Hidden Crisis at American Association of Geographers Conference in Washington DC

By Luke Whaley
27 May 2019

Between 3 – 7 April, I attended and presented at the annual American Association of Geographers Conference in Washington DC. The conference hosted nearly 8,500 geographers, GIS specialists, environmental scientists, and other registrants from around the world sharing the very latest in research, policy, and applications in geography, sustainability, and GIScience.

The featured themes of the week-long event were:

  • Geography, GIScience, and Health: Building the International Geospatial Health Research Network (IGHRN)
  • Geographies of Human Rights: The Right to Benefit from Scientific Progress
  • Physical Geography in Environmental Science.

I presented some of the research from the Hidden Crisis project as part of a panel in a session entitled ‘hydrofeminism’. This session considered the gendered dimension of global water flows and the ways in which women in particular are affected by inequalities in water distribution, quantity, and quality. In addition to this session, several other sessions were relevant to the UPGRO Hidden Crisis project and our emerging findings, including a session on different ‘water ontologies’ (the beliefs different indigenous groups have about water), as well as several sessions on development challenges and opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Research Dissemination in Ethiopia – Measuring functionality and performance levels

By Tseguereda Abraham, Zinash Kefale (WaterAid Ethiopia) and Dessie Nedaw (Addis Ababa University)
25 April 2019

WaterAid in collaboration with Addis Ababa University recently conducted workshops with two Ethiopian Universities to begin to disseminate some of the key research from the first major survey phase of the project – these were held at Bahir Dar University (16t April 2019) and Mekelle University ( 18 April 2019).

Both workshops were attended by over 30 WASH academics, including academics and lecturers, in addition to post-graduate students and University staff, and staff of the Nile Basin Development office.

Dr Dessie Nedaw and Dr Seifu Kebede (Addis Ababa University) introduced the Hidden Crisis project to both workshops.  The workshops then presented the project work to define functionality using a tiered approach and the field methods used to assess different performance levels within a rapid survey.  The different levels of functionality defined and assessed by the project are:

  1. Binary Functionality – is the water point working and delivering some water (yes/no)
  2. Functionality: yield snapshot – does the water point work and provide sufficient yield (10 L/min) on the day of the survey
  3. Functionality: reliable yield – does the water point provide sufficient yield (10 L/min) on the day of survey, is it reliable (<30 days downtime in last year) or abandoned (not worked in past year)?
  4. Reliable yield and water quality – as 3 above, and also passes WHO guidelines

Key findings from the data collected by the first major survey phase in Ethiopia were presented and discussed. 

Participants were particularly interested in the methods used to assess functionality, and including reliable yield and water quality.  The key points of both workshop discussions centred around:

  • Whether population expansion and service over use has been considered as a criteria?
  • How seasonality has been accounted for in measuring reliability?
  • The basis for selecting a down time for 30 days as a measure of ‘reliability’? And variations across Regions and woredas/districts
  • What success will look like in the context of Ethiopia and why universal access is not happening anywhere?
  • How the UPGro Hidden Crisis work relates to the functionality challenge in Ethiopia and achieving the SDG targets for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.
  • Which type of pumps were considered in the study and why?
  • Water security issues in Ethiopia and how some issues are preventable though a well implemented water safety plan? Water quality parameters can also vary by type of target area.
  • How the sampling was done and what a representative sample was also another area of interest.
  • The role of the political economy and an entire chain of drivers and barriers, which determine functionality, as well as technological issues and physical

There was also interest in how the work could be applied to lowland areas for regions such as Tigray, Somali and Afar.

Both universities showed real interest in several areas of potential follow-up, and areas of more in-depth dissemination were identified, including:

  • Encouraging similar studies by students
  • Engaging the Water bureau and districts for them to be regularly measuring functionality using the tiered approach
  • Arranging another workshop to share Research II findings and how it applies to the Region

Bahir Dar Institute of Technology have shared already the workshop photos and news in their website.

Dr Seifu Kebede presenting key research findings from Ethiopia in the first major survey phase of the UPGro Hidden Crisis project.
Dr Dessie Nedaw presenting the field methods and approach to assess the functionality and performance levels of handpumped boreholes.
Both workshops were attended by >30 academics, lecturers in addition to post graduate students.

IRC WASH Symposium

By Donald John MacAllister
10 April 2019

I recently attended the IRC WASH systems symposium that took place in The Hague, the administrative capital of the Netherlands, from the 12 – 14 March 2019.

The conference was held in The Hague, which is known as the International City of Peace and Justice. The Peace Palace is one of the most iconic buildings in the city, it houses the United Nations International Court of Justice.

The symposium focussed on WASH systems and systems thinking in the WASH sector. The event aimed to increase understanding of how systems approaches can help build sustainable and expanded WASH services around the world.

