News and Blog

New version released of serious game ‘The Groundwater Game’

from IGRAC

A new version has been launched of The Groundwater Game. Within the framework of the GroFutures project, the previous version was further developed, resulting in an improved integration of game results in the presentation and the development of two apps. 

About the game

Created in 2008, The Groundwater Game is a serious game around the dilemma of the individual use of a common resource, in this case groundwater, and the impacts of collective action. This game revolves around a community of farmers who irrigate their crops with groundwater and together will have to find the best strategies to prosper while maintaining a sustainable use of the common resource.  

New developments

Screenshot of the desktop app
Screenshot of the desktop app

In 2016, game sessions were held in Niger and Tanzania as part of the GroFutures project. The positive feedback from these sessions resulted in the improvement of the game interface and the new version is now being released. The last updates of the game were developed by IGRAC and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and included the development of two groundwater game apps: Groundwater manager app and Groundwater player app.

Interested in the game?

If you are interested contact us at: info@un-igrac.org.

New paper: Drinking water quality from rural handpump-boreholes in Africa

Open Access here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab8031

Groundwater provides a vital source of drinking water for rural communities in many parts of Africa, particularly in the dry season when there are few safe alternative sources.

This paper summarises results from a study (n = 428) assessing dry season water quality, both microbiological and inorganic chemistry, in handpump equipped boreholes (HPBs) across the Ethiopia Highlands (n = 142), Malawi (n = 162) and Uganda (n = 124) using a stratified, randomised sampling design.

This study seeks to examine general water quality by randomly sampling rural groundwater supplies across larger areas with different geology and climate.

The majority, 72%, of HPBs surveyed provide good quality dry season drinking water as defined by WHO drinking water quality criteria. Within this overall picture, the most notable constraints were from thermotolerant coliforms (TTCs), which exceeded the WHO drinking water guideline of zero colony forming units (cfu/100 ml) in 21% of sites (range 0–626 cfu/100 ml). TTC contamination was found to have a significant and positive correlation with annual average rainfall (ρ = 0.2, p = 0.00003).

Across all three countries, WHO health based chemical drinking water quality values were exceeded at 9% of sites and were found for manganese (4%), fluoride (2.6%) and nitrate (2.5%); arsenic concentrations were below the guideline value of 10 μg l−1 (range < 0.5–7 μg l−1).

The high percentage of Mn exceedances (14% ± 5.2% >400 μg l−1) found in drinking water sources in Uganda challenges the decision by WHO not to formalise a health-based guideline for Mn. While the overall level of microbiological contamination from HPBs is low, results from this study strongly suggest that at a national and regional level, microbiological contamination rather than chemical contamination will provide a greater barrier to achieving targets set for improved drinking water quality under the UN-SDG 6. Efforts should be made to ensure that boreholes are properly sited and constructed effectively to reduce pathogen contamination.

 

Webinaire, 16 Juin | Une crise cachée ? Résultats de la recherche sur les défaillances des forages en Éthiopie, au Malawi et en Ouganda

Rejoignez-nous pour le prochain webinaire du RWSN et du programme UPGro:

Webinaire, 16 Juin | Une crise cachée ? Résultats de la recherche sur les défaillances des forages en Éthiopie, au Malawi et en Ouganda

La mauvaise fonctionnalité des points d’eau ruraux reste un problème qui affecte le secteur.  Dans ce webinaire, nous discutons de certains des principaux résultats de la deuxième phase du projet UPGRO Crise Cachée qui a examiné ce problème en Éthiopie, en Ouganda et au Malawi. Après un bref aperçu du projet, nous présentons les résultats de 18 mois de travail de terrain détaillé, au cours desquels une analyse forensique a été réalisée sur 150 points d’eau défectueux dans les trois pays, et nous partageons les enseignements tirés des facteurs physiques contribuant à de mauvaises performances ainsi que les leçons tirées de la gestion communautaire.

