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).

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