GRIPP: Invisible treasures – Groundwater for Africa

This piece is from an original coverage  in April 2017, in German in the magazine Africa Wirtschaft (Africa Economy) 

Reliable access to water is still a problem in Africa. The Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP), a group of 30 international partners, is committed to providing greater security of supply and sustainable management. The focus: groundwater. 

Africa’s economy is growing. Technical developments, a broader middle class and a lively start-up scene are used in the media and in countless panel discussions to document the popular “Africa Rising” narrative. What many people forget, however, are the smallholder farmers who are, in fact, the driving force of the continent. No economic activity in Africa is more important than agriculture and none is so fragile.

The main reason is water – especially when it is missing. Already, 17 countries, many of them in the east and south of the continent, are struggling with drought for the second year in a row, writes the international media organization IRIN. If there is no regular and sufficient rainfall, the farmers can neither feed their cattle nor farm the fields. Harvest failures and famines are often the result. According to IRIN, more than 38 million people are directly affected. “In a drought, all we see is dried-up riverbeds and withered fields everywhere. Often, however, the solution is so close,” says Jeremy Bird, former Director General, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), an international research institution that addresses food security, poverty and the effects of climate change through better water management. One aspect that is becoming more and more important: groundwater.

Lack of Resources to Access Groundwater

More than 30% of the world’s freshwater reserves are stored below the Earth’s surface. The demand for the valuable resource keeps growing continuously. A study by the University College London and the British Geological Survey (BGS) determined that up to 660,000 km³ of groundwater is located under African soil – more than 100 times the renewable surface water resources of the continent. Using this hidden treasure responsibly and sustainably is particularly important for the world’s dry zones. One of the biggest hindrances to raise awareness about the enormous importance of groundwater is that it is invisible. “Rivers or reservoirs are visible when they dry out or become polluted. If the same happens to groundwater, hardly anybody takes notice,” explains Bird.

Dr. Karen Villholth, Principal Researcher, IWMI, says “Water scarcity has to be considered in a relative context in Africa. On the one hand, water resources are lacking in many places, but, often, it is actually the financial resources which are lacking to access existing groundwater resources.” The expert from IWMI, Pretoria, South Africa, attended the 8th Water Research Horizon Conference in Hamburg in mid-September, a conference with leading water scientists from around the world. There, she spoke not only as a groundwater specialist, but also as the international GRIPP Coordinator.

GRIPP, short for Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice, is a consortium of 30 international research institutions, companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), founded in 2016. It is working across the world to improve groundwater management, particularly in rural and agricultural areas in developing and emerging countries. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are plans for the implementation of various research-for-development projects for groundwater-based irrigation systems. The overall investment catalyzed partly through GRIPP is aimed to exceed USD 1 billion until 2030. The goal is to irrigate an additional area of 600,000 hectares. In addition to technical solutions, the focus also lies on issues of ‘good governance’, ensuring long-term water management on a local, national and international level, which is better adapted to the needs of the population.

IWMI is leading GRIPP, with several United Nations organizations and partners from Africa and Germany participating, including the Africa Groundwater Network; the Association of Water Well Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioners (AWDROP), Nigeria; the Center for Advanced Water Research (CAWR) with experts in Dresden and Leipzig, Germany; and the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany.

Importance for the Economy

Dr. Ralf Klingbeil, Senior Expert, Department of Groundwater and Soils, BGR, is the contact person for GRIPP. “As a scientific institute, we naturally have very close ties to relevant research organizations and can, in addition to our technical expertise, also provide numerous contacts to institutions, authorities and companies in the partner countries,” explains Klingbeil. In the past, BGR has been active in groundwater projects in Botswana, Cameroon, Namibia and Zambia. Currently, projects are under way in Burundi, the Maghreb countries and also with the river and lake basin organizations of the Niger River and Lake Chad.

Klingbeil emphasizes the great importance of the subject for the private sector. After all, any company that invests in Africa would want to secure basic location factors such as reliable energy and water supplies. “For German companies, there are various opportunities to get involved,” says Klingbeil. Companies could support local multiple use (for agriculture and drinking) water supplies, or contribute to the financing of infrastructure for groundwater monitoring or artificial recharge. If the operations are in the vicinity of their facilities, the companies stand a better chance of being successful.