Intervenants: Prof Seifu Kebede Gurmessa (Université Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa), Prof. Alan MacDonald (British Geological Survey), Dr Donald John MacAllister (British Geological Survey)

Inscrivez-vous pour les webinaires en Français

Mardi, 5:00 La Paz/ 11:00 Blantyre, 12:00 Kampala, Addis Ababa / 16:00 Bangkok

The Conversation: Why drought programmes in Ethiopia should support communal access to groundwater

by Donald John MacAllister, International Development Hydrogeologist, British Geological Survey; Alan MacDonald Professor, British Geological Survey; Seifu Kebede Gurmessam Professor of Hydrology, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UPGro Hidden Crisis)

re-posted from The Conversation

Like many countries in east Africa, Ethiopia is highly vulnerable to drought. Since 1965, Ethiopia has experienced 15 severe droughts affecting more than 65 million people and causing serious economic damage.

Continue reading The Conversation: Why drought programmes in Ethiopia should support communal access to groundwater

Groundwater and climate change revisited: informing adaptation in a warming world

by Prof. Richard Taylor, UCL in The Springer Nature Sustainability Community

Recent research has identified the natural resilience of groundwater to climate change and our tendency to deplete this invaluable resource. It’s time we understood, valued, and governed groundwater as the vital adaptation to climate change that it is.

Continue reading Groundwater and climate change revisited: informing adaptation in a warming world

Drilling dialogues: conversations about drilling professionalism and the rise of the off-grid city

by Adrian Healy, Cardiff University, UK

The African Water Association Congress 2020 witnessed an increasing focus on the important role groundwater plays in urban water supplies across Africa. It was my pleasure to facilitate two lively panel debates on what are important, but often overlooked, themes in the development of groundwater resources. The first panel considered professionalism in the drilling industry whilst the second discussed the increasing number of urban households commissioning their own boreholes.

Callist
Callist Tindimugaya and Kerstin Danert discuss drilling professionalism (Photo: A. Healy)

The drilling industry includes a range of professions and roles ranging from the owner of a drilling company, through drilling operators to hydrogeologists and drilling supervisors. The skills and experience required can vary substantially, depending on the hydrogeology involved and the nature of the boreholes being drilled. What does not vary are the negative impacts poor drilling professionalism can have, on borehole functionality. This results in losses to those who commission boreholes and, potentially, adverse implications for groundwater quality. Across Africa there is also a shift in who is commissioning boreholes. What was once the preserve of governments, firms and donor bodies is now increasingly witnessing direct action by households themselves.

Although, there are examples of good practice across the African continent, panellists recognised that there is are problems with professionalism. This can be due to a lack of experience of the drillers and supervisors, as well pressures to reduce costs. All too often experience is gained only through what can be gleaned ‘on-the-job’ leading to skills-decay across the profession over time. The privatisation of the drilling industry has exacerbated the situation as there are few incentives to encourage investments in training, and limited places where training occurs. Where the ground is easy to penetrate and water is relatively shallow, manual drilling techniques can be used. This means that skills gap becomes more acute as competition by low-cost drillers erodes the potential value of investments in training and skills development.

Panellists argued that a professional drilling industry requires strong regulation by government. Drilling companies should be licensed and boreholes should be assessed for the quality of construction. Competition amongst drilling companies should be based on minimum standards and not reward cost-cutting and poor employment conditions. Government can also support the provision of training facilities.

In Uganda, experienced drillers now provide the benefit of their knowledge to a new generation of professionals, which builds on the legacy of past investments in training (e.g. http://www.rural-water-supply.net/en/resources/details/876). A wider challenge is raising awareness of the skills and expertise required to successfully access groundwater through boreholes amongst government officials and the wider public. This highlights the importance of a broader debate on the theme of groundwater and urban water supplies.

The critical role played by the wider public was also discussed by the second panel in the context of the remarkable rise in the proportion of urban households commissioning their own boreholes in many African countries. Although official figures are hard to find, both the panellists and the audience recognised this to be a rising trend across many cities in Africa. Rapid rates of urbanisation have left many with no access to public piped water supplies, or with only erratic and unpredictable supplies. In these circumstances, households source their own water supplies. For many households, groundwater forms an accessible, convenient and reliable source of water, even in countries where officially this is not permitted.

