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.

AMCOW launches its Pan-African Groundwater Program

re-posted from GRIPP

AMCOW, the intergovernmental apex body on water in Africa, was established in 2002 with its secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria, to provide political oversight and promote cooperation, security, social and economic development, and poverty eradication among member states.

The aim is to achieve this through the effective management of the continent’s water resources, and the provision of water supply and sanitation services.In recognition of the importance of groundwater to the continent’s sustainable development, a continent-wide strategic groundwater initiative was part of the resolution of AMCOW’s Sixth Ordinary Session in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, in May 2007.

While initial ambitions evolved around formalizing the initiative as an African Groundwater Commission, subsequent attempts and further analysis carried out at several meetings, including the Technical Advisory Meeting and Africa Groundwater Stakeholders Workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2017, and the 7th Africa Water Week in Libreville, Gabon, in 2018, resulted in the initiative being invigorated as the strategic APAGroP.

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Dr. Karen Villholth, Leader of IWMI’s Research Group on Resilient and Sustainable Groundwater, emphasized the strength in partnerships in bringing forward the agenda of APAGroP (photo: AMCOW).

APAGroP strongly aligns with the AMCOW strategy for the period 2018-2030, guiding its activities and the continent towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the Africa Water Vision 2025 and the AfricaSan Ngor Commitments for sanitation and hygiene.

Dr. Canisius Kanangire, Executive Secretary, AMCOW, expressed his appreciation and satisfaction with the present momentum, and support towards consolidating and further rolling out the Pan-African Groundwater Program (APAGroP).

The Experts’ and Stakeholders’ workshop provided background presentations of APAGroP as well as fruitful deliberation on the state of knowledge and management of groundwater in the African continent.

Presentations were made by AMCOW, international and African research institutions, Regional Economic Communities:

  • Economic Community of Central African States [ECCAS],
  • Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS],
  • Intergovernmental Authority on Development [IGAD],
  • Southern African Development Community [SADC]),

international and intergovernmental organizations:

  •  Center for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe [CEDARE],
  • Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel [OSS]), as well as key international river basin organizations
  • African Network of Basin Organizations [ANBO]) and financing institutions.

The workshop was supported by AMCOW; a recent Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) networking grant to the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the British Geological Survey (BGS); and the successful research program – Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro),

It helped crystalize a way forward in further harnessing and harvesting best knowledge and practice around groundwater to support sustainable development in the continent. GRIPP was strongly represented at the workshop through the following partners:

  • Africa Groundwater Network (AGW-Net);
  • Association of Water Well Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioners (AWDROP);
  • BGS; Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany;
  • International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH);
  • International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC);
  • IWMI;
  • Skat Consulting Ltd. (Skat);
  • The World Bank (WB); and
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP).

These partners expressed strong interest in further supporting the rollout of APAGroP.

Photo: AMCOW

Groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa – special issue of Hydrogeology Journal

The IAH Hydrogeology Journal has published a special issue focusing on groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa and good overview is provided in the online Preface.

The main UPGro contributions are:

Prof. Dan Olago (University of Nairobi / Gro for GooD) Constraints and solutions for groundwater development, supply and governance in urban areas in Kenya

Dr Callist Tindimugaya (MWE Uganda / UPGro Ambassador) Review: Challenges and opportunities for sustainable groundwater management in Africa

Groundwater and African National Development Strategies

Keynote address by Dr Callist Tindimugaya, Ministry of Water & Environment, Uganda (UPGro Ambassador)

[Correction: the co-author of the abstract is Dr Andrew Bullock, not Sean Furey]

“Groundwater is poised to play a key role in Africa’s transformation. Over two-thirds of African nations have made specific reference to groundwater within their National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategies.

Water is very strongly represented in such National Strategies, and across the pillars. There are three main clusters of pillars at the core of the development strategies namely

(i) unlocking Growth Potential – including water within the productive sectors of agriculture, energy, water transport, mining, business enterprises,

(ii) Social Well Being – including WASH, sanitary urban environments and disease reduction, and

(iii) Governance and Human Capital – around issues of environmental compliance, water policy and management, climate adaptation, decentralisation, private sector, regional integration.

The National Strategies of many countries make explicit reference to groundwater and there is a significant concentration of strategy around groundwater in support of urban centres and rural water supply, amid other governance, policy, financing, institutional and sustainability issues. It is therefore important to get the key players appreciate that a strong connection exists between groundwater and Africa’s politically-owned agenda of national development, inclusive growth and poverty reduction.

