On the road to resilience in Ethiopia

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by Barry Hague, NERC (re-blogged from NERC Planet Earth)

It’s time to rethink roads. In the vital fields of flood prevention and water supply, they offer incredible potential to enhance and enrich the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. Dr Frank van Steenbergen of the Roads for Water consortium is helping to drive this remarkable revolution.

Continue reading On the road to resilience in Ethiopia

Africa Groundwater Atlas: “X” marks the spot, but where’s the map? #60IAH2016

Drilling for water is a fraught business in Africa – like being a pirate without a treasure map. In many areas, the rock is old – some of the oldest on our planet. This cracked, shattered stone that is blasted by desert heat or soaked in tropical rains with often only a thin covering of rust-stained soil, can hold substantial amounts of water, but a driller needs to know where to look and the skill to develop a water source that will last. A metre or two can make the difference between a dry hole and a well that could supply a village or a farm for a lifetime.

Continue reading Africa Groundwater Atlas: “X” marks the spot, but where’s the map? #60IAH2016

New UPGro YouTube Channel!

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You can now find a wealth of interviews, presentations, field vlogs and more at the UPGro YouTube Channel.  Highlights include:

  • Interviews with key African groundwater researchers: listen to their perspective and experiences
  • Presentations from the Catalyst projects, originally given as RWSN-UPGro webinars, they are now edited for easier viewing and for use in teaching and training.
  • Interviews and presentations from numerous events where UPGro researchers have been presenting their work and the issues around groundwater in Africa.

Grofutures launches in Tanzania

Grofutures launch meeting

 

Under the heading “Using groundwater to reduce poverty” the GroFutures Team in Tanzania led by Japhet Kashaigili, Andrew Tarimo and Devotha Mosha hosted the GroFutures Inception Workshop in Iringa on March 31st 2016.  It was opened by the District Commissioner for Iringa, Hon. Richard Kasesela, and was attended by national, basin-level and local stakeholders (listed below) who discussed current groundwater use and management in the Great Ruaha Sub-Catchment of the Rufiji Basin and as well as both proposed and potential groundwater development pathways that might best reduce poverty.  The event was featured on national television news in Tanzania (see clip here) and leading newspapers.

Groundwater Inception Workshop in Tanzania (31st March 2016):

GroFutures Great Ruaha Inception Workshop featured on national television news (in Swahili)

The evening before the workshop, participants played The Groundwater Game in order to better familiarise with the kinds of groundwater development and management decisions that may be expected to arise as a result of groundwater use for poverty alleviation and improved food security.  Following the workshop, the GroFutures Team conducted a short field visit in the Great Ruaha Sub-Catchment to engage directly with local-level stakeholders and develop plans to establish the human and physical environments that will comprise the Great Ruaha Basin Groundwater Observatory.  The GroFutures Team also took time to visit the Site Observatory at the Makutapora Basin which was currently under rare, flood conditions associated with the 2015-16 El Niño Event.

GRB-inception-workshop-photos
GroFutures team participated at various activities in the Inception Workshop in Iringa, Tanzania (GroFutures)

How do you solve a problem like a broken water pump?

World Water Day 2016 article on The Guardian by Katherine Purvis, 22/03/2016

Long considered a symbol of development aid, up to 40% of handpumps in sub-Saharan Africa are broken at any one time. Technology is offering smart solutions.

Over the past few decades, the humble handpump has become the go-to option for rural water supply in developing countries. They’re used to extract groundwater which is mostly clean, easy and cheap to access, and available year-round. Handpumps are usually a better option than open wells – which are highly vulnerable to contamination – and piped schemes or motorised pumps, which require the skills, finances, and management that’s often lacking in remote, rural areas.

Read more on the Guardian website

 

Commentary on UN Sustainable Development Goals

On September 25, 2015, the global development agenda for the next 15 years was set at the United Nations General Assembly following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). GroFutures Team members Simon Damkjaer and Richard Taylor comment on the limitations of current metrics used to assess progress toward SDG 6.4 – “to… substantially reducing the number of people living under conditions of water scarcity“. Read their commentary here: the Circle of Blue.

UPGro win at Stockholm World Water Week

Patrick Thomson wins in Stockholm

Patrick Thomson, from the Oxford-led UPGro project “Gro For Good”, has won the prize for the best poster at World Water Week 2015 for the work that he and colleagues at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at Oxford have been doing on shallow groundwater monitoring using Smart Handpumps in Kenya. This work will continue under the UPGro Consortium phase.

A briefing note based on the information presented in the poster can be downloaded:

Patrick Thompson and his prize winning poster (photo: Katrina Charles)
Patrick Thompson and his prize winning poster (photo: Katrina Charles)

Zambia: Study Finds Shallow Groundwater Unsafe.

Kabwe is a transport hub and old mining town in central Zambia. One resident, Joseph, recounted how when he was growing up in the town in the 1970s, most houses had a tap and a reliable water supply from the municipal system. Few children in the town now have this luxury; in the 1980’s the world price of copper collapsed and the mines closed. Many of the townspeople could no longer afford their water bills, and the lack of investment led the municipal water system into a spiral of decline.

Today, the town continues to grow, in a haphazard way and sanitation is poor – only 11% of low income households have access to a latrine or toilet. Most of the poorer residents get water from shallow wells, and richer households have given up on the unreliable municipal water system and have their own deeper boreholes. But are these self-supply water sources safe? Does the risk change between the wet season and the dry? Is there a safe distance between latrine and well that would prevent the water from being contaminated? These are just a few questions that hard-pressed local government staff need answers to urgently, but they just can’t get data from enough wells and boreholes during the year.

