Geology for Global Development

Guest Blogs

Guest Blog: Anthropogenic climate change – what does this mean for groundwater resources in Africa?

Borehole in Tanzania (Credit: Tumaini Fund)

On the 25th October, Laura Hunt (Cardiff University) attended the joint meeting of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) and the Hydrogeological Group of the Geological Society, which included the Ineson Lecture at the Geological Society of London. 

It is a common misconception that Africa is an entirely dry, arid continent, parched for water. A resource that we in the UK take almost for granted, but that we assume all across Africa is hard to come by, with women walking many miles a day for drinking water, which is for the most part polluted with toxins and waterborne diseases. And for many communities, in many countries within Africa, this unfortunately is the case; the lack of surface water is a barrier to social and economic development.

But Africa is also a resource rich continent in terms of water. The continent has a huge groundwater resource, including large transnational aquifers. The exploitation of this incredible resource could be the key to facilitating Africa’s development, and coping with its rapidly increasing population.

Increasingly, investment in Africa’s water resources from NGOs, charities and private firms is in boreholes to extract clean groundwater. However, with anthropogenic driven climate change in this century and beyond predicted to be most adverse and rapid in the lowest (and highest) latitude regions, it’s important to understand the implication of a (overall) warmer and wetter world on this important resource prior to huge investment and increased dependency of many vulnerable countries upon it.

At the IAH conference, which I was lucky enough to attend with support from Geology for Global Development, University College London’s Richard Taylor spoke of his work aiming to answer this question with use of the ‘Chronicles Consortium’ – a collaboration of many groundwater resource’s multi-decadal hydrographs from a number of African countries to understand the response of aquifers to short term climatic events.

Africa is a vast continent with huge contrasts in climate between regions, and so climatic changes will not be unilateral across the continent, hence leading to different impacts on distant groundwater resources. The 2015/2016 El Nino event which was the second strongest event experienced for 150 years lead to contrasting impacts on the water balance across the continent. The Limpopo Basin (central southern Africa) experienced dry conditions, enhancing aridity in the area, whereas Northern Mozambique experienced wetter weather, with groundwater recharge recorded at 2000 boreholes.

The ENSO (El Nino Southern Osscilation) evidently had a strong influence upon groundwater recharge in some areas. In central Tanzania. Despite increased rates of pumping from the aquifers in the Makutapora basin (ie decline in water), ground water levels still rose.

The mechanism and conditions for recharge to occur is important in understanding the response of climatic change. Recharge velocities associated with the application of the regular diffuse model to recharge of the Makuapora Basin are simply inadequate to account for the rates of recharge recorded. However a mechanism of recharge focused pathways that focus diffuse recharge allow for faster infiltration and recharge of groundwater. These recharge pathways are the major, domain component of groundwater recharge as they are so focused compared to diffuse infiltration, but are only realised (utilised). Approximately 5-15mm of rain per day is required for 5-13 days are required for recharge to occur.

It can therefore be concluded that recharge occurs episodically and results disproportionately from heavy rainfall events.

So what are the implications of the changes in climate that we are already seeing and will continue into and beyond the 21st Century and beyond on these ground water resources? The key to sustainability is that development and investment should benefit future generations and so we need to make sure that this resource is viable for the future.

Firstly, climate change will lead to increased aridity around the equator, but enhanced rainfall around the tropics, creating disparity in the health of aquifers across the Africa.

Around the tropics, precipitation is expected to be less frequent but more intense, and so the threshold required for recharge is likely to be met, and so recharge will be greater (along with increased frequency of flooding events).

However, heavy rainfalls and increased macrogenic flow of water in the soil zone leads to greater contamination of shallow waters and are more vulnerable to pathogen transfer. Antecedant conditions also have a significant control over water quality with dry antecedent conditions leading to lower water quality with the highest degree of contaminiation than if antecedent conditions are wet. If climatic change causes more intense precipitation, and less gentle rainfall events, groundwater in regions of recharge are likely to become increasingly contaminated.

This research is just the beginning of understanding and predicting the response of the water table to climatic change, but allows us to begin to understand what challenges will be faced by Africa’s hydrogeologists and water authorities. This incredible resource with the power to drive Africa’s development, if chosen to be located in areas where overall long term recharge will occur, can be managed to reduce the effects of enhanced contamination and therefore provide a reliable and safe drinking water supply to some of the people most vulnerable to anthropogenic driven warming. With management of disease spread that was also showcased at the IAH conference by Cambridge University, it seems that there is the potential for a positive future for some African countries water resources to be revolutionised by the use of ground water. And this can be done sustainably – so long as the right long term management and planning, and of course further research is implemented.

