Meet Dr Johanna Koehler, a scientist working to revolutionise rural water services in Kenya

Interview by Oxford University School of Geography

The vast majority of the rural population in Kenya rely on pumps and pipes for their water supply. However, when they break, they are often not repaired for a long time, as they fall outside of formal water service provision areas. Dr Johanna Koehler explains how her research on water risks and institutional change in Kenya contributed to the consultation for Kenya’s national Water Act 2016, which seeks to address these issues.

Over the last few decades, over $1bn has been invested in water infrastructure in rural Africa. However, with one in four handpumps out of action and in need of repair at any one time, poor people living in rural regions frequently use distant and dirty water sources.

In Kenya 70% of the population live within rural communities, where water service provision is often deemed “not commercially viable”. Instead, water companies tend to focus on urban and peri-urban areas. This leaves much of the Kenyan population to manage water risks on their own.

Dr Johanna Koehler has been working to address this problem with colleagues in the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment’s Water Programme, led by Professor Rob Hope. Specifically, Koehler’s research investigates how water risks are governed in rural Kenya in the wake of the country’s decentralisation reform, and she explores which institutional models best support the maintenance of rural water infrastructure to provide sustainable and reliable water services for all.

Focus group discussions with over 600 water users in Kitui County and surveys with 3,500 households in Kwale County over three years helped to provide a deep understanding of the different ways of managing rural water risks. This research contributed to the design of the award-winning smart handpumps project and ‘FundiFix’ model with Rob Hope, Patrick Thomson and others. FundiFix links smart monitoring of pump failures and professional repair services with sustainable finance from users, government, and private actors.

“Communities subscribe to an affordable service contract which protects their rights and makes them responsible for regular payments,” Koehler explains. This can unlock further public and private funding. She terms this sharing of risks and responsibilities across the state, market, and communities ‘institutional pluralism’.

Through continuous engagement with national and county governments as well as other key stakeholders, Koehler was successful in lobbying for this “new sector thinking”, and the idea of sharing water management responsibilities across communities, government, and the private sector was included in Kenya’s Water Act 2016. The change was facilitated by the recent government structural reform in Kenya, when 47 county governments were mandated with water and health service delivery, among other things.

Article 94 of Kenya’s Water Act 2016 highlights those rural areas not considered commercially viable. It is important, she says, because this provides for more dynamic approaches to rural water maintenance, emphasising the important role of all three – public, private and voluntary sectors. “It puts into words the aspiration of the Sustainable Development Agenda as well as of Kenya’s Constitution of reliable water for all.”

“By transferring responsibility for rural water services to county governments and acknowledging the importance of maintenance, the hope is that local solutions such as FundiFix are more likely to be integrated into a wider system of governance and regulation and, as a result, rural Kenyans would have more reliable water services.”

– Dr Johanna Koehler, Researcher and Programme Manager
Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Hand-pumps for deeper groundwater key to climate resilience for rural communities

by Isaiah Esipisu for the PAMACC News Agency

Photo:  A hydrogeologist measuring the water table in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (I. Esipisu)

NAIROBI, Kenya (PAMACC News) –  new study has revealed that use of hand-pumped boreholes to access deeper groundwater is the most resilient way of adapting to droughts caused by climate change for rural communities in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.

This comes amid concerns by scientists that the resource, which is hidden underground, is not well understood on the continent especially in the Sub Saharan Africa region.

According to a new study that compared performances of rural water supply techniques during drought periods in Ethiopia, scientists from the British Geological Survey (BGS) in collaboration with their colleagues from Addis Ababa University found that boreholes accessing deep (30 meters or more) groundwater were resilient to droughts.

The study, which was published in the Nature scientific Journal on March 4, further found that boreholes fitted with hand-pumps, had highest overall functionality during the monitoring period compared to motorised pumps in.

“While motorised boreholes generally also access even deeper groundwater, repairs [in rural settings] are more difficult and may take longer, resulting in lower levels of functionality as compared to hand-pumps,” explained Dr Donald John MacAllister, the lead author and a hydrogeologist from the British Geological Survey.

At the same time, the scientists observed that springs, open sources and protected wells experienced large declines in functionality, undermining, in particular, the water security of many lowland households who rely on these source types.

“By comparison, motorised, and crucially hand-pumped, boreholes which access deeper groundwater performed best during the drought,” said Seifu Kebede, a former Associate Professor of Hydrogeology for Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, and one of the researchers. Prof Kabede has since moved to the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa.

In collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Addis Ababa University and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), experts at the BGS examined the performance of a wide range of water source types, using a unique dataset of more than 5000 individual water points collected by UNICEF in rural Ethiopia during the 2015-16 drought.

In August last year, another study headed by scientists from the University College London (UCL) refuted earlier beliefs that groundwater was susceptible to climate change, and instead confirmed that extreme climate events characterised by floods were extremely significant in recharging groundwater aquifers in drylands across sub-Saharan Africa, making them important for climate change adaptation.

“Our study reveals, for the first time, how climate plays a dominant role in controlling the process by which groundwater is restocked,” said Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology at the UCL.

However, experts believe that for African continent to take advantage of the groundwater resources, there is need to invest in research, in order to understand the nature of aquifers underground, how they are recharged, their sizes, their geography, how they behave in different climatic conditions, the quality of water therein, and how they can be protected.

According to Prof Daniel Olago, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geology, University of Nairobi, in Africa, groundwater in Africa remains a hidden resource that has not been studied exhaustively.
“When people want to access groundwater, they ask experts to go out there and do a hydro-geophysical survey basically to site a borehole without necessarily understanding the characteristics of that particular aquifer,” he said.

African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) estimates the volume of groundwater in Africa to be 0.66 million km3, which is more than 100 times the annual renewable freshwater resources. “But since it is hidden underground, it remains under-valued and underutilised,” said Dr Paul Orengoh, the Director of Programs at the council’s secretariat.

In October last year during a meeting in Nairobi, AMCOW launched an initiative that will help member states understand their groundwater resources, manage it sustainable, and use it for poverty alleviation in their respective countries.

According to Dr Orengoh, the AMCOW Pan-African Groundwater Programme (APAGroP) seeks to improve the policy and practice of groundwater in Africa for better lives and livelihoods in all the 55 member countries.

The BGS has already developed the ‘Africa Groundwater Atlas,’ which is a literature archive that avails all information about groundwater in Africa, published and unpublished (grey) on an online platform.

“Our aim is to provide a systematic summary of groundwater resources for each African country, compiled in collaboration with country hydrogeologists,” said Dr Kirsty Upton, a Hydrologist at the BGS.

So far, millions of households in Africa rely on groundwater for domestic and partly for agriculture production. However, scientists still believe that the resource is largely underutilised.

Studies have indicated that at least 320 million people in Africa lack access to safe water supplies. The problem is further exacerbated by frequent droughts caused by climate change.

“If well understood, groundwater has the potential of bridging the water scarcity gap, thus, reducing poverty on the African continent,” Prof Olago told PAMACC News.

The study in Ethiopia recommends investment in motorised boreholes and most importantly, investment in hand-pumps.

“In the face of climate change, the resilience of rural water supplies in East Africa is best achieved by prioritising access to groundwater via multiple improved sources and a portfolio of technologies, supported by on-going monitoring and responsive and proactive operation and maintenance,” said Dr MacAllister.

“What remains a major concern is lack of access to appropriate skills and expertise, spare parts and, for motorised systems the fuel, that is required to keep rural water supplies functioning, factors that are particularly challenging to ensure when demand on water sources increases during drought.”

 

Meet Joseph Okullo, a groundwater research scientist in the making

Interview and photos by Isaiah Esipisu

With a Masters degree in geology from Makerere University, Joseph Okullo landed a consultancy job, to assist UPGro team in Uganda as a physical scientist. Since then, his star has been glowing brighter and brighter.

During the Africa Water Association (AfWA) Congress in Kampala, the 36 year old upcoming scientist shared his experience based on his involvement with UPGro, and what it means to his future career.

Here are his excerpts:

IE: What role did you play in the UPGro study in Uganda?

JO: I worked as a physical science research assistant within the Hidden Crisis project, through which I was involved in a number of activities.

The first survey involved scrutinizing 200 boreholes in different parts of the country. We did random selections of these boreholes in districts.

The main aim was to check the functionality of these water points and also the water quantity. Through this, we discovered that there were a number of boreholes that could not meet the set standard of the yield, which is 10 litres per minute with full stroke.

As a result, there is a clear understanding as to why many boreholes were failing soon after construction. By understanding the problem, it becomes much easier to search for the solution.

