment in irrigation. This was the magic bullet for the green revolution that took place in Asia.

But the question is; where will the water for irrigation come from?

This is because since the 1960s, during the green revolution in Asia, there has been depletion of the groundwater in many countries due to over abstraction, and this is already a huge crisis.

To ensure sustainability of groundwater use in Africa and to avoid mistakes made during the green revolution in Asia, UPGro scientists have taken the challenge first, to study and understand how different major aquifers on the continent recharge, how they respond to different climatic shocks and extremes, and they are already looking for appropriate ways of boosting the recharge for more sustainability.

Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures), a team of 40 scientists from Africa and abroad have teamed up to develop a scientific basis and participatory management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation.

Also read: Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa

photo (Credit Grofutures: Combined Benin-Niger GroFutures field team with supporters working in Goulbi-Maradi (left); Early Career scientists under GroFutures, Fabrice Lawson (UAC/IRD, Benin), Jean-Baptist Gnonhoue (IRD, Benin), Rabilou Mahaman (UAMN, Niger), and Boukari Issoufou (UAMN, Niger) running MRS experiments in Goulbi-Maradi (right).)

 

Avoiding the Mistakes of the Asian Green Revolution in Africa

by Isaiah Esipisu (via the Inter Press Service)

DODOMA, Tanzania, Jul 11 2019 (IPS) – Research scientists are studying groundwater resources in three African countries in order to understand the renewability of the source and how people can use it sustainably towards a green revolution in Africa.

“We don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes during the green revolution that has taken place in Asia, where people opted to use groundwater, then groundwater was overused and we ended up with a problem of sustainability,” said Richard Taylor, the principal investigator and a professor of Hydrogeology from the University College London (UCL).

Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in Sub-Saharan Africa (GroFutures), a team of 40 scientists from Africa and abroad have teamed up to develop a scientific basis and participatory management processes by which groundwater resources can be used sustainably for poverty alleviation.

Though the study is still ongoing, scientists can now tell how and when different major aquifers recharge, how they respond to different climatic shocks and extremes, and they are already looking for appropriate ways of boosting groundwater recharge for more sustainability.

“Our focus is on Tanzania, Ethiopia and Niger,” said Taylor. “These are three strategic laboratories in tropical Africa where we are expecting rapid development of agriculture and the increased need to irrigate,” he told IPS.

In Tanzania, scientists from UCL in collaboration with their colleagues from the local Sokoine University of Agriculture, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the WamiRuvu Basin Water Board, have been studying the Makutapora well field, which is the only source of water for the country’s capital city – Dodoma.

“This is demand-driven research because we have previously had conflicting data about the actual yield of this well field,” said Catherine Kongola, a government official who heads and manages a sub section of the WamiRuvu Basin in Central Tanzania. The WamiRuvu Basin comprises the country’s two major rivers of Wami and Ruvi and covers almost 70,000 square kilometres.

She notes that scientists are using modern techniques to study the behaviour of groundwater in relation to climate shocks and also human impact, as well as the quality of the water in different locations of the basin.

“Groundwater has always been regarded as a hidden resource. But using science, we can now understand how it behaves, and this will help with the formulation of appropriate policies for sustainability in the future,” she told IPS.

Already, the World Bank in collaboration with the Africa Development Bank intends to invest some nine billion dollars in irrigation on the African continent. This was announced during last year’s Africa Green Revolution Forum that was held in Kigali, Rwanda.

According to Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, boosting irrigation is key to improving agricultural productivity in Africa.

“In each of the areas where we are working, people are already looking at groundwater as a key way of improving household income and livelihoods, but also improving food security, so that people are less dependent on imported food,” said Taylor. “But the big question is; where does the water come from?”

Since the 1960s, during the green revolution in Asia, India relied heavily on groundwater for irrigation, particularly on rice and wheat, in order to feed the growing population. But today, depletion of the groundwater in the country has become a national crisis, and it is primarily attributed to heavy abstraction for irrigation.

The depletion crisis remains a major challenge in many other places on the globe, including the United States and China where intensive agriculture is practiced.

“It is based on such experiences that we are working towards reducing uncertainty in the renewability and quantity of accessible groundwater to meet future demands for food, water and environmental services, while at the same time promoting inclusion of poor people’s voices in decision-making processes on groundwater development pathways,” said Taylor.

After a few years of intensive research in Tanzania’s Makutapora well field, scientists have discovered that the well field—which is found in an area mainly characterised by seasonal rivers, vegetation such as acacia shrubs, cactus trees, baobab and others that thrive in dry areascan only be recharged during extreme floods that can also destroy agricultural crops and even property.

“By the end of the year 2015, we installed river stage gauges to record the amount of water in the streams. Through this, we can monitor an hourly resolution of the river flow and how the water flow is linked to groundwater recharge,” Dr David Seddon, a research scientist whose PhD thesis was based on the Makutapora well field, told IPS.

Taylor explains that Makutapora is known for having the longest-known groundwater level record in sub-Saharan Africa.

“A study of the well field over the past 60 years reveals that recharge sustaining the daily pumping of water for use in the city occurs episodically and depends on heavy seasonal rainfall associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation,” Taylor said.

According to Lister Kongola, a retired hydrologist who worked for the government from 1977 to 2012, the demand for water in the nearby capital city of Dodoma has been rising over the years, from 20 million litres in the 1970s, to 30 million litres in the 1980s and to the current 61 million litres.

“With most government offices now relocating from Dar Es Salaam to Dodoma, the establishment of the University of Dodoma, other institutions of higher learning and health institutions, and the emergence of several hotels in the city, the demand is likely going to double in the coming few years,” Kongola told IPS.

The good news, however, is that seasons with El Niño kind of rainfall are predictable. “By anticipating these events, we can seek to amplify them through minimal but strategic engineering interventions that might allow us to actually increase replenishment of the well-field,” said Taylor.

According to Professor Nuhu Hatibu, the East African head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, irrigation has been the ‘magic’ bullet for improving agricultural productivity all over the world, and “that is exactly what Africa needs to achieve a green revolution.”

 

Photo: Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology from the University College London (UCL) (far left) is the principal investigator in a project to study groundwater resources to understand more how to use the resource to alleviate poverty. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

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

Transition Management mobilises community members in Obom, Ghana to organise neighbourhood clean-ups

Re-posted from T-Group by Giorgia Silvestri

Figure 1. Women and children during the clean-up activities

Residents and community organisers from two communities within Obom area (‘School town’ and ‘Water works’) came together to organize a clean-up activity. According to one committee member of Obom, this activity was possible due to the pilot projects developed as a result of the Transition Management process (as part of the overall T-GroUP project).

One of these pilot projects consisted of the development of jingles (i.e. short songs that are usually transmitted via radio) by different groups of community members on issues related to the sustainable management of local resources (e.g. water, sanitation and waste management in the communities).

These jingles were transmitted over the last months through the local communication centres and raised awareness among community members on water, sanitation and sustainability issues.

According to the committee member, this level of engagement among community members has never occurred before: ‘the T-GroUP arena meetings united us and we are now moving forward’. People are becoming more conscious of their behaviours, like collecting and recycling waste, avoiding open defecation or building proper and sustainable sanitation facilities.

Figure 2. Community organizer gathering people after the clean-up activities

In addition to the clean-up activities, community members have started, for example, to learn how to build sustainable toilets through the participation in training or to organise meetings and events to engage other community members in sustainability activities.

After the clean-up activities, people from ‘School town’ community provided some drinks and participants from the different communities had the opportunity to get to know each other and share their experience in participating in the clean-up activity.

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