Currently, one of the main problems is the lack of functionality and maintenance of already installed well systems, reports Seifu Kebede, Professor of Earth Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. “In rural areas, on average, not even half of the systems are working properly when they are needed. If you additionally consider the water quality, the quota falls below 30%,” says Kebede. An approach for long-term solutions can only be developed with an interdisciplinary approach with a mix of innovative technological developments, trained specialists, and willingness to cooperate for lasting and long-term commitment at governmental level, as well as a stronger awareness in society. The very same approach that GRIPP pursues. “I’m looking forward to the results of this important initiative,” says Kebede.

Read original Afrika Wirtschaft magazine 4/2017 coverage in German here

  • Seifu Kebede, Professor of Earth Sciences, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
  • Jeremy Bird, former Director General, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Sri Lanka
  • Karen Villholth, Principal Researcher, Research Group Leader and international GRIPP Coordinator, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), South Africa
  • Ralf Klingbeil, Senior Expert, Department of Groundwater and Soils, Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany

Florian Sturm works as a freelance journalist for JournAfrica! – a multilingual media agency that is committed to a modern African image: journafrica.de

Related links:
gripp.iwmi.org
bgr.bund.de

UPGro at 44th IAH Congress

Once again, UPGro has a strong presence at the annual congress of the International Association of Hydrogeologists, which this year is in Dubrovnik, Croatia. UPGro highlights this year include:

T2.2. THE ROLE OF GROUNDWATER IN REDUCING POVERTY
Conveners: Alan Macdonald (BGS/Hidden Crisis) and Viviana Re

With presentations by:

T2.2.1 Tim Foster: “A Multi-Decadal Financial Assessment of Groundwater Services For Low-Income Households in Rural Kenya” (Gro For Good)

T2.2.4 Fabio Fussi: “Characterization Of Shallow Aquifers In Guinea Bissau To Support The Promotion Of Manual Drilling At Country Level” (Remote Sensing For Manual Drilling Catalyst)

T2.2.5 David Walker: “Comparison Of Multiple Groundwater Recharge Assessment Methods For A Shallow Aquifer: Why Are The Results So Varied?” (AMGRAF Catalyst)

T2.2.6 Adrian Healy: “Exploiting Our Groundwater Resource: Choices And Challenges In Managing The Water Commons”  (Upgro Spin-Off Project)

T2.2.9 Richard Taylor: “Large-Scale Modelling Of Groundwater Resources: Insight from The Comparison Of Models And In-Situ Observations In Sub-Saharan Africa” (GroFutures)

T2.2.11 Jade Ward: “Rapid Screening for Pathogens In Drinking Water: Preliminary Results From A National Scale Survey In Malawi” (Hidden Crisis)

T2.2.13 Alan Macdonald: “Hand Pump Functionality: Are The Rural Poor Getting A Raw Deal ?” (Hidden Crisis)

And in other sessions:

T2.3.3 Núria Ferrer: “How Do New Development Activities Affect Coastal Groundwater Systems In Africa? The Case Of Kwale, Kenya” (Gro for GooD)

T4.4.6 Richard Taylor: “Recent Changes in Terrestrial Water Storage In The Upper Nile Basin: An Evaluation Of Commonly Used Gridded Grace Products” (GroFutures)

T4.4.3 Albert Folch: “Combining Different Techniques To Monitor Seawater Intrusion Integrating Different Observation Scales” (Gro for GooD)

T2.6.1 Johanna Koehler: “A Cultural Theory of Groundwater Risks And Social Responses In Rural Kenya” (Gro for GooD)

Posters:

T2.2.14 Jacob Katuva: “Groundwater and Poverty – Evidence From Kwale, Kenya” (Gro for GooD)

T2.2.15 David Walker: “Investigating the Resilience of Shallow Groundwater Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case Study from Ethiopia” (AMGRAF Catalyst)

T2.3.14 Moshood N. Tijani: “Hydrogeological and Hydraulic Characterization of Weathered Crystalline Basement Aquifers of Ibarapa Area, Southwestern Nigeria” (GroFutures)

Uncovering how groundwater is used, in Tanzania

re-posted from: Grofutures.org

The GroFutures team in Tanzania has just completed the data collection component of the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) exercise in the Great Ruaha Basin of Tanzania. The team comprised Andrew Tarimo, Devotha Mosha Kilave, Gebregziabher Gebrehaweria and Imogen Bellwood-Howard. Following initial training at Sokoine University of Agriculture, the team moved to the study site in Mbarali District and worked in three villages (Matebete, Ubaruku and Nyeregete) between 23rd August and 2nd September 2017. During the PRA exercise the team carried out a range of activities including seasonal calendars development, long-term trend analyses, wealth indexes, technology rankings and a well inventory (see photos below).