Panellists felt that the implications of this rising trend of urban self-supply are not yet clear. There are social and economic benefits for those who are able to access a reliable source of water, but with potential costs for those who are excluded. Debates on the potential costs of lost revenue to water utilities were inconclusive, as households often act because they are not being reliably supplied by a utility. Where there is a proliferation of borehole development then the potential impacts to the groundwater resource were acknowledged to be substantive. However, little is known of the quality of borehole construction or overall abstraction rates at present. Panellists indicated that anecdotal evidence points to a lack of awareness amongst urban populations of the importance of good groundwater management and highlighted that, when this is combined with poor professionalism in the drilling industry, there are risks for the resource. An emerging concern is the number of abandoned boreholes, which tend to be left unsealed, associated with urban self-supply and poor drilling professionalism.

Chikondi
Chikondi Shaba speaks about urban water self-supply (photo: A. Healy)

The panel discussion served to highlight the importance of this crucial topic, but recognised that a lack of robust data limits the opportunities for informed debate. In the absence of data, panellists argued that the rise of off-grid access to groundwater imperilled the stewardship of the groundwater resource on which many cities now relied. Returning to the theme of the first panel, panellists stressed how education, communication and engagement with the wider public was as important for good groundwater stewardship as technical skills and strategies.

Our thanks to Skat Foundation, the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment, the Ugandan Drilling Contractors Association and UK Research and Innovation for supporting this session. We thank each of the participants: Callist Tindimugaya, Kerstin Danert, Michael Ale, Jenny Grönwall, Moshood Tijani; Chikondi Shaba and Moustapha Diene.

Adrian Healy researches urban water resilience in sub-Saharan Africa. He is based at Cardiff University in the UK. He can be contacted at Healya2@cardiff.ac.uk

Meet Dr Johanna Koehler, a scientist working to revolutionise rural water services in Kenya

Interview by Oxford University School of Geography

The vast majority of the rural population in Kenya rely on pumps and pipes for their water supply. However, when they break, they are often not repaired for a long time, as they fall outside of formal water service provision areas. Dr Johanna Koehler explains how her research on water risks and institutional change in Kenya contributed to the consultation for Kenya’s national Water Act 2016, which seeks to address these issues.

Over the last few decades, over $1bn has been invested in water infrastructure in rural Africa. However, with one in four handpumps out of action and in need of repair at any one time, poor people living in rural regions frequently use distant and dirty water sources.

In Kenya 70% of the population live within rural communities, where water service provision is often deemed “not commercially viable”. Instead, water companies tend to focus on urban and peri-urban areas. This leaves much of the Kenyan population to manage water risks on their own.

Dr Johanna Koehler has been working to address this problem with colleagues in the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment’s Water Programme, led by Professor Rob Hope. Specifically, Koehler’s research investigates how water risks are governed in rural Kenya in the wake of the country’s decentralisation reform, and she explores which institutional models best support the maintenance of rural water infrastructure to provide sustainable and reliable water services for all.

Focus group discussions with over 600 water users in Kitui County and surveys with 3,500 households in Kwale County over three years helped to provide a deep understanding of the different ways of managing rural water risks. This research contributed to the design of the award-winning smart handpumps project and ‘FundiFix’ model with Rob Hope, Patrick Thomson and others. FundiFix links smart monitoring of pump failures and professional repair services with sustainable finance from users, government, and private actors.

“Communities subscribe to an affordable service contract which protects their rights and makes them responsible for regular payments,” Koehler explains. This can unlock further public and private funding. She terms this sharing of risks and responsibilities across the state, market, and communities ‘institutional pluralism’.

Through continuous engagement with national and county governments as well as other key stakeholders, Koehler was successful in lobbying for this “new sector thinking”, and the idea of sharing water management responsibilities across communities, government, and the private sector was included in Kenya’s Water Act 2016. The change was facilitated by the recent government structural reform in Kenya, when 47 county governments were mandated with water and health service delivery, among other things.

Article 94 of Kenya’s Water Act 2016 highlights those rural areas not considered commercially viable. It is important, she says, because this provides for more dynamic approaches to rural water maintenance, emphasising the important role of all three – public, private and voluntary sectors. “It puts into words the aspiration of the Sustainable Development Agenda as well as of Kenya’s Constitution of reliable water for all.”

