Geology for Global Development

GUEST BLOG: Hydrogeology & WASH Conference – What can hydrogeologists contribute to safe water supply and poverty reduction?

Freshwater Borehole in Tanzania (Credit: Tumaini Fund)

Freshwater Borehole in Tanzania (Credit: Tumaini Fund)

Last month GfGD provided two small bursaries to allow Victoria Gill (Aberdeen University) and Mike Rose (Camborne School of Mines) to attend a conference on Hydrogeology and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) at the Geological Society of London. The conference was organised by Hydrogeologists without Borders. Here Victoria reports on the event…

The main theme of the conference explored how those within the hydrogeology and humanitarian sectors can improve collaboration within the context of developing groundwater resources and access, including access to WASH services. Delegates and guest speakers included those with diverse backgrounds and levels of expertise ranging from students to professionals, hydrogeologists, health and sanitation practitioners, and representatives from NGO’s, government bodies and independent consultancies.

In the morning we heard from several guest speakers who presented a range of case studies and perspectives, and described the challenges and successes they have encountered in developing groundwater resources and WASH services in various contexts. Over lunch the poster session provided a great opportunity to find out more about research and individual projects, including those of current students. During the afternoon workshop sessions it was especially informative to hear a number of issues and viewpoints expressed during discussions, with lots of ideas and opinions to consider from a mix of hydrogeologists and non-hydrogeologists alike.

My intention was to gain a better understanding of how hydrogeologists in particular can effectively contribute to water, health and sanitation development projects in practical, real-world terms. For me one of the most interesting issues highlighted during one or two sessions was the failure rate of boreholes or wells and the factors that contributed to this failure. Emmanuel Opong (World Vision) presented a case study illustrating the challenges of developing groundwater resources in West Africa, which focused on projects in Ghana. An increase in borehole drilling success rate from 36% to 67% was partly attributed to the development of hydrogeological maps and improved hydrogeological skills and technology – fundamental to the process of identifying potential sites for drilling wells.

Success or failure can hinge on number of factors: poor research, project design or implementation, the lack of a robust plan for the future (and associated implications for the sustainability of the water supply), as well as poor communication between sectors at any stage of the project. The extent to which good communication and collaboration between the different sectors can impact the success rate was reiterated during many of the sessions. For example, the development of hydrogeological databases and maps, such as the Africa Groundwater Atlas, may allow knowledge and information to be shared and disseminated easily and more efficiently. Another extremely salient point raised during discussions was the need to consider different geographical, cultural and social contexts in each case; it is imperative that the communities concerned are consulted and project design should be tailored accordingly. In doing so, continued monitoring, maintenance and support might be required, and training of the local population might be a solution to this.

Many of the case studies and examples also emphasised the vital role that geological knowledge can play in ensuring an increased rate of success. This was demonstrated by a project based in Chikhwawa, Malawi, which benefited from a thorough assessment of the geology of the area. This enabled hydrogeologists to identify why boreholes were producing poor quality, saline water and consequently, how to circumvent this problem. Once a viable water supply has been established there is still potential for failure. Therefore a strategy for continued monitoring and analysis of the water quality to identify potential contaminants is necessary to ensure wells remain functional in the long term. The breadth of the information and experiences shared over the course of the day was genuinely engaging and insightful; however, it was particularly beneficial to hear of some of the specific ways in which geologists are essential to the development and management of groundwater resources.

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Joel is the Founder/Director of Geology for Global Development (@Geo_Dev) an organisation working to support geologists to make a sustainable contribution to the fight against global poverty. He is an interdisciplinary researcher, with a PhD in geography (natural hazards), and research interests in multi-hazard frameworks, disaster risk reduction, rural water projects, and sustainable development. This work has taken him to Chile, China, Guatemala, India, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Joel is currently based at the British Geological Survey, and tweets at @JoelCGill.

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