IE: What impact did this research have on your career

JO: Before I met UPGro, I was jobless. And because UPGro worked hand in hand with Makerere University, I begun to interact with scientists from the university from time to time and during this period, they saw my potential. That’s how I secured a part time job as an assistant lecture at the University.

Today, am in the process of PhD admission at the same university.

IE: What do you intend to research on if you manage to secure the admission?

JO: My research topic is about how climate change affects groundwater storage and recharge in the Northern part of Uganda.

Northern Uganda is an area that has not been studied well in terms of groundwater, given that it is a semi arid area. UPGro had researches in those areas and I am happy to build on the already existing knowledge developed through UPGro.

IE: How did it feel working with rural communities in different parts of the country?

JO:  It is interesting to work with different communities. But the first thing is to try and make yourself part of these communities because they have different cultures, different norms and different way of thinking. As a researcher you need to strike a balance with any given community.

However, it is so gratifying when you help them find solutions to problems that have bedeviled them for so many years.

IE: From the experience with communities under the UPGro research, what do you think is the perfect way of managing community water points?

JO: There have been several models. But most of them end up collapsing because of one reason or another. However, we have communities in places like Masindi District which are managing their boreholes in a very sustainable manner.

These communities operate like micro-finance institutions, where they collect money from members, and they can still lend the same whenever a member needs cash. Since they have an active account, it becomes so easy for them to fix their boreholes in case there is a problem.

IE: What did you learn during this research process?

JO: I have learned many things. For example, before this project, I knew that if a borehole is yielding water, then it is functional. But with the UPGro approach, functionality is far beyond water coming from a borehole. You look at the quantity of the water, the leakage, if there some underlying issues to indicate that it was almost breaking among other things.

IE: What do you think should be done to improve access to safe water for people in rural Uganda?

JO: From the UPGro experience, I discovered that there are so many boreholes that have been sunk, but they are not well taken care of. This is mostly because communities think it is not their responsibility to manage those boreholes.

Some of them were sunk by politicians during campaigns, and by the end of the campaigns, they are abandoned. Some of them are just functional save for very small hitches. Yet communities do not take responsibility because they feel that it was a politician’s project, or an NGO project

To solve this problem, there is need to strengthen the ownership, and strengthen water user committees.

Another problem is about spare parts. It is not easy to get a genuine spare part in the Ugandan market. If there was a groundwater policy, then the regulators will understand the importance of groundwater and regulate the importation of these spare parts. Before this happens, communities will be forced to live with what is available in the market.

Lastly, we have difficult hydrogeological environments. In some areas, it is not easy to site groundwater aquifers. This therefore calls for more detailed surveys to guide and inform on the water provision within those particular communities.

From a dream of becoming a Medical Doctor to a Civil Engineer – the Career Journey of Jennifer Isoke

Interview by Isaiah Esipisu

Jennifer Brenda Isoke is a Ugandan female Civil Engineer with a purpose. Besides being a public servant, Isoke has spent invaluable amount of time in different universities since 2003, preparing and delivering lecture presentations to students pursuing Construction Technology, Concrete Technology and Mechanical Plant.

She has lectured at the Uganda Technical College Kichwamba, at the Department of Water Engineering, and at Ndejje University College. To date, she is a part time lecturer at the Uganda Christian University Mukono, and she also works at the Uganda Technical College Elgon as a senior lecturer.

J-Isoke
Jennifer Brenda Isoke (photo courtesy of: J B Isoke)

Besides her dedication to imparting of knowledge to upcoming civil engineers, she is a public servant working at the Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board, which is a government Agency under the Ministry of Education Responsible for the national assessment of tertiary institutions in Uganda.

Given her vast knowledge and experience, Isoke has been part of the UPGro team of researchers under the T-Group. As a result, she has made a number of presentations in major conferences not limited to a presentation at the plenary session at the 2019 UMI conference, which was done in the presence of former South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki.

UPGro Knowledge Broker team caught up with her, to find out what drives her enthusiasm.

[main photo: Jennifer Isoke sharing a copy of the UPGro research with residents of Bwaise, Kampala; Photo courtesy of J B Isoke]

Continue reading From a dream of becoming a Medical Doctor to a Civil Engineer – the Career Journey of Jennifer Isoke

Dr Robinah Kulabako: A new vision for empowered communities and safe water in Kampala

Dr Robinah Kulabako of Makerere University describes the research work of T-GroUP – one of five projects in the UPGro (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor) and her work on Transition Management to trigger community action to improve access to safe water.

