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

Groundwater – the earth’s renewable wealth

By Sean Furey, Skat Foundation/RWSN/UPGro

Where does wealth come from? At its most basic, it is the difference between how much you invest in a product or service and how much you get from selling it. If the difference is positive you get wealth, if it is negative then you get trouble.

For a country like Zambia, the biggest source of wealth comes from underground: copper, oil and many other minerals and metals. Every aspect of our lives, from fertilisers, to homes, to solar panels depends on what can be dug from the ground. The scale on which mining and quarrying is done varies from a single person digging a hole, to the world’s largest machines demolishing mountains. Mining is also an economic activity that stretches from the very local to the most globalised trade.

In that context, groundwater can also be seen as a mineral resource on which the wealth of a country depends, so it was great that UPGro and RWSN were invited by the University of Zambia to run a special session on hydrogeology in Africa at the International Conference on Geology, Mining, Mineral and Groundwater Resources of the Sub-Saharan Africa, held in Livingstone, Zambia, in July.

The conference was opened by the President of Zambia, HE Edgar Lungu, who stressed the importance of groundwater and mineral resources to the economy, society and environment of Zambia and Africa more widely.

He was followed by a keynote speech by UPGro Ambassador, Dr Callist Tindimugaya of the Ministry of Water & Environment Uganda who gave the 400+ audience an overview of exciting groundwater initiatives happening across Africa, in particular highlighting UPGro, GRIPP, RWSN’s work on drilling professionalisation,the Africa Groundwater Network and the re-boot of the AMCOW Africa Groundwater Commission which took place the following week in Dar es Salaam.

One of the eye-opening facts that was presented by the government during the event that more than half of electricity generated in Zambia is used by the mining industry and most of that is used for de-watering mines – pumping water out of the ground and dumping it – contaminated – into rivers. Clearly a change in mindset is needed to see groundwater as a source of wealth to be used wisely for the benefit of all, not a problem that sends money pouring down the drain.

photos: Dr Callist Tindimugaya gives a keynote presentation on Groundwater Resources Management in Sub-Saharan Africa: Status, Challenges and Prospects.

UPGro-RWSN Special Session on Hydrogeology in Africa and Drilling Professionalisation

Morning:

Afternoon:

World Bank: Hidden and Forgotten: Managing Groundwater in Southern Africa

from The World Bank

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • People in southern Africa are largely dependent on groundwater shared between countries and communities for health and well-being, food production, and economic growth.
  • As climate variability alters the amount of surface water that is available, people in the region are increasingly turning to groundwater, which is already challenged by threats of depletion and pollution.
  • With CIWA support, the Southern African Development Community has established the Groundwater Management Institute to better understand the region’s needs and manage the hidden resource together.

Read the full story

New El Niño research grant awarded to UPGro investigators

A research team, led by Prof. Alan MacDonald of BGS, has been awarded research funding by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for a study entitled “Monitoring the impact of the 2015/16 El Nino on rural water insecurity in Ethiopia: learning lessons for climate resilience

El Niño is a prolonged warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and east-central Pacific that occurs irregularly at 3-6 year intervals. El Niño weakens the trade winds and alters the monsoon pattern which affects global weather patterns and typically results in drought conditions in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia and enhanced rainfall in Eastern Africa and South America.

Continue reading New El Niño research grant awarded to UPGro investigators

Africa: #AWW6 – Going to Groundwater to Transform African Agriculture

re-posted from: http://allafrica.com/stories/201607200647.html

OPINION
By Callist Tindimugaya

Callist Tindimugaya argues that the water beneath Africans’ feet could transform the continent’s agricultural production, but only if it is managed wisely

Continue reading Africa: #AWW6 – Going to Groundwater to Transform African Agriculture

New Arsenic & Fluoride mapping tool

The Eawag “Groundwater Assessment Platform”, funded by SDC, is now live: http://www.gapmaps.org/

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

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

UPGro:

Coming very soon – the Africa Groundwater Atlas

Other

Why it’s time to elevate groundwater – The World Bank

On the World Bank’s Water Blog, Jacob Burke and Marcus Wijnen make the case for better groundwater governance:

Groundwater stored in the earth’s crust underpins all our lives – the ultimate source of freshwater for billions has become victim of over-extraction and the ultimate sink for pollutants.

