Groundwater could be the solution to contaminated Kampala slum water crisis

by Isaiah Esipisu

After a recent study discovered traces of dangerous viruses including cancer causing pathogens in shallow groundwater in Kampala slums, residents of Makerere 2 Zone C can finally breathe a sigh of relief as further studies indicate that deeper groundwater in their area could be safe for drinking.

In collaboration with a community based organisation known as MAK H2O Project, scientists from IHE Delft Institute for Water Education together with their counterparts from Makerere University have been working with communities to find out the best way of managing their groundwater in a sustainable manner.

“As a short term measure, we have been encouraging community members to boil the water from slum springs before drinking,” said Brian Lutaaya, the Chair – MAK H2O Project.

Most of the water springs in Makerere 2 Zone C are just a few meters from pit latrines, a clear indication that the water, which appears to be sparkling clear, is likely contaminated with fecal matter. The water is fetched from an open earth surface. This makes it susceptible to all manners of waste contamination brought around by wind, rainfall runoff water and even malicious individuals.

“We are fully aware of the dangers involved, but we have no alternative source of water for drinking and for domestic use,” Edith Kansiime, one of the area residents said during a field visit by UPGro delegation to the 2020 Africa Water Association (AfWA) International Congress.

Taps in most parts of the slum went dry some years ago. The only available alternative is to buy mineral water from the shops, which is too costly for most of the slum dwellers.

As a result, the surface water has exposed them to several disease causing pathogens, some which are life threatening.

A recent study by IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in collaboration with scientists from universities in Uganda and Tanzania discovered traces of 25 different harmful viruses in surface water in the slums of Kampala and Arusha.

The study, whose findings were presented at the Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in Vienna, Austria, found that most groundwater in the two slums contained traces of herpes viruses, poxviruses, and papilloma-virus. The latter could be one of the causes of different types of cancers in the region.

Cancer is one of the lead killer diseases in the East African region, claiming about 100,000 lives every year.

According to Lutaaya, the condition of spring water in Bwaise in Kampala, where the study was conducted is not different from the situation in lower Makerere slums.

“To our knowledge, these viruses have never been found in groundwater before on such a large scale, perhaps because there has never been an in-depth analysis,” said Dr Jan Willem Foppen, one of the researchers.

To support the communities, the scientists have been conducting experiments to understand the nature and safety of groundwater in these slums.

In lower Makerere slum for example, the research scientists through the UKaid funded UPGro programme, in a project known as T-GroUP, the scientists have sunk two boreholes, one with a shallow depth of just three metres, and another with a depth of 25 metres.

The researchers have been monitoring the water quality in both boreholes for a number of months, and the early indication is that the deeper borehole has much safer water compared to the three metre shallow borehole.

“We have not concluded this study, but there is an indication that deeper groundwater is likely going to be the solution for thousands of residents in this slum,” said Dr Foppen.

Through the T-GroUP, the scientists have been experimenting with practical transition groundwater management strategies for the urban poor in Sub Saharan Africa. They employ the Transition Management theory to find radically new and collaborative ways of using and managing urban groundwater.

From a dream of becoming a Medical Doctor to a Civil Engineer – the Career Journey of Jennifer Isoke

Interview by Isaiah Esipisu

Jennifer Brenda Isoke is a Ugandan female Civil Engineer with a purpose. Besides being a public servant, Isoke has spent invaluable amount of time in different universities since 2003, preparing and delivering lecture presentations to students pursuing Construction Technology, Concrete Technology and Mechanical Plant.

She has lectured at the Uganda Technical College Kichwamba, at the Department of Water Engineering, and at Ndejje University College. To date, she is a part time lecturer at the Uganda Christian University Mukono, and she also works at the Uganda Technical College Elgon as a senior lecturer.

J-Isoke
Jennifer Brenda Isoke (photo courtesy of: J B Isoke)

Besides her dedication to imparting of knowledge to upcoming civil engineers, she is a public servant working at the Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board, which is a government Agency under the Ministry of Education Responsible for the national assessment of tertiary institutions in Uganda.

Given her vast knowledge and experience, Isoke has been part of the UPGro team of researchers under the T-Group. As a result, she has made a number of presentations in major conferences not limited to a presentation at the plenary session at the 2019 UMI conference, which was done in the presence of former South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki.

UPGro Knowledge Broker team caught up with her, to find out what drives her enthusiasm.

[main photo: Jennifer Isoke sharing a copy of the UPGro research with residents of Bwaise, Kampala; Photo courtesy of J B Isoke]

Continue reading From a dream of becoming a Medical Doctor to a Civil Engineer – the Career Journey of Jennifer Isoke

Dodowa residents prone to diseases from contaminated wells – Research

by Gifty Amofa/Christabella Arkvi, Ghana News Agency 

More than 12,000 people are likely to contract water-borne diseases if they continue to use water from their contaminated dug wells in Dodowa, in the Greater Accra Region, according to a research report.

Samples of water were tested for rotavirus, bacteriological quality and others, with about 27 percent of the dug wells testing positive for Rotavirus in the Zongo, Wedokum, Obom and Apperkon communities, where the research was conducted.

Professor Sampson Oduro-Kwarteng, an Associate Professor of the Department of Civil Engineering, of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), who shared the findings, said the groundwater, located near toilet facilities and refuse dumps had been contaminated with human and animal excreta.

Continue reading Dodowa residents prone to diseases from contaminated wells – Research

Threats to groundwater supplies from contamination in Sierra Leone, with special reference to Ebola care facilities

Although not an UPGro study, this is a relevant new paper by Lapworth, D.J.; Carter, R .C.; Pedley, S.; MacDonald, A.M.. 2015 Threats to groundwater supplies from contamination in Sierra Leone, with special reference to Ebola care facilities. Nottingham, UK, British Geological Survey, 87pp. (OR/15/009)

Abstract:

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa in 2014 is the worst single outbreak recorded, and has resulted in more fatalities than all previous outbreaks combined. This outbreak has resulted in a large humanitarian effort to build new health care facilities, with associated water supplies. Although Ebola is not a water-borne disease, care facilities for Ebola patients may become sources of outbreaks of other, water-borne, diseases spread through shallow groundwater from hazard sources such as open defecation, latrines, waste dumps and burial sites to water supplies. The focus of this rapid desk study is to assess from existing literature the evidence for sub-surface transport of pathogens in the context of the hydrogeological and socio-economic environment of Sierra Leone. In particular, the outputs are to advise on the robustness of the evidence for an effective single minimum distance for lateral spacing between hazard sources and water supply, and provide recommendations for protecting water supplies for care facilities as well as other private and public water supplies in this region.

Preliminary conclusions were:

  • Considering the climate (heavy intense rainfall for 8 months), the hydrogeological conditions (prevalent shallow and rapidly fluctuating water tables, permeable tropical soils), the pervasive and widespread sources of hazards (very low improved sanitation coverage), and the widespread use of highly vulnerable water points there is little evidence that simply using an arbitrary lateral spacing between hazard sources and water point of 30 – 50 m would provide effective protection for groundwater points. An alternative framework that considers vertical as well as lateral separation and the integrity of the construction and casing of the deeper water points is recommended to protect water supplies from contamination by pathogens.
  • The shallow aquifer, accessed by wells and springs, must be treated as highly vulnerable to pollution, both from diffuse sources and from localised sources. Diffuse pollution of groundwater from surface-deposited wastes including human excreta is likely to be at least as important as pollution from pit latrines and other point sources, given the low sanitation coverage in Sierra Leone.
  • Even though conditions are not optimal for pathogen survival (e.g. temperatures of >25° C), given the very highly permeable shallow tropical soil zone, and the high potential surface and subsurface loading of pathogens, it is likely that shallow water sources are at risk from pathogen pollution, particularly during periods of intense rainfall and high water table conditions.
  • Extending improved sanitation must be a high priority, in conjunction with improved vertical separation between hazard sources and water points, in order to reduce environmental contamination and provide a basis for improved public health.
  • We recommend that risk assessments of water points are undertaken for health care facilities as soon as possible including: detailed sanitary inspections of water points within the 30 – 50 m radius suggested by the Ministry of Water Resource; assessments of the construction and integrity of the water points; a wider survey of contaminant load and rapid surface / sub surface transit routes within a wider 200 m radius of water points.
  • Analysis of key water quality parameters and monitoring of water levels should be undertaken at each water point in parallel with the risk assessments. The translation of policy on water, sanitation and hygiene into implementation needs complementary research to understand key hydrogeological processes as well as barriers and failings of current practice for reducing contamination in water points. A baseline assessment of water quality status and sanitary risks for e.g. wells vs boreholes, improved vs unimproved sources in Sierra Leone is needed. Understanding the role of the tropical soil zone in the rapid migration of pollutants in the shallow subsurface, i.e. tracing rapid pathways, and quantifying residence times of shallow and deep groundwater systems are key knowledge gaps.

Photo: A well close to the community care facility at Kumala Primary School, Sierra Leone. Used with permission for the report from Enam Hoque (Oxfam).