Listen to the interview with her by Isaiah Esipisu on Soundcloud

Find out more here: t-group.science
and here: UPGro/T-GroUP

Photo: Dr. Kulabako at Africa Water Week 2018 (I. Esipisu)

Groundwater – a hidden resource that has always evaded UN climate talks

By Isaiah Esipisu

A new study that was recently published in the Nature scientific journal shows that groundwater is one of the most climate resilient natural resources especially for the African continent. This is contrary to the earlier understanding by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report , that groundwater was susceptible to climate change in dryland areas.

Though it has not been a subject for major discussions at the 2019 UN Conference of Parties (COP25) on climate change in Madrid, experts believe that groundwater will be at the centre of climate adaptation particularly for African countries.

Richard Taylor, a Professor of Hydrogeology from University College London (UCL) and one of the lead researchers of the Nature study explained why groundwater should be a focal point for climate discussions.

IE: How important is groundwater to climate change adaptation especially in Africa?

RT: Groundwater plays a fundamental role in enabling communities in Africa to adapt to climate change. As our world warms, rainfall becomes less frequent but more intensive resulting in longer droughts and worsening floods – changes that occur most strongly in the tropics.

Adapting to this greater variability in water resources relies on the ability to draw water from stores such as groundwater or to store water in dams for example.

Groundwater, which comprises 99 percent of the Earth’s liquid water, amounts to more than 100 times that of annual river discharge in Africa.

For cities in Africa that have recently experienced severe droughts such as Cape Town and Dar es Salaam, groundwater has played a critical role in enabling residents in those cities to adapt to water scarcity.

Less frequent rainfalls also reduce crop yields. Increasing cropland irrigation is a critical strategy to improve food security in Africa under climate change. As smallholder farmers account for the vast majority of food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, distributed groundwater supplies are often the most cost-effective and sustainable sources of water for irrigation.

IE: How resilient or vulnerable is groundwater to climate change?

RT: Groundwater resources are generally resilient to climate change. Recent evidence from a pan-African study shows that replenishment of groundwater occurs preferentially from heavy rainfalls so that changes in rainfall brought about by climate change favour groundwater replenishment. Alas, these same changes in rainfall reduce soil moisture and lead to greater and more frequent flood events.

IE: Why do you think this subject has not been able to attract the attention of climate change negotiators for the past 25 years of negotiation?

That is a good question. Groundwater is often called the hidden or invisible resource as it lies unseen beneath our feet. Limited understanding of groundwater by both policy makers and engineers means that it is often considered mysterious or unknowable.

The impact of climate change on groundwater resources has been largely ignored by the climate change community until last year when it was captured in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

This is surprising in light of the critical role groundwater plays in sustaining rivers, lakes and other aquatic ecosystems during low or absent rainfall.

IE: What do you think should be done to bring the groundwater subject to the helm of climate negotiations?

RT: There is need for raising awareness of the critical role of groundwater to improving the resilience of water and food systems in Africa in relation to climate change.

It is in that regard that scientists from different parts of the world are issuing a Call to Action this week, through a statement published in the Nature journal, which argue that we are not doing enough to protect and manage global groundwater resources, which will have long-term effects on the planet’s drinking water, food production, and adaptation to a rapidly changing climate.

This statement focuses on the global role of groundwater in relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Framework for Action on Groundwater Governance, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

It builds on previous important declarations and statements, including the Valencia declaration on Intensive Groundwater Use (2002), the Kampala statement on Groundwater and Climate in Africa (2008), ISMAR9 call to Action on Sustainable Groundwater Management Policy Directives (2016).

This call has so far been endorsed by over 700 scientists and practitioners in over 80 countries and is timed to coincide with the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Madrid (COP 25) and the beginning of the Decade of Action on the UN Agenda 2030.

IE: What kind of policies should African governments put in place in order to ensure sustainable use of groundwater?

RT: African governments could do two things. One, they could increase investment in understanding their groundwater resources through the training of staff and the monitoring and evaluation of their groundwater resources.

Two, they could integrate groundwater into its evaluation and governance of water resources more holistically that is currently dominated by concern for surface waters.

In light of the central importance of groundwater to adaptation to climate change, African governments could use support under the Green Climate Fund to finance the implications of these policy recommendations.

