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

:: New UPGro paper :: Participatory scenario analysis for urban water and sanitation: Kisumu, Kenya case study

“A participatory methodology for future scenario analysis of sub-national water and sanitation access: case study of Kisumu, Kenya” by Heather Price, Lorna. G. Okotto, Joseph Okotto-Okotto, Steve Pedley & Jim Wright: https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2018.1500343 from the UPGro Catalyst Project “Sustaining groundwater safety in peri-urban areas

Context:

  • Many cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and other low and middle income countries, are growing fast. Expansion of water supply systems to meet that growing demand is challenging, particularly in the context of climate change and competing water uses, such as agriculture.
  • Scenario planning, with geographical information systems, is an essential tool to help government bodies and utilities plan investments in urban and peri-urban water supply infrastructure and services, but examples in developing countries remain rare and have generally been rural.
  • The case study, Kisumu, is a city in Western Kenya near the shores of Lake Victoria. The Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company (KIWASCO) has responsibility across the city.

Key Points:

  • 12 key informants with particular insights into the water and sanitation sector, social and economic planning and human population dynamics were identified and included in two sessions: (1) Background information and future trajectories of population growth; (2) computer software called “International Futures” was used to explore different population scenarios, which formed the basis of discussions on water and sanitation planning for the city in three groups.
  • Through the participatory planning in separate groups it was possible to draw out where areas of consensus and uncertainty about how the city, and its demand for water and sanitation will change. One area of common agreement was that groundwater and on-site sanitation will remain an important part of the mix until at least 2030, which implies and longer-term need for interventions like household filters, chlorine dispensers at well heads, education or land tenure reforms to enable sewerage installation.
  • Future research should focus on a broader range of scenarios than just extending current trends in population change, for example: ethnic conflict, social fragmentation, and rapid, Chinese-led infrastructure development.

 

Related UPGro work on urban groundwater or groundwater for urban areas:

 

Picture: Figure 5. Map of household water access by 2030 for sub-locations in and neighbouring Kisumu, Kenya, assuming continuity of current trends and policies, as envisaged by break-out groups 1, 2 and 3.

Safe water in towns and peri-urban areas: challenges of self-supply and water quality monitoring

Millions of people in towns and cities across Sub-Saharan Africa depend on groundwater day-to-day – but is it safe to drink? How can we measure the safety quickly, cheaply and accurately?  In this RWSN-UPGro webinar, Dr Jenny Grönwall (SIWI/T-GroUP) and Dr Dan Lapworth (BGS) present the latest updates on their research into urban groundwater monitoring and use, and how it can be improved.

Participants of the Arena in Arusha, Tanzania, identified a multitude of interconnected problems

by Jan Willem Foppen, re-posted from T-GroUP

Arusha is one of the faster-growing cities in Tanzania. The urbanization process is causing multiple interconnected problems. The first arena meeting organized as part of the T-Group Arusha Transition Management process was held by the local transition team with the aim to identify the existing community problems in Arusha. Below we briefly describe the findings from the first Arena meeting.

Continue reading Participants of the Arena in Arusha, Tanzania, identified a multitude of interconnected problems

Is the Cape Town Time-bomb coming your way? Water Ministries and Operators need to do more to keep the water flowing

by Sean Furey (Skat) & Dr Anne Bousquet (GWOPA/UN-Habitat)

With water shortages in Cape Town, South Africa, hitting headlines worldwide, it was timely that the African Water Association (AfWA) convened their 19th Congress in Bamado, Mali around the theme of “Accelerating access to sanitation and water for all in Africa amidst the challenges of climate change”.

We were extremely fortunate that Dr Anne Bousquet of the Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Association (GWOPA) was able to attend and present the UPGro urban groundwater  study led by Prof. Stephen Foster last year. Her presentation was entitled “Groundwater – rational use to enhance urban water security under global change” [download presentation] .

Anne reflects on the presentation and the discussion with participants: Continue reading Is the Cape Town Time-bomb coming your way? Water Ministries and Operators need to do more to keep the water flowing

A tale of two cities: How can we provide safe water for poor people living in African cities?

Dan Lapworth, Jim Wright and Steve Pedley are working to find out.

Reproduced from Planet Earth Winter 2014, p 22-23

Across much of Africa, cities are growing quickly. Current projections estimate that by 2050, 60 per cent of the population will be living in urban areas – half of them in slums. Many of these people have little access to services such as clean water and sanitation, and the UN has identified fixing this as a major priority.

Continue reading A tale of two cities: How can we provide safe water for poor people living in African cities?