Ministerial body goes underground in search for water solution amid climate change

by Isaiah Esipisu for PAMACC News Agency

KAMPALA, Uganda (PAMACC News) – As climatic conditions continue to disrupt normal rainfall patterns, drying up rivers and streams, the African Ministers’ Council on Water is now seeking to understand groundwater, following numerous studies that have shown that it is key to building resilience.

“The volume of groundwater in Africa is estimated at 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 underutilized,” said Dr Paul Orengoh, the Director of Programs at African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW).

This comes after a recent study led by scientists from University College London (UCL)and published in the Nature Journal suggested that groundwater in the Sub Saharan Africa region was resilient to extreme climate conditions, making it a key resource for climate change adaptation.

To examine how groundwater is replenished, Prof Richard Taylor of UCL together with several other scientists from different institutions abroad and in collaboration with their counterparts in Africa examined how different aquifers behaved with different rainfall patterns.

“Our results suggest that the intense rainfall brought about by global warming strongly favours the renewal of groundwater resources,” said Prof Taylor noting that over half the world’s population is predicted to live in the tropics by 2050, and therefore dependence on groundwater as a resource will continue to rise.

And now, AMCOW has formed an initiative that will help member states understand their water resources, manage it sustainable, and use it for poverty alleviation in their respective countries.

“The AMCOW Pan-African Groundwater Programme shortened as APAGroP seeks to improve the policy and practice of groundwater in Africa for better lives and livelihoods in all the 55 member countries,” said Orengoh.

Studies have shown that at least 320 million people in Africa lack access to safe water supplies, and therefore developing groundwater resources sustainably, according to experts, is a realistic way of meeting this need across Africa.

APAGroP therefore comes in to bridge the knowledge deficits gap around groundwater on the continent.

Through the initiative, AMCOW seeks to support Member States to develop, manage, and utilize water resources to assure water, food and energy security in Africa. “WASH has historically attracted prime attention. Strategy is raising the priority given to water for food, energy and industrial production,” said Orengoh.

Speaking at the recently concluded African Water Association (AfWA) Congress in Kampala Uganda, Dr Callist Tindimugaya, the Commissioner for Water Resources Planning and Regulation Ministry of Water and Environment in Uganda said that there is need to to support and implement APAGrop- from transboundary to local scale.

“APAGrop should have a strong link with all Regional Economic Communities, River Basin Organisations and member states for easy implementation,” he said. “These regional organisations and member states can contribute through actual implementation on the ground, capacity building, resource mobilization, and advocacy,” noted Dr Tindimugaya.

Apart from regional platforms and member states, AMCOW seeks to work in close collaboration with consumptive sectors, which include agriculture, water supply, industry, among others through appropriate platforms.
Others are research-to-use organizations and associations such as the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH), Civil Society Organisations, the private sector and international bodies and organisations.

“By the end of the day, we expect to have increased knowledge base on groundwater resources, strengthened groundwater networks, strengthened capacity for groundwater development and management across all member states, and strengthened multi-purpose and sustainable use of groundwater to enhance water and food security and climate resilience,” said Dr Orengoh.

“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.

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Meeting Kenyan girls’ thirst for groundwater knowledge through ‘Water Clubs’

by Nancy Gladstone and Saskia Nowicki, Gro for GooD project, November 2017

Red dye spreading through a model ‘aquifer’ helps girls from Kingwede School in Kwale County, Kenya understand how pollutants travel in groundwater. The students are part of a school water club supported by the Gro for GooD project in partnership with mining company Base Titanium Ltd. Maji (water in Swahili) clubs  at 3 secondary schools within the Gro for GooD study area are proving to be an effective outreach mechanism for the groundwater research project. Almost 100 students are involved and over half of them are girls. The focus is on learning through activities, which have included hands-on sessions about groundwater recharge, storage and pollution using aquifer kits; practical experiments using water quality tests to demonstrate simple water filters and safe water storage; installing and gathering data from rain gauges; and field trips to see industrial water use and borehole drilling.

We asked the girls at Kingwede Maji to write a short paragraph on why they signed up to the club. Their responses indicated just how aware they are of the problems associated with inadequate water management – the risk of disease, time-consuming treks to waterpoints, seasonal water scarcity — and just how motivated they are to find solutions.

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Students at Mivumoni School collecting samples for water quality testing during a club activity led by Geofrey Wekesa (teacher and researcher, also pictured above)

 

“Where I live we have rivers and also other sources of water. Our water get polluted especially the river water mainly from animal waste. I am in this club so that I can know how to treat the water so that it can be safe for use.” Munirah R.

“I am so eager to know how that water from the river may reach nearer where we can easily get it. Reason being that from our homes to the river is quite a long distance and it usually takes us almost a whole day looking for the water. Which is time wasting and also tiresome.” Jackline K.

“The reason as to why I am interested in this water project is to know why some of the areas in Kwale County and all other parts in our country have scarce water supply? And what causes this? And what are the things which we can do to avoid this?” Halimah A.

The clubs are now working on group projects with remote support (via WhatsApp groups!) from staff and students at the University of Oxford. Meanwhile, Gro for GooD researchers and the clubs’ champion teachers are preparing material for a resource package that will capture the learning from the programme. We are also working on developing partnerships and networks for wider dissemination of the resources in Kenya.

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Students from Kingwede Girls School learning about industrial water use on a trip to Base Titanium mine. A major goal of the initiative is showcasing career options and pathways in environmental science and management.

It is inspiring how much these students want to deepen and share their understanding of water. Whether they decide to pursue careers in water management or simply become better-informed members of groundwater-reliant communities, the knowledge they gain through the water clubs will help them have a positive impact.

“When the club was introduced to my school I saw it as a big opportunity and decided to join it because I knew I would get ideas that would help back at home. My hope is that I will learn several ways to purify water which will bring an impact back to my home county.” Fatma M.

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How far has devolution come in Kenya?

There is more to UPGro than rocks… for groundwater to benefit the poor, African governments need evolve and improve. Johanna Koehler, a doctoral researcher at Oxford University (Gro for GooD), reports on her experiences last year with Kenya at The Third Annual Devolution Conference,  Meru, Kenya, April 2016

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Johanna Koehler giving a statement (Photo: Oxford)

Devolution is here to last! This message was delivered loud and clear at the Third Annual Devolution Conference in Kenya, organised by the Council of Governors. In three years this conference has become an important gathering of national and county government representatives, academia, private sector and civil society to discuss the benefits and challenges of devolution. A brief I wrote on water policy choices of Kenya’s 47 county governments sparked interest among national and county governments and led to an invitation to share key findings at the conference to an audience of over 6,000 people.

Continue reading How far has devolution come in Kenya?