AMCOW is an intergovernmental, Pan-African, non-budgetary institution working under the Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment of the African Union (AU), and provides political oversight on water resources and sanitation in Africa. AMCOW’s mission is to promote cooperation, security, social and economic development, and poverty alleviation among member states through the effective management of the continent’s water resources and the provision of water supply and sanitation services, and is mandated to provide political leadership in the implementation of the African Water Vision 2025 and water components of the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
The Groundwater Desk Officer will be responsible for setting up and operationalizing the groundwater function at AMCOW Secretariat. He/she will coordinate all groundwater activities with the view to shaping knowledge and action on groundwater development and management on the continent. Specifically, the position holder will:
Systematically map and maintain an updated database of stakeholders engaged in groundwater activities on the continent. This includes having a clear understanding of the types and sizes of such institutions/organizations, and their thematic and geographical foci.
Work with such identified institutions/organizations with the view to establishing coordinating and collaboration mechanisms and platforms for groundwater activities in Africa.
Lead in Collating, Analyzing and Managing Knowledge on Groundwater with the intention of shaping opinion and influencing action on sustainable groundwater development and management in Africa, at appropriate levels.
We are delighted to report that UN-Water, the coordinating body for water issues across the United Nations, in a meeting this week agreed to make the theme of the 2022 World Water Development Report and World Water Day: “Groundwater: making the invisible visible”http://enb.iisd.org/water/un/30/html/enbplus82num34e.html
Meanwhile three new UPGro papers have recently been published:
“Groundwater hydrodynamics of an Eastern Africa coastal aquifer,
including La Niña 2016–17 drought”
Núria Ferrera; Albert Folch; Mike Lane; Daniel Olago; JuliusOdida;
Emilio Custodio (Gro for GooD)
An East African costal aquifer was characterized before and during
La Niña 2016/17.
The recharge was reduced 69% compared to average annual rainfall.
Lower recharge during first and nil recharge during the second wet
No important groundwater quality changes observed inland
Increase of seawater intrusion even during the wet season
Despite efforts of local governments and NGOs to put public
service delivery systems in place, there is a gap between goals and actual
impacts on citizens’ quality of life
Decentralisation has faced challenges from the emergence of
national partisan political struggles in local areas.
Pre-paid standpipes were installed with magnetic charge cards
handed out for free. Initially a UGX25 card top-up bought 4 jerry cans (20l),
overtime this reduced to 3 jerry cans. If a card was lost or stolen then a
replacement cost users UGX15,000-25,000, which was unaffordable to many slum
dwellers who then bought water from the standpipe caretakers for UGX
100-250/jerry can. Intermittent water supply from pre-paid meters is another
factor making residents seek alternative water sources – generally unsafe springs,
or from vendors and resellers at UGX 200-1,000 per jerry can.
Water is just one problem for residents – access roads, waste
disposal, expensive school fees and high youth unemployment also mentioned in
Local elections have not happened as mandated because the
government fears they will lead to social unrest. This has contribute to
resident distrust of local government.
Land ownership is a major barrier to water access and
sustainability: there are no clear land records and there are many layers of
complexity involving landlords, tenants, the city and traditional
authorities. Changing the land title from private to communal for WASH
facilities is essential.
Political parties do sometimes co-opt community leaders and
demobilise communities, but they can also create political spaces for debate on
governance, rules and policies.
Strong social capital/networks and trust can help mobilise
community power and resources, but can exclude some residents from
NGOs, universities and social movements can play a crucial role in
magnifying the ability of communities to act together and achieve liveability
Transition Management for Improving the Sustainability of WASH
Services in Informal Settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa—An Exploration.
“Transition Management” is a participatory planning technique
developed for addressing sustainability issues in Europe. The UPGro T-GroUP
project is one of the few examples of trying to apply the method in another
context: Kampala (Uganda), Arusha (Tanzania), Dodowa (Ghana).
The authors identify five contextual factors that account for
unsustainable WASH services:
Access to water and sanitation in informal settlements comprises a
mosaic of formal and informal practices, water sources, sanitation facilities,
behaviours and actors.