“By transferring responsibility for rural water services to county governments and acknowledging the importance of maintenance, the hope is that local solutions such as FundiFix are more likely to be integrated into a wider system of governance and regulation and, as a result, rural Kenyans would have more reliable water services.”

– Dr Johanna Koehler, Researcher and Programme Manager
Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford.

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.”

 

Meet Joseph Okullo, a groundwater research scientist in the making

Interview and photos by Isaiah Esipisu

With a Masters degree in geology from Makerere University, Joseph Okullo landed a consultancy job, to assist UPGro team in Uganda as a physical scientist. Since then, his star has been glowing brighter and brighter.

During the Africa Water Association (AfWA) Congress in Kampala, the 36 year old upcoming scientist shared his experience based on his involvement with UPGro, and what it means to his future career.

Here are his excerpts:

IE: What role did you play in the UPGro study in Uganda?

JO: I worked as a physical science research assistant within the Hidden Crisis project, through which I was involved in a number of activities.

The first survey involved scrutinizing 200 boreholes in different parts of the country. We did random selections of these boreholes in districts.

The main aim was to check the functionality of these water points and also the water quantity. Through this, we discovered that there were a number of boreholes that could not meet the set standard of the yield, which is 10 litres per minute with full stroke.

As a result, there is a clear understanding as to why many boreholes were failing soon after construction. By understanding the problem, it becomes much easier to search for the solution.

IE: What impact did this research have on your career

JO: Before I met UPGro, I was jobless. And because UPGro worked hand in hand with Makerere University, I begun to interact with scientists from the university from time to time and during this period, they saw my potential. That’s how I secured a part time job as an assistant lecture at the University.

Today, am in the process of PhD admission at the same university.

IE: What do you intend to research on if you manage to secure the admission?

JO: My research topic is about how climate change affects groundwater storage and recharge in the Northern part of Uganda.

Northern Uganda is an area that has not been studied well in terms of groundwater, given that it is a semi arid area. UPGro had researches in those areas and I am happy to build on the already existing knowledge developed through UPGro.

IE: How did it feel working with rural communities in different parts of the country?

JO:  It is interesting to work with different communities. But the first thing is to try and make yourself part of these communities because they have different cultures, different norms and different way of thinking. As a researcher you need to strike a balance with any given community.

However, it is so gratifying when you help them find solutions to problems that have bedeviled them for so many years.

IE: From the experience with communities under the UPGro research, what do you think is the perfect way of managing community water points?

JO: There have been several models. But most of them end up collapsing because of one reason or another. However, we have communities in places like Masindi District which are managing their boreholes in a very sustainable manner.

These communities operate like micro-finance institutions, where they collect money from members, and they can still lend the same whenever a member needs cash. Since they have an active account, it becomes so easy for them to fix their boreholes in case there is a problem.

IE: What did you learn during this research process?

JO: I have learned many things. For example, before this project, I knew that if a borehole is yielding water, then it is functional. But with the UPGro approach, functionality is far beyond water coming from a borehole. You look at the quantity of the water, the leakage, if there some underlying issues to indicate that it was almost breaking among other things.

IE: What do you think should be done to improve access to safe water for people in rural Uganda?

JO: From the UPGro experience, I discovered that there are so many boreholes that have been sunk, but they are not well taken care of. This is mostly because communities think it is not their responsibility to manage those boreholes.

Some of them were sunk by politicians during campaigns, and by the end of the campaigns, they are abandoned. Some of them are just functional save for very small hitches. Yet communities do not take responsibility because they feel that it was a politician’s project, or an NGO project

To solve this problem, there is need to strengthen the ownership, and strengthen water user committees.

Another problem is about spare parts. It is not easy to get a genuine spare part in the Ugandan market. If there was a groundwater policy, then the regulators will understand the importance of groundwater and regulate the importation of these spare parts. Before this happens, communities will be forced to live with what is available in the market.

Lastly, we have difficult hydrogeological environments. In some areas, it is not easy to site groundwater aquifers. This therefore calls for more detailed surveys to guide and inform on the water provision within those particular communities.