Broken pumps were identified as a symptom of broken systems and were contrasted with tap water supplies that are normal in the western world and which indicate functional systems. The need for broad and systematic thinking and collaboration across different organisations, sectors and skill sets was strongly emphasised. The One WASH programme in Ethiopia and The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign) programme in India, both government led programmes, were cited as highly successful examples of systems approaches that are delivering positive change. Sessions relevant to UPGRo included discussions of novel techniques for groundwater supply monitoring in fragile states, water safety planning, and piped water and self-supply in rural and urban environments. Sessions also focussed on data and use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to maximise benefit from routinely collected and/or publicly available data.

Work from the Hidden Crisis project was presented in the water theme in a session called ‘Overcoming rural water supply challenges’, which included contributions from academia and NGOs. It was recognised early in the session that point source water supplies, including hand pumped boreholes, serve the vast majority of people in rural SSA and are also growing at the fastest rate, and that this is likely to be the case for some time to come.

There were five presenters, four of these focussed on various aspects of point source water supplies in SSA, and a fifth presentation discussed piped water systems in rural Nepal. I presented work from our detailed analysis of hand pumped borehole functionality which forms the second phase of the Hidden Crisis project. My presentation focused on the some of the emerging findings to the influence of water levels, aquifer properties and pump materials on hand pumped borehole functionality in Ethiopia. Other contributions to the session included institutional aspects of rural water supply in Kenya by fellow UPGRo researchers from Oxford University; challenges of finance, governance and technology in Nepal by Oxfam; and, problems with supply chains in Ethiopia by CARE.

A panel discussion focussed on some key questions within the rural water supply sector, focusing on technology and the institutional context of rural water supply. Challenges with community management, user satisfaction, motivation and finance were also discussed. Gaps in the supporting environment were highlighted as crucial weak points in rural water systems, including high vacancy rates and low capacity in district water offices. Badly designed drilling contracts and lack of hydrogeological oversight were also discussed. Political will was highlighted as central to achieving higher success rates and long term sustainability in the rural water supply sector.

The symposium provoked many interesting discussions on a range of topics relevant to Hidden Crisis, and UPGRo more broadly, and was an important audience for communicating the emerging findings from our research. The need to take a systems approach was central to the discussions and advocated as an innovative way of achieving universal access to safe and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene. As the systems approach aims to understand the whole WASH system it may be a good opportunity for hydrogeologists, and technicians more generally, to engage more in the discussion around achievement of SDG6, as groundwater is often a key part of the WASH system.

The Netherlands is famed for its culture of cycling

UPGro programme – Early Career Workshop

By Chikondi Shaba, Malawi University
26 – 30 November, UK

UPGro Early Career Researchers convening in London

The Early career workshop was the highlight of my 2018!  It was my first time to attend an early career researcher’s workshop that combined Natural and social sciences and my first time to visit the UK. All other workshops that I have attended have been very scientific, technical and specific to my area of study and interest – Analytical Chemistry and Mass Spectrometry. Until joining the Hidden Crisis team in 2017, my research work was primarily lab based, of course with the aim of achieving solutions that will have positive impact on humanity. We collect samples, analyse and report – a very technical focused scope.  

The workshop contained a range of sessions over the 5 days including: writing peer-reviewed academic papers; verbal and poster communication; communicating across disciplines and with different users of research; and grant writing.

This workshop gave me direction on several of my individual skill gaps such as dealing with the communication gap between communities and scientists, incorporating a social science aspect into a purely natural science project, putting direction into a proposal to the funders benefit and not just the communities, and I learnt much about the art of pitching.

The handouts and discussion on technical writing were very enlightening of the “common but not so obvious” mistakes made in manuscript preparation and writing in general. During this interactive session, we explored components of Brevity, Clarity, and Accuracy in writing styles. Most useful was the reference to research and donors with regard to the African countries and not just the UK context.

I have only ever done one poster presentation, the practice of giving a two-minute overview of a presentation was quite challenging for me and it did make me perfect organisation and time keeping during presentations.

I have read about UPGro and the various projects under it, but meeting other UPGro career researchers especially from the other projects other than Hidden Crisis, in person, was surreal. We got to share about the various work we are all doing, the impact on the communities, the experiences during fieldwork, and our personal development. It was fun and highly motivating. This interaction and the Ineson lecture put into perspective how I could combine my research interests and my Hidden Crisis experience.

This week was very inclusive both in terms of nationality, and in terms of natural and social science disciplines. I look forward to another early career researcher’s workshop for more skills and as a platform to share our work and experiences.

On another note, the UK has always been at the top of my travel destination list, and UPGro made it happen. The tour of London was super amazing and a great start to the week.

UPGro ECR’s hard at work during the training week!
UPGro Early Career Researchers presenting their research from within the UPGro programme, at the UPGRo conference, Burlington House, London.