For too long, not enough has been done to regulate the use of this precious, on-demand resource and manage disposal of waste. If rates of groundwater depletion have tripled in the past 3 decades, then the rate at which pollutants have accumulated in shallow aquifers can only have equaled or exceeded that rate.

Continue reading Why it’s time to elevate groundwater – The World Bank

Threats to groundwater supplies from contamination in Sierra Leone, with special reference to Ebola care facilities

Although not an UPGro study, this is a relevant new paper by Lapworth, D.J.; Carter, R .C.; Pedley, S.; MacDonald, A.M.. 2015 Threats to groundwater supplies from contamination in Sierra Leone, with special reference to Ebola care facilities. Nottingham, UK, British Geological Survey, 87pp. (OR/15/009)

Abstract:

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa in 2014 is the worst single outbreak recorded, and has resulted in more fatalities than all previous outbreaks combined. This outbreak has resulted in a large humanitarian effort to build new health care facilities, with associated water supplies. Although Ebola is not a water-borne disease, care facilities for Ebola patients may become sources of outbreaks of other, water-borne, diseases spread through shallow groundwater from hazard sources such as open defecation, latrines, waste dumps and burial sites to water supplies. The focus of this rapid desk study is to assess from existing literature the evidence for sub-surface transport of pathogens in the context of the hydrogeological and socio-economic environment of Sierra Leone. In particular, the outputs are to advise on the robustness of the evidence for an effective single minimum distance for lateral spacing between hazard sources and water supply, and provide recommendations for protecting water supplies for care facilities as well as other private and public water supplies in this region.

Preliminary conclusions were:

  • Considering the climate (heavy intense rainfall for 8 months), the hydrogeological conditions (prevalent shallow and rapidly fluctuating water tables, permeable tropical soils), the pervasive and widespread sources of hazards (very low improved sanitation coverage), and the widespread use of highly vulnerable water points there is little evidence that simply using an arbitrary lateral spacing between hazard sources and water point of 30 – 50 m would provide effective protection for groundwater points. An alternative framework that considers vertical as well as lateral separation and the integrity of the construction and casing of the deeper water points is recommended to protect water supplies from contamination by pathogens.
  • The shallow aquifer, accessed by wells and springs, must be treated as highly vulnerable to pollution, both from diffuse sources and from localised sources. Diffuse pollution of groundwater from surface-deposited wastes including human excreta is likely to be at least as important as pollution from pit latrines and other point sources, given the low sanitation coverage in Sierra Leone.
  • Even though conditions are not optimal for pathogen survival (e.g. temperatures of >25° C), given the very highly permeable shallow tropical soil zone, and the high potential surface and subsurface loading of pathogens, it is likely that shallow water sources are at risk from pathogen pollution, particularly during periods of intense rainfall and high water table conditions.
  • Extending improved sanitation must be a high priority, in conjunction with improved vertical separation between hazard sources and water points, in order to reduce environmental contamination and provide a basis for improved public health.
  • We recommend that risk assessments of water points are undertaken for health care facilities as soon as possible including: detailed sanitary inspections of water points within the 30 – 50 m radius suggested by the Ministry of Water Resource; assessments of the construction and integrity of the water points; a wider survey of contaminant load and rapid surface / sub surface transit routes within a wider 200 m radius of water points.
  • Analysis of key water quality parameters and monitoring of water levels should be undertaken at each water point in parallel with the risk assessments. The translation of policy on water, sanitation and hygiene into implementation needs complementary research to understand key hydrogeological processes as well as barriers and failings of current practice for reducing contamination in water points. A baseline assessment of water quality status and sanitary risks for e.g. wells vs boreholes, improved vs unimproved sources in Sierra Leone is needed. Understanding the role of the tropical soil zone in the rapid migration of pollutants in the shallow subsurface, i.e. tracing rapid pathways, and quantifying residence times of shallow and deep groundwater systems are key knowledge gaps.

Photo: A well close to the community care facility at Kumala Primary School, Sierra Leone. Used with permission for the report from Enam Hoque (Oxfam).