The team documented a range of groundwater and other water use strategies involving dug wells, shallow and deep groundwater wells alongside surface water and natural springs. With the well inventory, the team was able to locate geographically groundwater sources within the study areas. The PRA exercises allowed the team to make qualitative characterisation of different water sources. Preliminary data include the observation that wealthier people were often beginning to invest in more expensive, private infrastructure. Quality was a concern as much as quantity, which was highly relevant in the light of recent health scares. A detailed analysis of the entire survey dataset is curently being carried out by the team.

UPGro research on cover of Ambio

5GroFutures water scarcity article featured on journal cover

A critical review of water scarcity metrics written by UCL PhD student, Simon Damkjaer, and GroFutures PI, Richard Taylor, is featured on the cover of this month’s issue of Ambio. The article argues that current metrics including those used to track progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goal 6.4, substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity by 2030, are inadequate as they misrepresent freshwater resources and demand, particularly in low-income countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. The authors highlight the critical role played by groundwater storage in addressing seasonal or perennial water shortages that is entirely disregarded by current metrics.

The cover photo, taken by UPGro Catalyst PI. Willy Burgess (UCL Earth Sciences), shows the role of groundwater in sustaining dry-season irrigation of boro rice in the Barind area of Bangladesh.

Groundwater monitoring established in the Upper Great Ruaha Basin, Tanzania

Re-posted from GroFutures.org

The GroFutures team at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA, Tanzania), led by Japhet Kashaigili (SUA) with support from PhD students, Hezron Philipo (SUA) and David Seddon (UCL), established in July (2017) a groundwater-level monitoring network in the Upper Great Ruaha Basin Observatory in southern highlands of Tanzania.  This area is part of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) where increased use of groundwater and surface water is anticipated to support agricultural production.  Constructed monitoring wells at depths ranging from 18 to 32 m below ground were drilled using a PAT-DRILL 421 rig. The team also instrumented monitoring wells recently constructed by project partners at the Rufiji Basin Water Board (RBWB) in the Tanzanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

The new monitoring network comprises an upstream location at Chimala at the base of an escarpment and a downstream location at Mbarali within the alluvial plain. A monitoring well at Chimala Secondary School was installed into coarse unconsolidated sands and gravels to a depth of 26 m. This monitoring well is linked to both an additional monitoring well at Usangu Secondary School and a river gauge. Both monitoring wells are equipped with automated dataloggers providing hourly groundwater-level measurements. A third borehole was constructed at Chimala Primary School though no groundwater was encountered up to a depth of 30 m. At Mbarali, two monitoring wells were constructed on the St. Ann’s Secondary School and now form a transect of 4 monitoring wells as the team also instrumented two monitoring wells recently constructed by the RBWB at Rujewa at Mbarali Secondary School and Jangurutu Primary School.

The new infrastructure is expected to reveal for the first time the dynamics between groundwater and surface water in the Upper Great Ruaha sub-catchment of the Rufiji Basin and answer key questions around the nature of groundwater recharge and whether seasonal river flow recharges  groundwater or groundwater sustains river flow. Further work will also seek to ensure that this observatory is equipped with both tipping-bucket rain gauges to record sub-daily (hourly) rainfall intensities and soil-moisture probe arrays to better understand how intense rainfalls are transmitted through alluvial soils.

Ethiopian farmers and households have their say on their groundwater needs

re-posted from: Grofutures.org

The GroFutures team in Ethiopia has recently completed a survey of 400 households from predominantly agricultural communities within the Becho and Koka Plains of the Upper Awash Basin of Ethiopia; there are the same communities where the GroFutures team recently constructed and deployed new groundwater monitoring infrastructure. The team of social scientists, led by Yohannes Aberra of Addis Ababa University with support from Motuma Tolosa and Birhanu Maru, both from the Oromia Irrigation Development Authority, applied a questionnaire to poll respondent views on small-scale, household-level use of groundwater for irrigation, the status of groundwater governance, and their experiences of different irrigation, pump, conveyance and application technologies. The same questionnaire will be applied in other GroFutures basin observatories later this year.

The team began the household-level surveys on May 27th (2017) and completed 400 of these within 15 days. Two weeks prior to the start of the survey, the team reviewed the GroFutures-wide questionnaire to familiarize themselves with the questions and logistics of implementation. During implementation, the team encountered a major challenges in that many household heads were unavailable at their houses and had to be traced with all movements occurring in particularly hot weather.