It means that research links to poverty can evolve from conceptual frameworks towards the actual political commitments to use groundwater towards poverty reduction in Africa. There is therefore a need to look at a significant African process around the AfricaWater Vision, the Sharm-el-Sheik commitments to delivery, national monitoring and evaluation systems and the associated agenda of key African actors, notably the African Union, African Ministerial Council on Water, the African Development Bank and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and how they can help move the groundwater agenda forward.

“This paper presents proposals on how the role of groundwater on the continent can be enhanced and appreciated so as to support National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategies.”

 

Source: Conference Abstract

Photo: SADC-GMI (via Twitter)

Facing the groundwater threats and opportunities in Southern Africa

This week, regional and international water experts have converged on Johannesburg at the 1st Groundwater Conference of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The event has been convened by the SADC Groundwater Management Institute (GMI) in assocciation with a number of partners including GRIPP

UPGro has a strong presence at the event as part of the build-up to Africa Water Week next month, in Gabon:

  • Opening Keynote: Karen G. Villholth (GroFutures) and Jude Cobbing.
    “Adapting to Climate Change in the SADC Region – A Focus on Groundwater.”
  • Presentation: Theresa Mkandawire (Hidden Crisis) presented “An analysis of hand pump boreholes functionality in Malawi.”
  • Keynote speaker: Alan McDonald. (Hidden Crisis/GroFutures) “Resilience of rural
    groundwater supplies to climate change”
  • Presentation: Thokozani Mtewa,Evance Mwathunga and Wapulumuka Mulwafu.
    (Hidden Crisis) “They gave us breakfast and a good meal’: Roles, perceptions and
    motivations of water point area mechanics in the maintenance of borehole handpumps in Balaka district, Malawi.”
  • Keynote speaker: Dr Callist Tindimugaya “Groundwater and African National Development Strategies”

You can follow the conference on Twitter: #gwconference2018

photo : Prof Theresa Makandawire presenting UPGro Hidden Crisis work in Malawi (credit BGS via Twitter)

 

UPGro Ambassador leads “Groundwater in IWRM” training in Mali

re-posted from Cap-Net newsletter

A Training Workshop on Groundwater Management within IWRM in River Basin Context was held from 21 to 25 November 2017 in Ségou, Mali.  It was organised in collaboration with the Country Coordination of Natural Resources Users in the Niger Basin (CNU-Mali), Regional Coordination of Natural Resources Users in the Niger Basin (CRU-BN) and Africa Groundwater Network (AGW-Net). The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Moustapha DIENE Hydrogeologist at University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (Senegal), AGW-Net Manager and Prof. Amadou Zanga Traoré, retired Professor in Hydrogeology, from ENI (School of Engineers in Bamako, Mali).

Continue reading UPGro Ambassador leads “Groundwater in IWRM” training in Mali

“Groundwater is the key to Unlocking Green Growth in Africa”

On 25th October, the prestigious keynote Ineson Lecture 2017 at the Geological Society in London was given by Dr Callist Tindimugaya, head of Water Resource Planning and Regulation in Uganda’s Ministry of Water & Environment, and one of four UPGro Ambassadors. In his speech he highlighted the importance understanding and managing groundwater well, not for its own sake but because it is a natural resource that underpins most, if not all, African societies and economies.

However, he expressed his frustration that the economic contribution of this resource has not yet been properly quantified so that its invisible contribution is made plain to all, from ordinary citizens to political leaders. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by the many initiatives across the continent to address the knowledge gaps and to improve the visibility and use of groundwater – in particular the importance of the UPGro programme and GRIPP. He concluded: “You cannot milk a cow, if you do not feed it”, likewise if the potential benefits of Africa’s aquifers are to be realised, then investment is needed in research, monitoring, regulation and – most of all – in education and training.

The day-long event was well attended and as well as a lively debate and a presentation by Guy Howard, DFID WASH policy team leader, there were numerous inputs from across UPGro, including: presentations by Prof. Richard Taylor about GroFutures and the Chronicles Consortium; from Brighid Ó Dochartaigh about the Africa Groundwater Altas; from Prof. Alan MacDonald about the Hidden Crisis project; and an array of posters from UPGro Catalyst and Consortia research, including a poster on the AMGRAF project by David Walker (Newcastle University) supported by UPGro and REACH, which had won the award for best Early Career Researcher poster at the recent 44th IAH Congress in Dubrovnik.

A huge thank you to Brighid Ó Dochartaigh and all the organisers at  IAH BGS, and Geol. Soc.

