Drilling dialogues: conversations about drilling professionalism and the rise of the off-grid city

by Adrian Healy, Cardiff University, UK

The African Water Association Congress 2020 witnessed an increasing focus on the important role groundwater plays in urban water supplies across Africa. It was my pleasure to facilitate two lively panel debates on what are important, but often overlooked, themes in the development of groundwater resources. The first panel considered professionalism in the drilling industry whilst the second discussed the increasing number of urban households commissioning their own boreholes.

Callist
Callist Tindimugaya and Kerstin Danert discuss drilling professionalism (Photo: A. Healy)

The drilling industry includes a range of professions and roles ranging from the owner of a drilling company, through drilling operators to hydrogeologists and drilling supervisors. The skills and experience required can vary substantially, depending on the hydrogeology involved and the nature of the boreholes being drilled. What does not vary are the negative impacts poor drilling professionalism can have, on borehole functionality. This results in losses to those who commission boreholes and, potentially, adverse implications for groundwater quality. Across Africa there is also a shift in who is commissioning boreholes. What was once the preserve of governments, firms and donor bodies is now increasingly witnessing direct action by households themselves.

Although, there are examples of good practice across the African continent, panellists recognised that there is are problems with professionalism. This can be due to a lack of experience of the drillers and supervisors, as well pressures to reduce costs. All too often experience is gained only through what can be gleaned ‘on-the-job’ leading to skills-decay across the profession over time. The privatisation of the drilling industry has exacerbated the situation as there are few incentives to encourage investments in training, and limited places where training occurs. Where the ground is easy to penetrate and water is relatively shallow, manual drilling techniques can be used. This means that skills gap becomes more acute as competition by low-cost drillers erodes the potential value of investments in training and skills development.

Panellists argued that a professional drilling industry requires strong regulation by government. Drilling companies should be licensed and boreholes should be assessed for the quality of construction. Competition amongst drilling companies should be based on minimum standards and not reward cost-cutting and poor employment conditions. Government can also support the provision of training facilities.

In Uganda, experienced drillers now provide the benefit of their knowledge to a new generation of professionals, which builds on the legacy of past investments in training (e.g. http://www.rural-water-supply.net/en/resources/details/876). A wider challenge is raising awareness of the skills and expertise required to successfully access groundwater through boreholes amongst government officials and the wider public. This highlights the importance of a broader debate on the theme of groundwater and urban water supplies.

The critical role played by the wider public was also discussed by the second panel in the context of the remarkable rise in the proportion of urban households commissioning their own boreholes in many African countries. Although official figures are hard to find, both the panellists and the audience recognised this to be a rising trend across many cities in Africa. Rapid rates of urbanisation have left many with no access to public piped water supplies, or with only erratic and unpredictable supplies. In these circumstances, households source their own water supplies. For many households, groundwater forms an accessible, convenient and reliable source of water, even in countries where officially this is not permitted.

Panellists felt that the implications of this rising trend of urban self-supply are not yet clear. There are social and economic benefits for those who are able to access a reliable source of water, but with potential costs for those who are excluded. Debates on the potential costs of lost revenue to water utilities were inconclusive, as households often act because they are not being reliably supplied by a utility. Where there is a proliferation of borehole development then the potential impacts to the groundwater resource were acknowledged to be substantive. However, little is known of the quality of borehole construction or overall abstraction rates at present. Panellists indicated that anecdotal evidence points to a lack of awareness amongst urban populations of the importance of good groundwater management and highlighted that, when this is combined with poor professionalism in the drilling industry, there are risks for the resource. An emerging concern is the number of abandoned boreholes, which tend to be left unsealed, associated with urban self-supply and poor drilling professionalism.

Chikondi
Chikondi Shaba speaks about urban water self-supply (photo: A. Healy)

The panel discussion served to highlight the importance of this crucial topic, but recognised that a lack of robust data limits the opportunities for informed debate. In the absence of data, panellists argued that the rise of off-grid access to groundwater imperilled the stewardship of the groundwater resource on which many cities now relied. Returning to the theme of the first panel, panellists stressed how education, communication and engagement with the wider public was as important for good groundwater stewardship as technical skills and strategies.

Our thanks to Skat Foundation, the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment, the Ugandan Drilling Contractors Association and UK Research and Innovation for supporting this session. We thank each of the participants: Callist Tindimugaya, Kerstin Danert, Michael Ale, Jenny Grönwall, Moshood Tijani; Chikondi Shaba and Moustapha Diene.

Adrian Healy researches urban water resilience in sub-Saharan Africa. He is based at Cardiff University in the UK. He can be contacted at Healya2@cardiff.ac.uk

Study shows boreholes are key to drought resilience in Ethiopia

BGS Press Release

Installing more boreholes to tap underground water will improve rural Ethiopian
communities’ resilience to drought, according to a new report.

Research carried out by the British Geological Survey (BGS), the University of Addis Ababa and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) showed that people who have access to groundwater from boreholes are much less affected by drought than those who rely on wells or springs for their water supply. The report also links the shortage of water to:

  • conflict in local areas
  • migration
  • a decline in breastfeeding rates
  • a rise in miscarriage rates
  • more children missing school

Groundwater experts from the BGS monitored 19 hand-dug wells, springs and boreholes in two districts in northern Ethiopia over 18 months. They also held focus-group discussions with local people, including school and health centre staff, near each of the groundwater sources.

The team found that boreholes drilled to 50–100 m were the most reliable source of water during the extended drought of 2015–16 and through the dry season.

Prof Alan MacDonald, the BGS hydrogeologist who led the research, said: ‘We found that
boreholes equipped with hand pumps were more reliable than springs or hand-dug wells, and this reliability was not affected by drought or seasonal change. As hand-dug wells dried up and springs failed, the boreholes we monitored gave exactly the same flow throughout the year.

‘Boreholes also had better water quality. As the drought ended and rain started falling many of the springs and hand-dug wells became grossly contaminated. The boreholes performed much better, with less than half of them showing any level of contamination.

‘Our findings make a clear case for the installation of more boreholes to improve resilience to drought. If constructed carefully and regularly maintained, boreholes can transform the water security for rural villages and make them much more resilient to the effects of climate change.’

Dr Seifu Kebede, from Addis Ababa University’s earth sciences department, said:

‘A significant finding of our study is the length of time people without boreholes spent in water collection during the dry season and drought, and the very low volumes of water they were able to collect.

‘People were routinely queuing for up to 10 hours, which led to tension and sometimes violence, and had wide-ranging impact across communities. Women breastfed less and experienced more miscarriages, meals were missed and farm work was reduced to help collect water. School attendance was down in all but one district, as children were involved in water collection. All health centres in the study area reported increases in diseases, and, in some cases, employees were paying for water collection to keep the centres functioning.

‘We must look at how communities source water during a normal dry season to predict how they will cope during drought years. This study shows that boreholes, where they can be installed, could be the most reliable source of groundwater in these areas of northern Ethiopia.’

According to the BGS’s African Groundwater Atlas, Ethiopia has a high potential for groundwater in the highland regions due to the mostly permeable rocks. A major challenge, however, is the rugged terrain, which can hinder the movement of drilling rigs.

The project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Department for International Development (DfID).

The full paper is available in Environmental Research Letters.

For further details please contact:
Sarah McDaid (sarah@mcdaidpr.co.uk/07866789688)
Twitter: @BritGeoSurvey


Editors note:

This week, groundwater experts from around the world will be attending a meeting of GRIPP at the SIWI World Water Week to discuss how to governments and aid agencies can take evidence like this into account when designing and implementing their policies and projects, and specifically around an exciting new groundwater initiative with the African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW)

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.

Get a GRIPP on groundwater: response to the UN-Water SDG 6 Synthesis Report

UN-Water is presently seeking feedback on their SDG 6 Synthesis Report, which will help inform the assessment by the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) of the progress of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) on Clean Water and Sanitation. The assessment of SDG 6 is part of a larger effort by the HLPF to assess a number of SDGs on a revolving basis. SDG 6, among four other SDGs, including on energy, cities, consumption and land, will be discussed at the HLPF summit in New York during 09-18 July 2018. It is critical that the SDG 6 Synthesis report properly reflects the progress achieved and outstanding challenges going forward. On the latter, groundwater comes in as crucial. There is no doubt that the majority of the global population depends on groundwater, either directly from drinking it and using it in households, but also indirectly through the food they eat, as almost half of the world’s food production today derives from groundwater, a figure that keeps increasing.

However, the immense societal value of groundwater is not captured commensurately in management efforts on water. And we see the consequences now. Depleted aquifers, salt and seawater appearing in our groundwater, and farmers being squeezed because they cannot afford to access groundwater anymore, with broader scale impacts on food and international security, from local to global levels – among other socio-economic, health and environmental consequences. Groundwater underpins invaluable ecosystems, which we only see when it surfaces as lakes, perennial rivers or springs. Groundwater is fundamental in achieving safe and adequate water supply to all, leaving no-body behind and providing water and services that support a significant number of other SDGs. Hence, getting groundwater management and monitoring done more comprehensively for the achievement of the SDGs is absolutely crucial.