Fragmented and low governance capacity. Low levels of trust
Landownership: unequal and skewed. In Kampala, water and
sanitation projects failed due to land conflict; landowners ‘donated’ land for
the facilities but after some years later they would take back possession of
the land and deny access to the facilities without paying.
Public participation in general and WASH services in
particular: more vulnerable community members are excluded
Unequal access to WASH services, for example water price varying
on social status, with women being disproportionately disadvantaged. Low access
to education plays a crucial role.
Transition Management was developed based on liberal
representative democracies, but this experience in Sub-Saharan Africa suggests
that here it needs to be about enlarging and strengthening democratic
space – as a method it is not neutral or universal but shaped by cultural
norms and expectations.
At the end of October 2018 the local transition team in Kampala has been very active organizing three ‘agenda setting’ transition arena meetings with participants from multiple communities (such as Makerere, Mukubira, Bwaise and Kawaala) in informal settlements in Kampala. The meetings aimed at supporting participants to develop short, medium and long term actions that would address the already identified local problems.
The local transition teams started the arena meetings by sharing some of the most important insights from previous meetings such as the vision narratives previously developed by the participants. The back-casting methodology was then used to support the participants to identify short, medium and long term actions.
The majority of the short-term actions developed by the participants were associated to educational and awareness raising activities related to water, sanitation and waste management. Some groups of participants discussed how to teach community members correct hygiene practices, proper construction of toilet facilities and practices of maintenance and protection of water sources. In one of the groups in Makerere and Mukubira zones, participants discussed to run a water harvesting plan at household level and to start lobbying with institutions like KCCA and NWSC to increase sensitization activities at community level related to water and sanitation best practices.
During the meeting with participants from Makerere and Mukubira zones, one of the developed long term actions consisted of creating a rewarding system for individuals who would carry on good practices in protecting and preserving water sources.
Other major actions developed in all organized meetings were related to ensure the enforcement of laws related to water, waste and sanitation management. In Bwaise, for example, the implementation of fines related to poor toilet usage and construction were discussed.
Additionally, participants in all areas spoke about the importance of mobilizing community members and setting up active groups aiming to carry on sensitization activities and to ensure the maintenance of services over time. For example, in Makerere and Mukubira zones, one group of participants would like to form a water committee, while in Bwaise zone the group of participants focusing on the problem of sanitation had the idea to form community led groups to prevent unplanned toilet construction.
Other important actions included the creation of Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) for supporting the local circular economy by producing products from waste materials.
The results of the ‘agenda setting’ arena meetings show that the implementation of facilities and services alone do not contribute to solve local water, sanitation and waste management problems. Rather, a combination of actions is needed for addressing the rooted and interlinked problems. New organizational and governance capacities at both community and institutional level need to be developed in order to ensure the maintenance of facilities over time. The change of practices and behaviors related to water, sanitation and waste management need to be constantly supported by organizing awareness raising and education activities, by mobilizing and empowering community members, such as through active groups as well as by ensuring the reinforcement of laws. The collaboration and dialogue between local community members, institutional organisations, NGOs and private companies play a key role in the implementation of these actions and will be further explored in the next meetings taking place in January.
This book is especially unique in that it not only explains a wide range of issues associated with groundwater governance, but it also provides water industry professionals, decision-makers and local stakeholders with a suite of solutions for a heuristic approach to managing this extremely important resource.
Competing narratives surround the role of ‘area mechanics’ in Malawi
In November 2017 I started my ‘politics of water’ blog as an outlet to share experiences and findings from my research in rural Malawi on water governance and service sustainability.
The first instalment describes my initial impressions of Balaka District while the second explores the relationship between extension workers and rural communities.
This might have left you wondering – what about everyone else?
Water services in Malawi are decentralised, at least in theory. This means two things. Firstly, district councils, together with district water offices, are mandated to develop and monitor water infrastructure in rural areas.