In Becho, the team conducted questionnaires in the village of Alango Tulu whereas in Koka the team surveyed the village of Dungugi-Bekele.  As the total number of households does not exceed 600 in each village, the team’s polling of 200 households in each provided a high representative sample (>30%). The livelihoods of the polled village of Alango Tulu are dominated by local, household-level (small-scale) farming.  In the Dungugi-Bekele, the team focused on resident farmers though it was recognised that there are many irrigators who rent and cultivate land but don’t reside in the village.

The results of these questionnaires are eagerly awaited by the whole GroFutures team. A small sample of 30 questionnaires will be reviewed immediately by fellow GroFutures team members, Gebrehaweria Gebregziabher (IWMI) and Imogen Bellwood-Howard (IDS), and the Tanzanian colleagues (Andrew Tarimo and Devotha Mosha-Kilave) as they prepare shortly to trial the same questionnaire in the Great Ruaha Basin Observatory.

Photos: GroFutures social science team of the Upper Awash Basin in Ethiopia conducting household questionnaire survey in rural communities within the Becho and Koka Plains (GroFutures research team)

Professor Yahaya Nazoumou: Groundwater central to Niger’s climate change resilience

re-posted from GroFutures

[INTERVIEWER] Dr. Mohammad Shamsudduha or “Shams”, GroFutures Project Manager: thank you Professor Nazoumou for taking the time to discuss your involvement in GroFutures and how your work in the Iullemmeden Basin is making an impact on the government policies and practices of the water resources development and management in Niger.

[INTERVIEWEE] Professor Nazoumou or “Yahaya”:  I am a Professor of Hydrogeology at the Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey. I coordinate the IB team with IRD (France) and colleagues from Nigeria to achieve the project goals. I am also an advisor on climate change at the Ministry of Planning and Local Development and currently advise the Government of Niger on matters related to climate change so that development plans and activities can improve the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change in Niger, in rural areas in particular.

Shams: can you please expand on your role and activities of the department?

Yahaya: Under the Climate Investment Fund, the Niger Government in coordination with the African Development Bank, the World Bank and key Nigerien stakeholders, has initiated a Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience (PPCR) called the Strategic Program for Climate Resilience. Niger will receive some US$110 million in grants and concessional loans from PPCR to strengthen capacity in the sectors of agriculture and livestock in Niger. These efforts also include activities strengthening the development of science informing strategies that improve resilience. These activities are aligned to GroFutures vision of establishing a Network of African Groundwater Observatories that includes the Iullemmeden Basin of Niger. Improving our understanding of climate change impacts on water resources is also a priority of the group. To make accessible global climate projections data from large global-scale climate models and to develop regional scale models will facilitate the development of climate–resilient, land and water management programmes.

Shams: I am aware that you represented the Government of Niger at meetings of the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) in Paris (2015) and Marrakech (2016). Can you share your experiences at these high-profile meetings?

Yahaya: Yes, I am member of a Niger Government’s team on climate change. I first represented the Government of Niger in 2014 at the Lima Climate Change Conference (COP20), and then attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) and Marrakech (COP22). My role in these high-profile meetings was to demonstrate how Niger seeks to achieve resilience to climate change and implement adaptation plans, and how the government programmes are trying to reach its goals in reducing climate change impacts. In 2016, as the President of the Scientific Committee, I organised a meeting in Marrakech as a side event to the Climate Change Conference to showcase Niger government’s programmes and activities in terms of climate adaptation and resilience in rural areas. In that event, the President of Niger as well as key stakeholders including international donor agencies such as World Bank and African Development Bank were present. Time for that side event was limited to an hour but within that short period key participants including myself discussed Niger Government’s experiences in the adaptation strategies for climate change. It was a good opportunity for me to mention GroFutures and how groundwater-fed irrigation can be developed in Niger where surface water is limited and highlight the greater resilience of groundwater resources to climate change.

Shams: Have there been any follow-up activities since the meeting in Marrakech?

Yahaya: Following the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech (COP22), the President of Niger asked the Ministry of Environment to develop a proposal for the Green Climate Fund. Subsequently, the World Bank has asked the Niger Government to develop a much bigger proposal integrating development, research and policy. So currently, I am working with the ministry to develop the proposal and I am taking the opportunity to link this to GroFutures.

