This year’s AGC2019 event showcased research into the key role aquifers have to play in building resilience. The overall theme of the conference was “Groundwater in a Changing World”. Conference chair Professor Jim Underschultz said “Groundwater is increasingly recognised as a vital element in world water resource management and an important contributor to global health, economies, and social and environmental wellbeing.”
Eddie Banks took the opportunity of the Australasian conference to present some of the findings from Hidden Crisis project work – highlighting some of the findings from the project, which suggests rural groundwater supplies in sub-Saharan Africa are generally resilient to climate variability for the yields associated with drinking water. Analysis of environmental tracers in groundwater sampled from hand pumps in the project has shown the rural water supplies are being actively recharged and the water points often recover seasonally.
The China Africa Water Forum is a
platform for all professionals within the fields of water science and
technology in Africa and China. The China Africa Water Association also
referred to as CAWA, is a non-profit organization that predominantly
organizes annual events. One such event was held for three
days from July 22 to July 24, 2019 in Windhoek, Namibia with title “Risk Reduction through Sustainable Water
Management in Developing Countries”.
was the seventh of the series held under the title China Africa Water forum.
The conference has been prepared in collaboration between China Africa Water
Association and Namibia’s chapter of Association of Hydro-geologists and other
speech by Minister of public enterprise has emphasized the current fresh water
supply challenge of Namibia facing and the possible solution of desalinization
as the future option. The Chinese Ambassador in Namibia has emphasized on the
neeed of China Africa partnership in a win-win strategy based on mutual
benefits. He mentioned the similarities of challenges faced by both China and
Africa and stressed some of the innovative approaches and technologies in China
stressing the importance of the forum for transfer of skill and knowledge. Nearly 25 presentation from Africa and China
covering a wide range of water related topics focusing in reducing risk of
water supply, management and sustainable utilization water resources, transport
and diffusion of water pollutants and exploration and development of
groundwater has been addressed during the three days conference.
The Hidden Crisis project work was presented
at the conference within the groundwater exploration and development theme –
highlighting the work of the project to apply a tiered approach to assess
functionality of handpumped borehole supplies in terms of different levels of
performance. The findings have shown this approach to be helpful to unpack
national statistics and develop more nuanced understanding of functionality
within the country.
has given opportunity to highlight the project and also given good opportunity
to share ideas from other professionals, particularly Chinese water experts.
Ethiopia has formally requested to be the next organizer of China Africa water
forum in the meeting.
The Hidden Crisis project team have now published a
Technical Brief on the methods developed and used by the project to assess
rural water supply functionality and levels of performance – now available from
This technical brief is
aimed at sharing the learning and approaches developed by theproject
to look at how the functionality and performance levels of boreholes equipped
with handpumps (HPBs), can be assessed using a common set of definitions and
methods. A tiered approach to defining and measuring functionality was found to
be useful to examining functionality for different scales and purposes of
The report is aimed at national and regional actors
involved in the provision and monitoring of rural water supply functionality.
The brief sets out the tiered functionality definitions,
and accompanying survey methods, which were developed by the project and have
been applied in functionality surveys across Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi
The Hidden Crisis project team examined the political
economy of rural water supply (RWS) in Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi during 2017
and 2018. These are based on literature and interviews with government staff
and water sector stakeholders to unpick systemic obstacles to sustainable
access to water.
The three reports summarising the key findings are now
published – and available from here.
The findings provide an insight to some of the key
structural factors which affect RWS performance (historical, institutional,
actors) in the three countries – examining systematic factors, decision making
logic and opportunities for reform.
The Hidden Crisis project team met for the fourth and final
annual project meeting, which was held this year at the BGS offices in
Edinburgh, 10-13 June. Representatives from all institutions and
from each country involved in the research consortium attended the workshop –
in total 21 project researchers.
The main aims of the project
workshop were to: review the emerging results from the project; to
identify the key narrative and messages arising from the project findings; and
to assess any final remaining analytical work, and the required project outputs
and dissemination strategies. As we near completion of the project
an important part of the workshop was to also to celebrate the many successes
achieved by the project over the last four years, and to enable the project
team to come together as a whole, to continue to foster our growing working
relationships for the future. As we enter the final year of the project –
the project team reflected on the huge amount of work so far completed, and the
key milestones, successes and challenges within our project
Overall the project is on track to complete each of its
original objectives and research questions. The key remaining tasks for
the months ahead are to: finalise the overall interdisciplinary project
analysis – identifying the most significant factors and causal pathways to
functionality outcomes; complete a suite of key overview and country-focused
papers from the project; and further develop the in-country dissemination
pathways and research uptake.
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.
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.
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:
Functionality – is the water point working and delivering some water
yield snapshot – does the water point work and provide sufficient yield (10
L/min) on the day of the survey
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)?
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
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
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
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,
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.
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 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
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.
By Chikondi Shaba, Malawi University 26 – 30 November, UK
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.
Many rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa still lack clean water for basic needs such as drinking and washing. Even where water points have been constructed, many break down prematurely or provide inadequate, seasonal or poor quality water supplies. While techno-managerial factors are relevant in explaining these problems, attention is needed to the institutional and political-economic dynamics shaping policy outcomes on the ground.
This report presents the findings from a political economy study of Malawi’s rural water supply sector. Combining a review of the literature with in-country interviews at a national and district level, the analysis identifies the underlying causes of bottlenecks in the service delivery chain, which undermine sustainability and functionality of water points. These relate to structural factors (i.e. the political, economic and institutional context) and actors’ practices, influence and incentives. The authors recommend that central government departments and development partners engaged in water service delivery:
give greater recognition and support to District Councils and District Water Development Offices, as their role is crucial to delivering sustainable water services
adhere to basic good practices in developing and implementing programmes
increase attention and funding to neglected areas of the service delivery chain, namely post-construction support and monitoring activities
avoid ideological approaches to decentralised service delivery, and focus instead on context-specific solutions, including support to successful innovations
provide spaces to critique dominant approaches to service delivery, as part of an adaptive learning process.
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