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.”

 

APAGroP: A continental coalition is set in motion to support sustainable groundwater use across Africa

By Karen Villholth re-posted from GRIPP
Principal Researcher, International Water Management Institute (IWMI)

Across Africa, groundwater, held within soil and rock formations beneath the surface, provides fresh drinking water for around 70 percent of people. With its wide distribution and perennial availability, it is the chosen water supply for most rural communities, and, increasingly, within urban areas. As such, it forms the backbone of water security and climate resilience across the continent.

Continue reading APAGroP: A continental coalition is set in motion to support sustainable groundwater use across Africa