Developing a new tool to manage groundwater risks in Africa

Oxford University is embarking on a four-year research project to improve the management of groundwater in rural Africa for economic growth and human development.

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Groundwater drilling in Kwale County from a shared aquifer used by communities, mining and agriculture.

Dr Rob Hope at the Smith School of Environment and Enterprise leads the £1.9 million project ‘GRo for GooD’ (Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development) which will provide new evidence on the status of groundwater and help institutions better manage this important resource.

Groundwater is a critical source of drinking water for rural populations in Africa, but is poorly understood. Groundwater systems face increasing pressures from explosive urban growth, expansion of irrigated agriculture, industrial pollution, mining, rural neglect, and environmental risks. As demand for groundwater intensifies, there is a high risk that the poorest communities will lose out. The GRo for GooD project seeks to answer the question: ‘how groundwater can be sustainably managed for the benefit of the economy and the rural poor?’

Researchers will design a new Groundwater Risk Management Tool to help governments and groundwater users understand the complex interactions and trade-offs between economic activities, demands for water, and poverty outcomes. The tool will be tested in Kwale County, Kenya, but will be adaptable for other countries and contexts.

GRo for GooD follows on from a successful catalyst project which generated a wide range of data on groundwater level and quality, water use, and indicators of health and welfare, in order to gain a better understanding of poverty and groundwater governance in Kwale County.

The Groundwater Risk Management Tool will take inputs from multiple sources across different disciplines, including epidemiological data, poverty metrics, and data on groundwater levels generated from a novel distributed system for monitoring shallow groundwater that is being developed by the research team.

The project sees Oxford University partnering with the University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Rural Focus Ltd., all in Kenya, as well as with Universitat Politècnica de Cataluñya in Spain.

Within Oxford University, expertise is drawn from multiple departments: Rob Hope, Caitlin McElroy and Patrick Thomson from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment; Katrina Charles and David Bradley from School of Geography and the Environment, and David Clifton from the Department of Engineering. In addition, DPhil candidates Johanna Koehler, Jacob Katuva and Farah Colchester are supporting critical elements of the project.

GRo for GooD is part of the seven-year UpGro programme (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor), jointly funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).