Secondly, communities are expected to maintain and repair their water points with minimal external assistance. For more serious problems, local ‘area mechanics’ are their first port of call, followed by the district water office.
In reality, district water offices are severely under resourced, there are currently few area mechanics, and the effectiveness of community-based management varies considerably. However, where they are present, area mechanics are thought to play an important role in keeping water points functioning.
Area Mechanics: volunteers or entrepreneurs?
So what is an area mechanic? This sounds like a simple question, but the answers are complex and contradictory.
The area mechanics Thoko interviewed in Balaka for her MSc research tended to consider themselves, foremost, as volunteers working for the greater good of the community. After all, they were selected from the local community and have strong social ties with the people they serve. An area mechanic may be a relative, a neighbour or a fellow churchgoer, even the village headman himself. Trustworthiness was emphasised by communities as an important criteria.
The depiction of area mechanics as volunteers has been echoed in my own conversations with extension staff and NGO workers, but in combination with another term – entrepreneur. According to national policy, area mechanics are meant to operate as independent businesspersons. They are given training and a few basic tools, after which they are expected to make a small profit to sustain their operations. They are also encouraged to sign written contracts with communities to clarify payment for services.
This model is clearly aimed at economic viability and is meant to incentivise area mechanics by providing them with an income. Arguably, the model has failed to gain traction locally because it ignores the social context in which area mechanics operate.
A third view is that area mechanics are integral to formal water governance arrangements – in other words part of, or plugging a gap in, the government’s extension system. This may not be stated explicitly, but is implicit in the use of government issued ID cards.
To give another example, area mechanics are sometimes (but not always) introduced to communities by a government representative in order to establish their legitimacy. Several of the area mechanics Thoko spoke to wanted their role to be formalised to enable them to negotiate fees with communities, or conversely in the hope of receiving material and financial support from government.
The ambiguity of water mechanics
Despite appearances, none of these narratives is mutually exclusive, and they may be employed at different times depending on the context. As one extension worker explained to me:
“Area mechanics are entrepreneurs by design and should make communities aware of that. They are supposed to have a signed agreement. The area mechanic needs to be paid, a little.”
He then went on to clarify:
“It is not payment as such but a token of appreciation. It is up to them if they want to work for free. However they shouldn’t deny assistance to a Water Point Committee just because they don’t have money.”
The ambiguity surrounding area mechanics can be confusing and could be viewed as a failure of policy (or its implementation). But, in my view, that conclusion would be overly simplistic and misses the point.
The co-existence of these different narratives, or interpretations of policy, leaves room for negotiation and pragmatism. These are arguably important ingredients for success, especially when adapting policies to local realities. In short, the role of area mechanics in Malawi’s water governance system is not yet set in stone.
In addition to my PhD fieldwork this blog draws on previous work by the authors under the UPGro Hidden Crisis project. Check out our report on the political economy of rural water supplies in Malawi.
Groundwater and the poor are easily ignored. Hidden underground or of low political priority, the motivation and ability to improve groundwater management and welfare are often constrained by capacity, resources and governance structures. In much of Africa, the political calculus is changing as severe but unpredictable droughts, increasingly decentralised decision-making, and growing water competition are emphasizing the critical nature of groundwater as a buffer to drought, driver of economic growth, and vital resource for the poor and marginalised.
On the south coast of Kenya, today’s situation reflects regional trends with over half a billion dollars of new investments by mining, agriculture and urban development raising concerns about managing and allocating groundwater to protect the resource base and ensure the poor are not marginalised by more powerful interests. As part of the Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor,the Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development project has convened researchers from the UK, Kenya and Spain with national and county Government of Kenyan partners and water-related industry.
Yesterday, the Kwale County Government Water Minister, Hon. Hemed Mwabudzo, convened the final project workshop in Diani with over 30 stakeholder partners to discuss 15 recommendations for policy action across four thematic areas (View full Policy Briefing).
