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Water and Sustainable Development – 6th GfGD Annual Conference Event Report

Water and Sustainable Development – 6th GfGD Annual Conference Event Report

Understanding, managing and protecting water resources is critical to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., education, water and sanitation, healthy oceans, zero hunger, good health, gender equality, energy, industry, and biodiversity). Increasing urbanisation, industrialisation, and climate change, however, are increasing pressure on water supplies and reducing water quality. Our 6th Annual Conference explored the role of geoscientists in managing conflicting demands for water, ensuring that the needs of the poorest are met while enhancing the health of ecosystems. We recently published a full event report online, and here we share some of the highlights.

Our Annual Conference is a highlight for many involved in the work of Geology for Global Development, bringing together people from across the UK and beyond to explore how geoscientists can contribute to sustainable development. This year approximately 120 attendees gathered at the Geological Society of London to talk about all things water, Sustainable Development Goals and geoscience.

The conference was opened by Lord Duncan of Springbank (UK Government Minister for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a fellow geoscientist). Lord Duncan gave a passionate description of the important links between politics, geology and sustainable development. Another distinguished guest was Benedicto Hosea, visiting the UK from Tanzania and working closely with the Tanzania Development Trust. Benedicto gave us an insight into water resources in Tanzania, and the realities of implementing projects and taking practical action to improve water provision.

Our keynote lecture was delivered by Professor Bob Kalin from the University of Strathclyde, who gave us an overview of the interactions between water, geoscience and human impacts – and why it is important that geoscientists engage in the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. You can find a recording of a similar talk Professor Kalin presented at a TedX event.

The first panel discussion of the day focused on management, with insight from industry, academia and the Overseas Development Institute. We discussed the challenges involved in listening to and considering many stakeholders, the management of transnational aquifers and how best to enforce policy – then attempted to come with some solutions to these challenges. Our event report includes links to key reading suggested by our panellists.

Water contamination is a significant environmental issue in many countries at all stages of development.  We heard about research into salinization and arsenic contamination of groundwater in Bangladesh. Mike Webster, head of WasteAid (check them out here) gave a different perspective on water contamination, talking about the work the charity has done in improving solid waste collection, thereby improving drainage and water quality.

Probably the most hectic, yet fun part of the conference was the UN style activity – we split up into groups representing different stakeholders and came up with a research and innovation statement relating to water and the SDGs.

We were also joined by The Eleanor Foundation, a charity working in Tanzania to provide access to safe, clean water provision to communities through pump installation and education programmes. It was so inspiring to hear about a charity that has undertaken effective work in ensuring the sustainable supply of water to communities, and made a real difference in improving lives – it is estimated that the Eleanor Foundation has improved access to water to over 250,000 people. In 2019, GfGD will be supporting the work of The Eleanor Foundation, helping to deliver SDG 6 in Tanzania. We will be using surplus income from our conference, together with other funds, to facilitate an evaluation of The Eleanor Foundation’s water programme. This will generate recommendations for The Eleanor Foundation team to ensure long-term impact and sustainability.

In true GSL conference style, we finished the conference with a reception in the library, giving us all the chance to chat about the conference and meet people sharing an interest in geoscience and development (of course admiring William Smith’s geological map!). I think it would be fair to say that a fun and interesting day was had by all, and I left feeling excited by the number of geoscientists I met that all share enthusiasm for the role that geoscientists have in helping to achieve the SDGs.

The 7th GfGD Annual Conference will be on Friday 15th November 2019, hosted again by the Geological Society of London. Please do save the date, and we hope to see you there!

Laura Hunt is a member of the GfGD Executive Team, and a PhD Student at the University of Nottingham and the British Geological Survey.

Bárbara Zambelli Azevedo: Access​ ​to​ ​clean​ ​water,​ ​gender​ ​equality​ ​and​ ​geosciences

The importance of access to safe drinking water in our lives is quite obvious. Although its relation with gender equality and sustainable development may be less so. In this article, Bárbara Zambelli Azevedo explores the relationship between the two and discusses what geoscientists can do to improve the situation.

In 2017, according to the WHO, over 2.1 billion people still don’t have access to safely managed water (“safely managed drinking water means drinking water free of contamination that is available at home when needed”). It represents 3 out of 10 people worldwide! This number also includes 844 million people that don’t even have a basic drinking water service (more than Europe’s entire population), 263 million who have to spend over 30 minutes per trip outside their homes collecting water and 159 million who still drink untreated surface waters.

Daily collection of water in Tanzania (Credit: Joel Gill, distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Target 6.1 of Sustainable Development Goal 6 states “by 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all”. Here is a map showing the progress of access to water from 1990 to 2017 and projections to 2030.

But how does the lack of access to water impact women’s lives? Around the world, in many societies, women and girls are more likely to be responsible for the collection and management of household water supply, sanitation and health. Water is not only used for drinking and cooking purposes but also for cleaning, laundry, personal hygiene, and care of domestic animals, among other uses. Because of their dependence on water resources, women are also unduly affected by water scarcity, climate change and disasters.

Groundwater in India

According to the World Bank, India uses approximately 230km³ per year of groundwater, being the largest user of groundwater worldwide. Over 85% of drinking water comes from groundwater sources.

This exploitation of groundwater is causing a scenario of scarcity of agricultural and drinking water, especially during drought years, in both Guajarat and Rajasthan watersheds. Those watersheds have hard rock aquifers, with low connectivity, limited storage capacity and large groundwater fluctuations. In Dharta watershed (Rajasthan), groundwater trends from the past 20 years are showing a net rate of groundwater depletion. A survey took place in eight secondary schools located in Rajasthan and Guajarat watersheds in semi-arid regions in India, relating groundwater scarcity to school absenteeism of female students. The main objective was to assess students’ perceptions of groundwater scarcity and their educational opportunities.

As a result, more than 90% of the students surveyed in both watersheds identified groundwater scarcity as a major issue. Around 95% reported that they are involved with housework aside from their studies. Usually, females are responsible for fetching drinking water, cooking, cleaning and taking care of their young siblings, while males helped with farming work. They associated directly their absenteeism from school to demand for home duties. In this sense, increasing groundwater scarcity is expected to intensify household chores, particularly on females to fetch water, who have to walk longer distances and spend more time executing this task. This may impact on inclusive educational opportunities for female students. Water scarcity was identified as being a primary factor influencing school attendance by 77% of female students who missed school.

What geoscientists can do?

Groundwater is a precious resource for communities, although optimising its potential can be difficult. Firstly, groundwater can not be found everywhere, which make drilling a risky business. Secondly, the quantity and quality of water that can be withdrawn in a borehole can vary just within a few meters.

Geoscientists can help by doing a good siting for a borehole, for example. This requires a professional with suitable training, experience of siting boreholes and knowledge of the best types of survey to carry out. This person can be a geologist, a hydrogeologist or an engineer with sufficient geoscience understanding. A consistent approach for well location involves identification of features on the ground that may be favourable for groundwater occurrence, selection of the most suitable geophysical method (if needed), data interpretation and stakeholder consultation. The dialogue with a community is important in terms of understanding where users would like boreholes to be. The (hydro)geologist need to point out contamination sources such as latrines, burial sites or other forms of pollution. They will also find out who owns the land and if it can be accessed by the community (read more). To know more about siting of drilled water wells, download this resource.

Borehole in Tanzania (Credit: Tumaini Fund)

Supply of clean water is fundamental for permitting women and girls to devote more time to the pursuit of education and income generation. Geoscience is fundamental to delivering SDG 6 (clean water) but also SDG 5 (gender equality).