Fossil groundwater vulnerable to modern contamination

Study shows that over half of global groundwater is over 12,000 years old

Most of the groundwater in the world that is accessible by deep wells is fossil groundwater, stored beneath the earth’s surface for more than 12,000 years, and that ancient water is not immune to modern contamination, as has been widely assumed.

This study, led by Dr. Scott Jasechko (University of Calgary) and co-authored by an international team of researchers including Professor Richard Taylor (UCL Geography & UPGro GroFutures), is published online today (April 25) in Nature Geoscience.

Groundwater is the water stored beneath the earth’s surface in soil pore spaces and within the fractures of rock formations. It provides drinking and irrigation water for billions of people around the world.

Jasechko, Taylor and his co-researchers dated groundwater from over 6,000 wells around the globe. By measuring the amount of radioactive carbon in the water, the team was able to determine the age of the groundwater. They discovered that the majority of the earth’s groundwater is likely fossil groundwater, derived from rain and snow that fell more than 12,000 years ago. The team determined that this fossil groundwater accounts for between 42 to 85 per cent of total fresh, unfrozen water in the upper kilometre of the earth’s crust.

Until now, the scientific community has generally believed that fossil groundwater is safe from modern contamination but this study has proved otherwise.

“Deep wells mostly pump fossil groundwater but many still contain some recent rain and snow melt, which is vulnerable to modern contamination,” says Jasechko.

Rain and snow that fell after the 1950s contains tritium, a radioactive isotope that was spread around the globe as a result of thermonuclear bomb testing. Disturbingly, traces of tritium were found in deep well waters, which indicates that contemporary rain and snow melt can mix with deep fossil groundwater and, in turn, potentially contaminate this ancient water.

According to Taylor, this discovery has important ramifications that should influence the way humans use groundwater in the future,

“Our results reveal not only current use of fossil groundwater but also the potential risks to water quality associated with the use of deep wells. Indeed, we need to better understand how the construction and pumping of deep wells themselves may connect fossil groundwater to the present-day water cycle.”

Scale of global water crisis could be unknown due to inadequate metrics, study suggests #worldwaterday

Re-posted from UCL

A new study by UCL researchers exposes substantial limitations in the ability of current metrics to define ‘water scarcity’.

 

21 March 2017

A new study by UCL suggests the scale of the global water crisis could not be properly known at due to inadequacies with the current metrics used to measure it.

With today being World Water Day, the research, led by the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources and UCL Geography, exposes substantial limitations in the ability of current metrics to define ‘water scarcity’.

The report finds that the misrepresentation of freshwater resources and demand is particularly severe in low-income countries of the tropics where the consequences of water scarcity are projected to be most severe and where most of the global population now live. Simply put, the authors argue that we do not know the dimensions of the global water crisis.

Ensuring the availability of adequate quantities of freshwater to sustain the health and well-being of people and the ecosystems in which they live, remains one of the world’s most pressing challenges. This question is reflected in UN Sustainable Development Goal 6.4 which seeks to reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.

The authors call for a renewed debate about how best to measure ‘water scarcity’ and argue that it be redefined in terms of the freshwater storage required to address imbalances in freshwater supply and demand. Such an approach, they contend, would enable for the explicit consideration of groundwater, the world’s largest accessible store of freshwater which accounts for nearly 50% of all freshwater withdrawals globally.

Further the authors suggest that such a metric could be used pragmatically to explore a wide range of options for addressing freshwater storage requirements beyond dams alone that include use of renewable groundwater, soil water, and trading in virtual water.

Prof Richard Taylor, co-author of the paper says:

“How we understand water scarcity is strongly influenced by how we measure it. Grossly misrepresentative measures of water scarcity can identify scarcity where there is sufficient and sufficiency where there is scarcity. An improved measure of water scarcity would help to ensure that limited resources are better targeted to address where and when water-scarce conditions are identified.”

Click here to download the paper

Authors:

Simon Damkjaer, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources
Prof Richard Taylor, UCL Department of Geography

UPGro GroFutures: http://grofutures.org/

Photo: Irrigated maize crop supplied by groundwater in Zambia – Richard Taylor

Piecing together Africa’s groundwater history

The UPGro programme, supported by AfriWatSan & ESPRC, conducted a pan-African capacity-strengthening and knowledge co-production workshop at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania from the 10th to 12th of February, 2017.

40 participants from 12 countries in Africa took part and analysed multi-decadal, groundwater-level data (“chronicles”) from 9 countries including Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Sénégal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Continue reading Piecing together Africa’s groundwater history