 

UPGro takes advice from leading African experts

The day before the 2017 Ineson Lecture, a meeting was held in the Council Chamber of the Geological Society in London at which the project leaders, programme board members from NERC and DFID, and the Knowledge Broker team met with three of the UPGro Ambassadors: Dr Callist Tindimugaya, Ministry of Water & Environment, Uganda; Prof. Moustapha Diene, U. Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal; Prof. Muna Mirghani, Technische Universität Berlin.

Prof. Richard Carter made opening remarks on behalf of the Knowledge Broker team welcoming everyone to the event followed an icebreaker exercise so that everyone in the room got to know each other.

The aim of the workshop was to bring together representatives from the UPGro Consortia, the Knowledge Broker team, the Programme Executive Board (PEB), and the UPGro Ambassadors to reflect on the progress of the UPGro programme to date and to set the priorities for maximising the impact of the research over the next 2 years. It was the first opportunity for the Ambassadors to share their experiences of the challenges and opportunities facing groundwater resources across Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in relation to improving opportunities for the poor.

The three UPGro Ambassadors who were present gave a short overview of their backgrounds, their current role and their personal and professional interests in African groundwater research, development and management. They were all co-founders of the African Groundwater Network.

Prof. Dr Moustapha Diene

  • Senior Assistant Professor
  • Started in surface water
  • Interested in capacity development and practical knowledge of groundwater (manager of AGW-Net)
  • Groundwater is mysterious and difficult to illustrate

Prof. Dr Muna Mirghani

  • Visiting Professor lecturing in IWRM and runs WaterTrac consultancy in Sudan
  • Started in civil engineering
  • Interested in groundwater within IWRM implementation and governance (including catchment frameworks and transboundary issues) and drought governance.

Dr Callist Tindimugaya

  • Commissioner for Water Resources Planning & Regulation
  • Has worked for the Government since 1990 on water and groundwater in particular.
  • Interested in getting groundwater high on the agenda of political leaders and funders.

Each Ambassador presented an overview of what they see as the key issues facing the understanding, use and management of groundwater in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Using posters that had been created at a previous UPGro workshop (in Montpellier, Sept 2016), members from each of the five projects, plus Brighid from the Africa Groundwater Atlas, gave concise overviews of what each study is trying to achieve and summary of some of the early findings that are emerging.

After the presentations in the morning, the afternoon focused on discussions that pulled together the various strands of the conversation so far and some important questions to the Ambassadors on ways that the UPGro research can create more impact:

How do we move beyond conventional dissemination pathways and in what form do we deliver that information?

  • Be ready to share now what is being done, not waiting until the end. Otherwise, there is a danger that stakeholders think you have an agenda. Use national fora like Joint Sector Reviews and sector working groups to get some feedback and build appetite for your research. Remember to use simple language but not to over-simplify your message.
  • Politicians need to be approached indirectly. Decisions are made at a technical level. Build confidence in the results. Politicians learn through their assistants.

Other observations on research into action:

  • An important role for the Knowledge Broker is to interpret results and make them as non-technical as possible, without misrepresenting the extent to which the results answer the questions that decision-makers may have;
  • Corruption: can lead to evidence being completely ignored, and is difficult to deal with;
  • Political leaders have to make socially acceptable trade-offs, and are aware that citizens en masse have power through votes and demonstrations;
  • It is important to be neutral and not to frame evidence to push a specific gender;
  • Where are the influencing opportunities on the horizon?
  • Peer-to-peer learning between countries, River Basin Organisations, governments, donors can be an important uptake mechanism for new evidence;
  • Good short, punchy stories are important because they can be used as anecdotes to explain why UPGro is a great programme. These stories should not be afraid to cut-across projects where there is a common topic, such as finance, gender, climate change or governance.

Sum-up by Richard Carter

1. Integration of social and physical sciences : each project is taking a slightly different approach;

2. Synthesising: We need to get the messages right; there are some assumption about groundwater responses to wider changes (population growth, climate change) that shouldn’t be taken for granted;

3. There are variety of non-specialist audiences and we need to cater for that, from school children to senior government advisors;

4. We need to elevate the conversation beyond groundwater to the wider issues around food security, environment, industrialisation and employment.

5. We should be more confident about the positioning of groundwater – most of the world’s fresh water is groundwater so our communication should be too shy about that.

From the left – Moustapha Diene; Brighid Ó Dochartaigh, Muna Mirghani, Callist Tindimugaya, Richard Taylor, Alan MacDonald, Rob Hope, Kirsty Upton, Mohammad Shamsudduha, Tom Doyle, Michelle Truman, Jan Willem Foppen. (Not in the picture: Richard Carter, Ken Wright, Ken de Souza, Sean Furey)

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: