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.

Dr Robinah Kulabako: A new vision for empowered communities and safe water in Kampala

Dr Robinah Kulabako of Makerere University describes the research work of T-GroUP – one of five projects in the UPGro (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor) and her work on Transition Management to trigger community action to improve access to safe water.

Listen to the interview with her by Isaiah Esipisu on Soundcloud

Find out more here: t-group.science
and here: UPGro/T-GroUP

Photo: Dr. Kulabako at Africa Water Week 2018 (I. Esipisu)

Debating real-world community-based management of water points

Community-management has been the mainstay of rural water supplies in Africa, and in many other parts of the world, but is it the only way? Are there better alternatives? In this lively webinar, researchers from the UPGro Hidden Crisis project discuss their research with RWSN members:

Do you have anything to add? Leave your comments below.

Golden Jubilee Award for T-GroUP researcher: Dr Robinah Kulabako

On 8th March, Dr Robinah Kulabako, Makerere University and UPGro T-GroUP project, was awarded a Golden Jubilee Media during International Women’s Day by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. The award recognises her contribution to research and teaching in environmental engineering and natural sciences and that she is an internationally recognised expert she is an inspiration to girls and young women looking to have a career in science.

(hat-tip to AfriWatSan)

photos: scanned from unknown

Drilling in Kampala started

 re-posted from:t-group.science

There are three urban areas in which T-GroUP is active and, while most of the drilling activities in Dodowa and Arusha have been completed, in Kampala it took some time to get permissions. At first, the Ministry of Water and Environment had to formally approve the project drilling activities, which they did. Then, the Kampala Capital City Authority required more information about the project before giving their formal go-ahead. Thirdly, the Local Councils had to be convinced of the usefulness of the work, and, finally, land owners and tenants had to approve of the installation of piezometers on their land for monitoring purposes. It took Dr. Robinah Kulabako and Dr. Philip Nyenje a good deal of energy to take all hurdles. But they finally succeeded! The process also served as a good and thorough entrance of the project into the local communities. On Wednesday April 6, PAT Drill Uganda started drilling the first hole near Makerere University towards the top of Makerere hill. While drilling, the team was visited by David MacDonald and Dan Lapworth of BGS, who were in Kampala in the framework of the HyCRISTAL project within the NERC/DFID funded Future Climate for Africa Programme.

John Okwi (left, with hat), the owner of PAT-DRILL Uganda, is supervising his team of drillers using a PAT-301 to drill through the weathered basement near the top of Makerere hill
John Okwi (left, with hat), the owner of PAT-DRILL Uganda, is supervising his team of drillers using a PAT-301 to drill through the weathered basement near the top of Makerere hill
A selfi at one of the drilling locations with David MacDonald, Jan Willem Foppen, Dan Lapworth and Philip Nyenje (from left to right).
A selfi at one of the drilling locations with David MacDonald, Jan Willem Foppen, Dan Lapworth and Philip Nyenje (from left to right).