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.

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.”

 

Dodowa residents prone to diseases from contaminated wells – Research

by Gifty Amofa/Christabella Arkvi, Ghana News Agency 

More than 12,000 people are likely to contract water-borne diseases if they continue to use water from their contaminated dug wells in Dodowa, in the Greater Accra Region, according to a research report.

Samples of water were tested for rotavirus, bacteriological quality and others, with about 27 percent of the dug wells testing positive for Rotavirus in the Zongo, Wedokum, Obom and Apperkon communities, where the research was conducted.

Professor Sampson Oduro-Kwarteng, an Associate Professor of the Department of Civil Engineering, of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), who shared the findings, said the groundwater, located near toilet facilities and refuse dumps had been contaminated with human and animal excreta.

Continue reading Dodowa residents prone to diseases from contaminated wells – Research

Policy priorities for the boom in urban private wells – IWA The Source

Rapid urban population growth has led to a boom in private well construction to access groundwater supplies. Evidence from four Indian cities highlights the need for coherent public policy to harmonise private and public investment in urban water supply. By Mohammad Faiz Alam and Stephen Foster.

Read on: https://www.thesourcemagazine.org/policy-priorities-for-the-boom-in-urban-private-wells/

Trickle-down effect: why groundwater recharge processes matter for climate resilience

by Sean Furey (Skat/UPGro Knowledge Broker) in GeoDrilling International

Drilling for water is only useful if there is good water to be had now and into the future. Since 2013, researchers in the UK-funded programme Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor, have been working all over Africa to understand better the continent’s aquifers and how their hidden wealth can be used to benefit everyone. Now after years of patient work, exciting results and resources are emerging.

One is that the Africa Groundwater Atlas, curated by the British Geological Survey now has downloadable GIS maps for 38 countries. They are quite large scale, so not detailed enough for individual borehole siting, but a good starting point for identifying where major aquifers are. This supports the wealth of other useful information, in English and French, on the soils, climate and groundwater use in all 52 of Africa’s countries.

Continue reading Trickle-down effect: why groundwater recharge processes matter for climate resilience

Groundwater supplies on Kenya’s coast must be managed for people and industry

Photo – Diani Beach, Kenya. Dan Rata/Shutterstock, via The Conversation

Nuria Ferrer Ramos, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech

Industry is growing along Kenya’s coast, and some of these companies – such as mining and agricultural companies – are water intensive. To meet their demand, most industries are turning to groundwater.

Groundwater is a natural resource that exists beneath the earth’s surface in soil pore spaces and in the fractures of rock formations. It can be stored in, or move through, aquifers: a body of permeable rock – like gravel or sand.

Groundwater has many intrinsic advantages: it can be developed quickly (and at a relatively low cost), it’s easy to find, it’s drought resilient and can meet water needs on demand. This has made it a crucial component in rural water supply, and for industry.

The problem is, even though Kenya has policies, laws, and institutions that are specifically dedicated to managing groundwater, in practice, groundwater is treated as a common pool resource, belonging to whoever owns the land overlying the aquifer. The majority of water users ignore the potential long-term consequences of unregulated use.

This is what’s happening in Kwale county, on the southern coast of Kenya. Over half a billion US dollars in capital investment has been made in two water-reliant industries in Kwale: heavy sands mining and commercial sugarcane. In addition to this Kwale also hosts significant tourism.

Because aquifers in Kenya are not always properly managed, my colleagues and I wanted to know how increased abstraction of groundwater by industries could affect local communities that use groundwater as their main water supply.

We found that, at the moment, the new industries are not affecting the water supply for local communities. What is affecting the community wells are long drought periods, such as the last drought which lasted from 2016 to early 2017. The consequences of dry wells are that people have to walk further to get water, and water becomes more expensive to buy.

For industry, understanding investor risk and liability for groundwater sustainability would seem prudent, if not a legal obligation, before major abstraction starts.

Our research shows that groundwater resources can be significant and resilient to unpredictable but recurrent drought events, if understood and managed properly.

Sustainable use?

We focused our study on the Msambweni aquifer, located on the coast of Kwale county in Kenya. This aquifer system is composed of a shallow aquifer (about 25 metres thick) and a deep aquifer below this shallow aquifer (about 350 metres thick).

The shallow aquifer is recharged by rain through the ground surface and the deep aquifer is recharged by water that flows underground from the Shimba Hills.