Poor water quality continues to pose a major threat to human health

Many types of bacteria found in wastewater and sewage cause diarrhoeal diseases and cholera, which kill 1.8 million people every year, 90% of whom are children under 5 according to the World Health Organisation (http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/factsfigures04/en/ ) . These bacteria are hard to measure directly, so the most common method used is to focus on bacteria, called E. Coli, which is an indicator of how unsafe water is. However, this test takes time, skill and a laboratory because the E. Coli have to be encouraged to grow so that they can be counted. What is urgently needed is a quick, cheap, accurate way of measuring this type of pollution to guide efforts to provide safe drinking water.

An answer may now be available, for Kabwe, and for water supplies all over Africa and beyond: a team, led by Dan Lapworth, from the British Geological Survey (BGS), along with colleagues from the University of Zambia, University of Surrey and Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Ltd has been collaborating to develop a new way to measure groundwater pollution. It is a new probe that measures a protein called tryptophan and this was the first study to investigate the biological quality in groundwater using this technique.

This research was funded by DFID, NERC and ESRC through the UPGro: Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor programme (http://upgro.org )

What they found in the wells and boreholes of Kabwe was that the amount of tryptophan measured by the probe corresponded very closely with bacteriological contamination. It confirmed that most of the shallow groundwater, which the poorest people in the town were using, was unsafe throughout both the wet and dry season, but that the deeper groundwater is generally free from faecal pollution, unless the borehole had not been sealed properly.

The advantage of the tryptophan probe is that it is quick, needs no special chemicals and cheap, so it can enable rapid surveys across dozens of wells and boreholes across the town, that just isn’t practical with traditional E. Coli testing.

The Principal Investigator, Dan Lapworth: “In a place like Africa where data scarcity and institutional capacity is a massive issue this could quickly provide a step-change in our understanding of spatial and temporal water quality risks in drinking water sources, the processes that control these and be used as a tool to monitor interventions and water quality failures.”

Although the research from the UPGro Catalyst grant has finished, others are taking an interest: the US-based charity, Water for People, asked BGS to trial the probe in rural areas of India undergoing sanitary interventions. Here, the sensor was equally successful at identifying bacteriological contamination in drinking water and the team was able to rapidly test up to 6 different supplies per hour.

Having access to safe water and basic sanitation is vital to everyone's life

In Kabwe it is now possible for the health risks from groundwater to be monitored, both across the town and over time.

Dan said “There are a number of different sensors available which can map groundwater quality risks – we have done our research on what we think is the most sensitive of these, but there is certainly room for improvement and development of this technology further for practical field based applications.”

As the international community attending the Stockholm World Water Week turns its attention to the new Sustainable Development Goals – which include achieving universal access to safe water – it is practical contributions, like the tryptophan probe that can make all the difference. For the people of Kabwe, it offers the hope that future investment in water and sanitation will deliver reliable and safe water to meet their needs.

James Sorensen, from BGS, said “These sensors were the best indicators of bacteriological contamination and water supplies could be tested within seconds”

WaterSan Perspective

Water Journalists Africa (WJA)
August 18, 2015

Kabwe is a transport hub and old mining town in central Zambia. One resident, Joseph, recounted how when he was growing up in the town in the 1970s, most houses had a tap and a reliable water supply from the municipal system. Few children in the town now have this luxury; in the 1980’s the world price of copper collapsed and the mines closed. Many of the townspeople could no longer afford their water bills, and the lack of investment led the municipal water system into a spiral of decline.

Today, the town continues to grow, in a haphazard way and sanitation is poor – only 11% of low income households have access to a latrine or toilet. Most of the poorer residents get water from shallow wells, and richer households have given up on the unreliable municipal water system and have their…

View original post 715 more words

Merti aquifer: Kenya’s largest water source faced with resistance

By Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) —Wajir town in Northern Kenya has never had a regular water supply system forcing majority of the residents to use water drawn directly from shallow wells that exposes them to many potentially harmful elements.
Continue reading Merti aquifer: Kenya’s largest water source faced with resistance

“When wells run dry” Prof. Richard Taylor writes in Nature

“A global analysis reveals growing societal dependence on the use of non-renewable freshwater resources that depletes groundwater reserves and undermines human resilience to water scarcity in a warming world”

Full article available for Nature subscribers (paywall): Nature, 516, 179–180, (11 December 2014) doi:10.1038/516179a

In the short article, Prof. Taylor raises concern about groundwater depletion, as well as declining lake and river levels in many areas of the world, and that raises not only important scientific questions about how and why, but also a crucial problem for society.

Looking at recently published research he notes that there is increasing evidence of non-renewable freshwater use – basically more freshwater is being used and then either lost to evaporation or rendered useless by pollution and increased salt levels.

The finger of blame is pointed firmly at irrigation, but the demand for food will only rise in the coming years and decades. Groundwater, particularly in Africa, has great potential but its use is hampered by poor data and unreliable models and the joker card of climate change.

‘We need to better understand available groundwater storage and recharge responses
to the intensification of rainfall, which is expected to be especially strong in the tropics. Indeed, it is here where increases in freshwater use are projected to be most intense. We also need to reduce human dependence on nonrenewable fresh water through more efficient water use, particularly in irrigation, and by trading in ‘virtual water’, which reduces local freshwater use through the import of food and other products. If we continue along our present trajectory, “when the well runs dry we (shall) know the worth of water”

The Grofutures Catalyst project, which has been green-lighted to become a Consortium project for the next 4-5 years, will tackle some of these issues in detail. More on this project will follow next year.