Photo: Richard Taylor, UCL

The climate is changing – we need groundwater more than ever

UPGro Ambassador, Dr Callist Tindimugaya, attended last month’s COP meeting in Madrid – the United Nations global negotiation meeting to try an agree ways forward to tackle climate change.

He was attending as part of the Government of Uganda delegation to bring forward opportunities and challenges – in particular the key role of groundwater as a resource that can help buffer against some of the effects of shifting rainfall patterns across Eastern Africa.

In this interview with Isaiah Esipisu, he explains why African groundwater needs to be on the lips of the climate negotiators.

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

By ISAIAH ESIPISU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also read and listen to:

The Top 4 Welfare Priorities for Kwale County, Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

More information:

Also from Gro for GooD:

UPGro Early Career Researchers: Q&A with Suleiman Mwakurya

Suleiman Mwakurya worked as a research assistant on the Gro for GooD project in Kenya, based out of the Rural Focus field office in Kwale. He recently took on a new role working for the Kwale County Government. Gro for GooD Co-I Patrick Thomson caught up with him to find out about his new job.

PT: What is your current job now and how does it links back to your work with Gro for GooD?

SM: I started work as Superintendent Geologist for Kwale County Government at the end of 2018. My main role is carrying out hydrogeological surveys for the county government, and I’m also involved in supervision of the drilling machinery owned by the County, supervising the drilling crew and managing the rig. When I’m not in the field, I’m in the office working on project management and evaluating tenders for drilling of new boreholes. We are overwhelmed with boreholes! Everyone is coming to the county government asking for help with the drilling machine – more people want boreholes – we have a backlog of over 100 boreholes so we have been tendering some of this work to private contractors. I’m involved in designing of programmes of works for these contractors – how and where they are going to drill, installation and how management will be handed over to the county government. I also do some installation of solar pumps, electric pumps and handpumps. I really thank UPGro in general, and the whole Gro for GooD fraternity… as the project certainly equipped me with some of the skills which I’m currently using, including handpump repair and installation.

PT: How has Gro for GooD research influenced the development and management of groundwater resources in Kwale County?

SM: The County doesn’t have a lot of resources for groundwater development and groundwater monitoring. We have been drilling boreholes but we don’t have data. Hydrogeologists like Mike Lane and Professor Dan Olago can help the County with the kind of information, data and expertise that they have in terms of groundwater management. Capacity building and training for county staff is also useful. The County is working on the World Bank funded Kwale County Water Supply Master Plan and we are in the initial stages of this for the three major towns – Ukunda, Msambweni and Kwale—targeting the palaeochannels [water-bearing geological features located by the Gro for GooD project]. We are through with 28 exploratory boreholes and have the results, so are now preparing to drill a number of production boreholes. The timing will depend on the procurement process but hopefully drilling will commence in 2020. The first step will be to drill three boreholes in Kinondo, which are the ones that are going to be used to supply Ukunda town. After that we hope to drill another three boreholes in Msambweni and Milalani to supply Msambweni.

Drilling in Kwale Country (credit: Mike Lane)

PT: Tell us about your time with UPGro.

SM: I worked on the Gro for GooD project for about two and a half years. I was based in the field office in Bomani, Kwale County and was closely involved with the water quality research – sampling and recording data at 49 sampling sites every fortnight. I also assisted on the geophysical surveys, household surveys and surface water monitoring. Actually the skills I acquired at UPGro have made a big improvement in my career, particularly the experience of working on geophysical surveys and groundwater monitoring. I also had training and experience with organisation and interpretation of data as the project collected a large volume of data on groundwater, rainfall, surface water and water quality. Calvince [Wara – Research Manager at the Bomani field office] was a very good mentor for me and helped me develop skills in data management and analysis. Working with the Gro for GooD project has also inspired me on the welfare side – the household surveys made me aware of issues for people around here who face difficulty with water supplies. In densely populated areas, we see many people queueing up to use the same handpump. I have been developing proposals to upgrade some handpumps to solar pumps.

PT: What are your plans for the future?

SM: I have a passion for hydrogeology and I’m happy that the Gro for GooD project helped me develop this passion. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of Nairobi in 2013. I started working as a drilling supervisor and then I joined the UPGro project and it has really opened up how I look at hydrogeology and groundwater. I learnt a lot of things from it. I’ve been looking into applying for an MSc programme maybe in Hydrogeology, or perhaps Geophysics or Hydrogeochemistry.