First, geological and geophysical analysis has identified two palaeo-channels (ancient, buried rivers) with significant groundwater resources to contribute to water-related growth and provision of water services to people. Results highlight wider UPGro findings of the critical nature of extreme rainfall disproportionately contributing to recharge replenishing aquifers after droughts. Protecting recharge zones is essential for sustainable management of this ‘new’ resource, and coupled with monitoring and enforcement, can avoid land use planning mistakes. Due to the proximity to the coast, unregulated groundwater abstraction may lead to saline intrusion which underlines the potential importance of the opportunity that Kenyan partners now have to continue the Environmental Monitoring Strategy developed and tested by the project.
Second, the 2016-17 drought showed the exceptional and unpredictable stress that can suddenly be placed on groundwater resources. The hydrogeological model developed by the project provides the first system-level tool which can be used to support improved management and allocation of resources across multiple and competing groundwater users. This requires improved inter-agency cooperation between the Kwale County Government, Water Resources Authority, National Drought Management Authority, Kenya Meteorological Department and other stakeholders. Immediate steps to deepen priority, shallow dug-wells used by communities would reduce the risk of them drying up and avoid significant social costs, largely borne by poor people. Emergency supplies need to be planned and budgeted for, in the absence of adequate planning, which is a costly response but necessary as expensive vended water costs are absorbed by those least able to pay or least responsible for governance failures.
Third, three rounds of socio-economic surveys were administered in 2014, 2015 and 2016 across 3,500 households across Lunga Lunga, Msambweni and Matuga sub-Counties. Analysis which models the most significant factors to improve household welfare identified four key areas for interventions: a) end open defecation, which occurs in around one third of households, b) increase education attainment from primary to at least secondary level, c) accelerate access to energy services, and d) improve rural water services.
Fourth, linked to improving rural water services and drought resilience, the project has been part of a wider initiative to design and test a performance-based maintenance service for rural water supply infrastructure since 2014. The FundiFix model guarantees repairs to broken infrastructure in three days based on community, school or clinic payment contracts. Currently, 85 handpumps are registered serving 13,000 people, including 4,000 school children, with 99% of repairs completed in less than a day. A Water Services Maintenance Trust Fund was established in 2014 to address the funding gap and test a hybrid financial model blending user, investor and government support. To date, users are paying with private sector support from Base Titanium Limited and doTERRA. These two companies have long-term investments in the county in mining and agriculture and have been founding investors to incubate the model to avoid the traditional approach of building infrastructure with no maintenance provision wasting resources and leaving the poor no better off.
Stakeholders from government, academia, communities, private sector and NGOs discussed these recommendations to identify priority actions against the feasibility of delivery in the next three years. The findings (see bubble figure below) identify the preferences from those stakeholders present. Action is already being taken by county government which has reviewed the project findings and is developing a plan to test the northern palaeo-channel resources in four locations. With a strong evidence base and clear policy messages, wider action is being planned to improve groundwater and welfare outcomes in Kwale County with lessons and methods under consideration nationally.
by Isaiah Esipisu at the 7th Africa Water Week, Gabon
More than 10 organisations and groundwater networks from across Africa have resolved to work closely with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) to invigorate a pan-African groundwater programme over the medium-term to demonstrate the benefits of a politically-connected pan-African approach.
This follows the establishment of the Africa Groundwater Commission (AGWC) under the auspices of AMCOW in 2008 as a political instrument to drive the groundwater agenda on the continent, but it failed to deliver its mandate due to political instabilities in some member countries.
However, given the importance of groundwater on the continent, UPGro in collaboration with AMCOW convened a daylong workshop alongside the 2018 Africa Water Week (AWW) in Libreville, Gabon for representatives from different networks, organisations, governments, UN, and the donor community to deliberate on invigoration of a strategic pan-African groundwater initiative.
“The idea of forming a Groundwater Commission was a good one, and the people who did it did a good job,” said Dr Callist Tindimugaya, the Commissioner for Water Resources Planning and Regulation at the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda and the UPGro Ambassador in East Africa. However, said Tindimugaya, “people (who formed it) were very ambitious, and they wanted to achieve a lot in a very short time,” he said.