The shallow aquifer is mainly exploited by the local rural communities and the hotels located near the coastline. The deep aquifer is exploited by the mining and sugar operations.

The communities rely heavily on shallow groundwater, which they get from wells or by using a handpump in a borehole, because they don’t have piped water, and water from the two main rivers in the area is not considered safe to drink. Also, in the 1980s, the Swedish International Development Agency installed hundreds of handpumps at boreholes in Kwale county.

Industries now also rely on groundwater. But they use new boreholes, equipped with electrical pumps, that reach the deep aquifer. These have higher abstraction rates than traditional dug wells or shallow boreholes equipped with handpumps.

When investigating whether these users are using the groundwater sustainably, it’s important to point out that sustainability is variable through time. Not all water users exploit the same aquifer layers.

At present, the main industries in the area exploit the deep aquifer because it’s more resilient to drought. So the industries aren’t affecting the shallow community wells.

However, this could change. If droughts become more frequent, or last longer, there will be less groundwater stored.

Data challenges

It’s important to highlight the data challenges we faced, and how we reached our findings.

We tried to define the groundwater abstraction of all the main users, but couldn’t. As in many other countries, abstraction data for wells and boreholes is difficult to get.

So we needed to come up with a new methodology to estimate how much abstraction was happening in areas with uncertain or no data.

Collaboration between stakeholders during this study was essential.

Most of the time, water-reliant users such as the industries collect specific hydrogeological information, like aquifer storage or how much they pump, because they’re trying to use the water efficiently.

We also identified hotels, noted the number of their rooms and interviewed hotel managers to estimate tourism abstraction along the coast using easy tools like Google Earth and TripAdvisor.

Alongside this, it was important to develop a monitoring network, covering the whole aquifer area. We used well measurements to get an idea of the aquifer system, its volume and dynamics, and assess the sustainability of abstraction.

Future approaches

While this data pointed to a scenario where industry was having a minimal impact, things could change.

Enterprises and government may find environmental sustainability of secondary importance to advancing economic production, creating local jobs and new sources of taxation. Government leadership is needed to manage the aquifer as a system for all, including environmental services, rather than for the powerful few.

Albert Folch, Mike Lane, Daniel Olago, Jacob Katuva, Patrick Thomson, Sonia Jou, Rob Hope and Emilio Custodio were key contributors to this studyThe Conversation

Nuria Ferrer Ramos, Hydrogeologist, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – BarcelonaTech

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This study was funded from the UK Government via NERC, ESRC and DFID as part of the Gro for GooD project (UPGro Consortium Grant: NE/M008894/1). Nuria Ferrer is affiliated with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (DECA), Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Jordi Girona 1-3, 08034 Barcelona, Spain. Associated Unit: Hydrogeology Group (UPC-CSIC), Spain.

 

Importance of groundwater stressed at climate conference

by Isaiah Esipisu via PAMACC

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (PAMACC News) – Delegates at the Africa Climate Risks Conference have been informed that groundwater is more resilient to extreme climatic conditions especially in arid and semi arid areas, contrary to earlier beliefs – that the resource was vulnerable to the changing climatic conditions.

“Through a project known as Groundwater Futures in Africa, we analysed the relationship between climate change and variability and groundwater in 14 sites in Africa,” Martin Todd, a Professor of Climate Change at the University of Sussex, Department of Geography.

“What we found is that in arid regions, there was episodic recharge, which occur mainly as a result of intense storms that happen every few years, and sometimes even in years of low total precipitation,” said

This, according to the scientist, it means that climate plays a dominant role in controlling the process by which groundwater is restocked.

Generally, it means that extreme periodic flooding is what recharges aquifers in such arid and semi arid areas, providing a lifeline and livelihoods for people who depend on groundwater in such areas.

The findings, which have since been published in the Nature scientific journal contradicts the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which states that ‘climate change over the twenty-first century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions, intensifying competition for water among sectors.’

According to Prof Todd, groundwater is generally overlooked in terms of climate impact, and it is also an overlooked resource in Africa and underutilised compared to other continents.

“With the rapid population growth and quest for development, there is going to be huge demand on water resources, and therefore we expect that groundwater is a resource that will be heavily developed in the future because climate change and variability is going to place increasing threat to surface water,” he said.

The new findings from the study, which was supported by the United Kingdom research councils (Natural Environment Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), the Department for International Development (DFID) and The Royal Society also highlight the need for improvements in models of climate and hydrology.

The report indicates that climate models that can better predict the variability and intensity of precipitation events at the local scale, as well as the large scale, would allow hydrological models to better represent replenishment processes.

Given a fact that extreme floods can be predicted up to nine months in advance, the researchers say that there is a possibility of designing schemes to enhance groundwater recharge by capturing a portion of flood discharges via a process known as Managed Aquifer Recharge.

According to the British Geological survey, successful and sustainable development of groundwater resources in Africa is critical for future safe water supplies, economic growth and food security in the continent.

The findings have come at a time several cities across the continent are beginning to exploit the groundwater, which has for long been considered a hidden resource.

So far, groundwater plays a central role in sustaining water supplies and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa due to its widespread availability, generally high quality, and intrinsic ability to buffer episodes of drought and increasing climate variability.

Given the drying rivers and streams, and unpredictable rainfall patterns, groundwater is likely going to be a golden resource in Africa’s rural communities both for domestic consumption and irrigation.

Photo: Isaiah Esipisu

 

“Groundwater levels in nine African countries raise hopes for a more resilient future” Geographical Magazine

UPGro Grofutures /Cardiff University work is featured in this month’s print and online version of Geographical Magazine, the popular science magazine of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), in London.

Humans take the water we need, be it for drinking or irrigation, from one of two sources: surface water, contained in lakes, rivers and reservoirs; and groundwater, in which water flows through porous rocks beneath the ground. In the UK, how much we rely on the latter depends on where we live and the type of rock which makes up the land (not at all in Scotland; quite a bit in London, where groundwater is rising in parts). But in much of sub-Saharan Africa, groundwater is a vital resource. It is often the only source of clean drinking water in rural areas and its use is also increasing in cities. Working out how groundwater levels will react to climate change is therefore vital.

Read on here

Study shows boreholes are key to drought resilience in Ethiopia

BGS Press Release

Installing more boreholes to tap underground water will improve rural Ethiopian
communities’ resilience to drought, according to a new report.

Research carried out by the British Geological Survey (BGS), the University of Addis Ababa and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) showed that people who have access to groundwater from boreholes are much less affected by drought than those who rely on wells or springs for their water supply. The report also links the shortage of water to:

  • conflict in local areas
  • migration
  • a decline in breastfeeding rates
  • a rise in miscarriage rates
  • more children missing school

Groundwater experts from the BGS monitored 19 hand-dug wells, springs and boreholes in two districts in northern Ethiopia over 18 months. They also held focus-group discussions with local people, including school and health centre staff, near each of the groundwater sources.

The team found that boreholes drilled to 50–100 m were the most reliable source of water during the extended drought of 2015–16 and through the dry season.

Prof Alan MacDonald, the BGS hydrogeologist who led the research, said: ‘We found that
boreholes equipped with hand pumps were more reliable than springs or hand-dug wells, and this reliability was not affected by drought or seasonal change. As hand-dug wells dried up and springs failed, the boreholes we monitored gave exactly the same flow throughout the year.

‘Boreholes also had better water quality. As the drought ended and rain started falling many of the springs and hand-dug wells became grossly contaminated. The boreholes performed much better, with less than half of them showing any level of contamination.

‘Our findings make a clear case for the installation of more boreholes to improve resilience to drought. If constructed carefully and regularly maintained, boreholes can transform the water security for rural villages and make them much more resilient to the effects of climate change.’

Dr Seifu Kebede, from Addis Ababa University’s earth sciences department, said:

‘A significant finding of our study is the length of time people without boreholes spent in water collection during the dry season and drought, and the very low volumes of water they were able to collect.

‘People were routinely queuing for up to 10 hours, which led to tension and sometimes violence, and had wide-ranging impact across communities. Women breastfed less and experienced more miscarriages, meals were missed and farm work was reduced to help collect water. School attendance was down in all but one district, as children were involved in water collection. All health centres in the study area reported increases in diseases, and, in some cases, employees were paying for water collection to keep the centres functioning.

‘We must look at how communities source water during a normal dry season to predict how they will cope during drought years. This study shows that boreholes, where they can be installed, could be the most reliable source of groundwater in these areas of northern Ethiopia.’

According to the BGS’s African Groundwater Atlas, Ethiopia has a high potential for groundwater in the highland regions due to the mostly permeable rocks. A major challenge, however, is the rugged terrain, which can hinder the movement of drilling rigs.

The project was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Department for International Development (DfID).

The full paper is available in Environmental Research Letters.