Responding to this urgency, GRIPP submitted a commentary and plea to UN-Water to appreciate their increased attention to groundwater in their assessment of SDG 6 progress, while also highlighting the gaps that remain. One aspect is to increase the awareness of the intrinsic, but also direct economic value of groundwater. Another is to ensure that the resource is used efficiently and sustainably, and meeting basic needs of everybody. As part of this, more efforts are required to collect information on the resource status on a regular basis and feed this into the relevant SDG indicators, e.g. on water quality, water stress, integrated water resource management, transboundary cooperation, and water related ecosystems.

GRIPP, as a consortium of about 30 institutions with dedicated expertise on groundwater, stand prepared to help on these intricate, but critical challenges related to groundwater. The sooner this is done concertedly, the sooner, we can start turning the tide, and finding solutions, which will require partnerships, efforts and investments at all levels, from local users to governments to the HLPF. If we start now, we still stand a chance of succeeding, and of handing over a planet that keeps supporting life from below.

Great potential for groundwater irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Policy Brief by IWRA

re-posted from GRIPP

A new policy brief titled  Sustainable Groundwater Development for Improved Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa was published by the International Water Resources Association (IWRA). Based on work carried out by IWMI and partners through the support of the Rockefeller Foundation and WLE, the brief describes the potential and constraints of groundwater irrigation Sub-Saharan Africa.

At least 400 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa source their domestic water supply from groundwater. Yet, this often abundant resource only accounts for around 20% of total irrigation. More widespread irrigation could help reduce rural poverty, improve food security, and counter droughts. The policy brief outlines why this water is untapped, and expands on three key policy messages:

  • There is great potential for groundwater irrigation in much of Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Smallholder farmers are eager to tap reliable new irrigation sources
  • The most critical constraints lie in developing supply chains, finance, and other essential infrastructure.

IWRA also identifies key Issues that need to be addressed:

  • Decentralized supply and maintenance of pumps
  • Smallholder access to reasonable financing options
  • Smallholder access to reliable and low-cost energy sources, particularly solar energy

The brief is based on research by International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and other partners. Download here.

Scientific African – new journal launched to showcase African research

from: Sci-Dev

from the Elsevier website:

Scientific African is owned by the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) and operated by the NEF Community of Scientists

Scientific African is a peer reviewed, open access, inter- and multidisciplinary scientific journal that is dedicated to expanding access to African research, increasing intra-African scientific collaboration, and building academic research capacity in Africa. The journal aims to provide a modern, highly-visible platform for publishing pan-African research and welcomes submissions from all scientific disciplines.
The journal welcomes submissions of full text research articles, reviews but also publishes invited perspectives and critical policy papers.

“Groundwater around the World” – free downloadable book now available

Not directly relate to UPGro, but probably of interest: “Groundwater around the World” (2013) is a book by Jean Margat and Jac van der Gunn who have had long, distinguished careers as hydrogeologists.

The focus of the book is on showing the role and geographic diversity of groundwater, with case studies of real-life groundwater management.

PDF downloadable from IGRAC.

Dramatic water supply problems in southern Africa: BGR hydrogeologists call for new exploration strategy for semi-fossil aquifers

“Long-lasting periods of drought due to climate change are causing significant water supply problems also in southern Africa – with increasingly serious consequences for agriculture as well as directly for the people. In large cities such as Cape Town, drinking water has already to be rationed. Current projects of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany indicate that water resources in deeper rock formations can provide additional sources and offer an important contribution to solving the water supply problems in southern Africa.”

Read more on the BGR website

Groundwater mapping “fundamental” to climate resilient water supplies in Ethiopia

by Dr John Butterworth, IRC WASH, re-posted with permission

Climate resilient WASH is about new ways of working across the traditional humanitarian and development sectors. We went to one of the harshest spots in Ethiopia, and surely in the world, to find out more.

The small town of Afdera in the north of Afar region, Ethiopia, exists for salt production. Brine from the lake is pumped into simple evaporation ponds and the salt harvested and shipped off in sacks (Afdera salt provides 80% of Ethiopia’s supply). The salt is both a blessing and a curse. For the past few years the town has been dependent on the operation of two small desalination plants that turn the salty lake water into a potable supply. This is high-tech compared to water supply in the rest of the country, and enables the community to get water from stand posts for 4 Birr a jerry can. That’s also expensive compared to elsewhere and its not nearly enough. There are long long lines of jerry cans at the water points.

Continue reading Groundwater mapping “fundamental” to climate resilient water supplies in Ethiopia

UNICEF to commission remote sensing prospection of groundwater in Ethiopia

UNICEF Ethiopia plans in 2018 to map the groundwater potential of 41 woredas (administrative divisions) within EU’s Resilience Building programme (RESET II). The methodology used in 2016/17 can be found in the links below:

 The mapping and geophysical prospection ToR has been tendered here:

https://www.ungm.org/Public/Notice/66814

(Please note that this work is not connected to UPGro and its partners and funders, and we cannot respond to queries about this work).