Dr Tindimugaya, from the Ministry of Water & Environment in Uganda, and other delegates, keenly following the Groundwater Thursday event at the AWW
He notes that there are several lessons that can be picked from what has happened in the past 10 years since the formation of the commission. “I think forming a commission without basics in place is synonymous to a baby beginning to run before it learns how to walk, and that is a lesson we must take home,” he said.
The team of experts, policy makers, financiers and the civil society in Libreville recognised that African population largely depend on groundwater, which makes a significant contribution to the security of water supplies for domestic and productive uses across the continent, providing a drinking water source for over 50% of the population and a buffer against climate change.
DrKirsty Upton, one of the developers of the Africa Groundwater Atlas
“In the West Africa region, most countries (70 to 80%) largely rely on groundwater because they are within the Sahel, and therefore surface water is very scarce,” said Prof Moustapha Diene, a hydrologist at the University of Dakar, and the Manager – Africa Groundwater Network.
However, he said, “There is a huge gap in the management of groundwater resource in the entire region. Some gains have already been made, but there exists gaps especially in terms of saline water intrusion into groundwater aquifers and over-exploitation of the resource in some areas,” said Diene.
If well managed, the team in Libreville observed that groundwater can play a pivotal role in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, through use in the agricultural and industrial sectors and as part of improved, resilient and equitable WASH services, to make further and significant contributions to economic growth and poverty reduction.
As a result, the experts felt that the future development of groundwater resources in Africa will depend upon implementation of aquifer characterisation and understanding through research, conjunctive use of water resources and Managed Aquifer Recharge, and most importantly, management of trans-boundary aquifers and trans-boundary cooperation.
They further called for capacity strengthening within the water sector for sustainable groundwater management, groundwater and land-use planning, coastal aquifers management to avoid seawater intrusion and lastly, sharing of the groundwater knowledge.
So far, the British Geological Society in collaboration with UPGro has developed the first ever online based Africa Groundwater Atlas for knowledge sharing and it is a gateway to further information related to groundwater and hydrological understanding for 51 African countries.
The Atlas also consists of a searchable online database that so far catalogues nearly 7000 references for literature about groundwater in Africa. The Archive can be searched by themed keyword; by title and author; or geographically: either by country; or for more than 1500 georeferenced documents, by searching for their specific location on an interactive map. There are thousands of links to free-to-download full text documents and abstracts.
by Isaiah Esipisu at the 7th Africa Water Week, Gabon
Groundwater is one of the most important sources for drinking water, livestock water and irrigation in Africa, representing 15% of the continent’s renewable water resources, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
However, its hidden presence under the ground has left it largely under-valued and under-utilised both for social and economic gain. But even worse, scientists have confessed that very little studies have so far been done to unlock the potential of this scarce resource.
“We do not know what we have because we have not done adequate studies yet. Some studies have been constrained by lack of adequate monitoring data, for example data for rainfall,” said Prof Daniel Olago, a Senior Geologists at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.
“We also do not have very good data on river-flows, and how much they contribute to groundwater systems,” he said.
It is based on such understanding that UpGro, in collaboration with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) have decided to convene a daylong session at the 2018 Africa Water Week in Libreville, Gabon, to discuss issues related to groundwater in Africa.
According to UNECA, groundwater constitute the most important buffer and reserve during surplus periods as well as a source of water for streams and/or direct withdrawals in times of shortage, given the changing climatic conditions.
The UN therefore reckons that groundwater management in Africa can be an essential component of climate change adaptation strategies.
“Renewable groundwater resources in Africa are underutilised, yet groundwater can play a major role in assisting farmers to increase food production and to overcome threats to food security if climate change leads to greater rainfall variability,” reports UNECA in a policy brief.
by Isaiah Esipisu at the 7th Africa Water Week, Gabon
Water experts, policy makers, government representatives, UN agencies, donors and nongovernmental organisations kicked off the celebration of the seventh edition of the Africa Water Week in Libreville city of Gabon on 29th October 2018, calling on African governments to reflect on achievements made so far towards availing clean water and sanitation services to all.