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)

Dramatic water supply problems in southern Africa: BGR hydrogeologists call for new exploration strategy for semi-fossil aquifers

“Long-lasting periods of drought due to climate change are causing significant water supply problems also in southern Africa – with increasingly serious consequences for agriculture as well as directly for the people. In large cities such as Cape Town, drinking water has already to be rationed. Current projects of the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), Germany indicate that water resources in deeper rock formations can provide additional sources and offer an important contribution to solving the water supply problems in southern Africa.”

Read more on the BGR website

BRAVE: New climate change forecasts for West Africa

via BRAVE Represented at the 4th PRESASS Regional Climate Outlook Forum in Accra, Ghana, May 15-19 — BRAVE

BRAVE team members Professor Ros Cornforth, Professor Aondover Tarhule, Dr Galine Yanon and Aaron Aduna attended the PRESASS Forum organised by Agrhymet Regional Centre of Niamey, the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) and the Ghana Meteorological and Hydrological Agency.  PRESASS is a Regional Climate Outlook Forum for the Sudano-Sahelian Africa region (known by its French acronym, PRESASS: PRÉvisions climatiques Saisonnières en Afrique Soudano-Sahélienne). The PRESASS Forum provides regional, seasonal expectations for the rainy season in West Africa: May to November.

Regional Climate Outlook Forums produce consensus-based, user-relevant climate outlook products in real time in order to reduce climate-related risks and support sustainable development for the coming season in sectors of critical socioeconomic significance for the region in question.  PRESASS covers 17 countries in West and Central Africa[1] and includes collaboration with hydro-meteorological experts as well as representative from the disaster risk reduction community and Humanitarian agencies.  For more information on regional climate outlook forums click here. Continue reading BRAVE: New climate change forecasts for West Africa