For further details please contact:
Sarah McDaid (sarah@mcdaidpr.co.uk/07866789688)
Twitter: @BritGeoSurvey


Editors note:

This week, groundwater experts from around the world will be attending a meeting of GRIPP at the SIWI World Water Week to discuss how to governments and aid agencies can take evidence like this into account when designing and implementing their policies and projects, and specifically around an exciting new groundwater initiative with the African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW)

OPINION:- It’s time to look underground for climate resilience in sub-Saharan Africa

Karen G. Villholth is a Principal Researcher with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), as well as Coordinator of the Global Groundwater Initiative GRIPP and a team member from UPGro GroFutures

From Thomson Reuters

New research reveals critical groundwater-related climate change impacts and resilience strategies

In 2014-2016, southern Africa saw its worst drought in decades, resulting from the most severe El Niño event in half a century. Leading to sharp declines in crop production, the drought dealt a severe blow to food security, with millions of people across the larger Pacific region facing hunger, poverty and disease.

Nature’s unseen water resource

While we all know groundwater is a key water resource for farmers, small communities and larger cities alike in  sub-Saharan Africa, it is largely missing from existing analysis of climate change impacts on water. Yet, Cape Town, which was greatly supported by groundwater development in its struggle to push back Day Zero when the city was projected to run out of water, shows us that groundwater is key to resilience.

But how does this unseen and relatively untapped resource in sub-Saharan Africa itself react to climate change? This may be the ultimate question as our water resources are finite, increasingly scarce and increasingly in demand. If African countries are to rely on groundwater for future resilience and manage it sustainably, they must quickly gain a better understanding of climate change impacts on this critical resource.

El Niño and extreme rainfall-triggered groundwater replenishment

recent study sheds new light on the climate-groundwater relationship, finding that the 2015-2016 El Niño weather event replenished groundwater very differently in southern Africa and in East Africa just below the equator. Based on a combination of satellite and on-site data analysis, it is part of a growing body of research, to which the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is contributing, in collaboration with UK partners such as University College LondonCardiff UniversityUniversity of Sussex, and British Geological Survey, as well as others in southern and eastern Africa.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO phenomenon, involves the interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean in the tropical Pacific. It is a telling cause of climate variability in the tropics. As an extreme case among historical patterns, the 2015-2016 event had exactly opposite effects on rainfall in southern Africa and East Africa below the equator.

In southern Africa, it resulted in the most intense drought ever recorded for the region, estimated to recur every 200 years.

The authors note that warming caused by human activities has heightened climate risks. They suggest that this has already “doubled the risk of such an extreme… event,” meaning such an intense drought could return every 100 years. The 2015-2016 drought limited the recharge of aquifers and increased demand for groundwater leading to a decline in groundwater storage.

In contrast, East Africa, just south of the equator, saw unusually high – but not extreme – rainfall, likely to recur every 10 years. With 100-150% above normal daily rainfall intensity in many places, this significantly boosted groundwater recharge and storage. At the Makutapora well field in Tanzania, for example, strong groundwater recharge reversed a long-term decline in groundwater storage that had resulted from increasingly intensive pumping to the growing city of Dodoma.

Another new study published in Nature underpins the importance of extreme rain events in restocking groundwater in drylands in sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than being replenished through regular rainfall, groundwater responds best to extreme rainfall events – the type that happens every 10 years or so, and is often associated with large scale climate phenomena like ENSO. The research also found that, since groundwater in drylands is recharged where rain accumulates in surface water bodies such as rivers and ponds, replenishment is further accentuated by more intense rainfall events associated with climate change.

Getting the better of climate change

Sub-Saharan countries are rapidly developing their groundwater resources, and these figure importantly in national development plans aimed at supplying cities with drinking water and enabling farmers to intensify production. Whether such plans come to fruition will depend on sustainable management of groundwater. Indeed, water managers need to understand how climate change impacts groundwater under different conditions and how they can best respond.

Techniques referred to as “managed aquifer recharge”, can channel and capture water runoff from intense rainfall events to more quickly and efficiently replenish groundwater. Thus, when climactic events increase rainfall, water managers and users across Africa can use such techniques to boost groundwater supply.

The extreme events can be predicted with some certainty and with seasonal lead times to help farmers and managers prepare. Combined with efficient resource use and safe wastewater reuse, communities and countries can better adapt to the more severe and frequent droughts, as well as floods, that are sure to come. With these approaches and opportunities, we can help harness the climate solutions that lie underground in the drylands in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.