This post is a guest contribution, sharing initial thoughts of a student attending the Ineson Lecture (and associated meeting) in London. For further information about the event, please see the event webpage and  contact the speakers directly.

Guest Blog: Africa, Groundwater and the Sustainable Development Goals

Figure 1. Image of Dr Callist Tindimugaya from the Ministry of Water, Uganda. Dr Callist presented the 2017 Ineson lecture. He is a key figure in Africa achieving the sustainable development goals for 2017.

Africa faces a range of groundwater and development issues such as a lack of groundwater data, rising populations and urbanisation. On the 25th October Charlotte Copley attended the joint meeting of the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) and the Hydrogeological Group of the Geological Society, which included the Ineson Lecture at the Geological Society of London.

With only two hydrogeology lectures on my back and a very limited knowledge of Africa, I found the experience of being at this meeting to be truly mesmerising and it has widened my thoughts on what we can do to help Africa be on its way to achieving the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. The day consisted of five lectures, each on a range of issues surrounding Africa and its water supply, a debate on the theme “Each time an NGO, charity or private company constructs a water well or borehole for community water supply, they should be required to pay a small levy to Government to cover the costs of the groundwater monitoring and governance activities undertaken by the relevant public sector organisations” and a panel discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa.

This blog focuses on the lecture I found to be the most informative as a whole on the current issues Africa faces. This lecture was given by Dan Lapworth from the British Geological Survey and was titled “Urban groundwater & groundwater quality in Africa”. The general message received from this lecture was that groundwater in Africa is a resource we cannot afford to overlook due to rapidly rising populations, urbanisation and changing behaviours in terms of water usage.

Some areas of Africa have the highest population growth globally!

The population in Africa is a growing, low income, urban population, where it is estimated that there will be 6,000 cities in West Africa by 2020, where Nigeria is a hotspot.

Africa has a huge freshwater resource that is quite shallow, making it fairly accessible. This poses a real potential for future development especially as there are moderate to high productivity aquifers in most places. Deeper and better sources that are more protected from these challenges are also currently underutilised.

The current national groundwater use in Africa is around 10-50%

Dan shared the main issues with the water supply in Africa. The points given below show how far behind Africa is in water treatment technology, highlighting the lack of people being trained in this field and how little advancement in this industry has occurred in Africa. The key water quality challenges that Africa faces are vast; some of these include:

  • Faecal waste management contamination of shallow water systems
  • Geogenic contaminations (i.e. Arsenic and Fluoride)
  • Hydrocarbons and organic contaminants are present in urban areas
  • Legacy contaminations from industry
  • There is limited treatment, even for municipal sources

The key water supply and health challenges that Africa faces include:

  • Water access in low income areas is wholly inaccurate
  • Piped or kiosk water is not affordable, alternative high risk sources are used
  • There is a higher risk from faecal contamination during flooding/shallow groundwater conditions
  • Augmented self-supply is common for both high and low income groups

The current trend in Africa is that the majority of households own their own borehole, with 51% of households in Nigeria owning their own borehole, 36% of households share a borehole and only 33% accessing a public water supply.

It was clear to see from this lecture that Africa is behind with water supply and quality; major changes and advancements need to be made for the UN Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. With groundwater demands set to increase in future, this problem needs to be addressed and action needs to be taken.

For this to happen Africa needs to prepare for a groundwater revolution. This needs to begin with the government introducing education schemes, teaching future generations the importance of having a good and continuous supply of water and how this affects health and gender equality. Local water supplies in villages also needs to be improved, by maintaining and monitoring the wells that have been put in place by outside organisations. More data points are needed on aquifer location, characteristics, ground water quality and how the groundwater levels fluctuate in response to seasonal and inter-annual recharge, along with long term pumping. Further to this, more resources of water in Africa need to be utilised, especially deep water resources that are less prone to contamination.

Through projects such as UPGro and GroFutures, this can be achieved. Given time, awareness can be raised in communities of the importance on the future pathway of Africa’s water supply!

Take home message: Water is key to improving the lives of Africa’s ever growing population. It is currently seen as the women’s job to collect water, however, with the instalment of taps in villages, providing a clean, reliable water supply, women can have the opportunity to be educated, which will improve gender equality. If the role of water is introduced into education, people will learn about the issues regarding unsanitary supplies, health will improve as people become more informed. Water is the key for life and no human can survive without it, it needs to stop being a neglected subject and be at the forefront of the development in Africa.

Written by: Charlotte Copley, Third Year Undergraduate Geology Student, University of Liverpool

Heather Britton: India’s Energy-Climate Dilemma

Heather Britton is one of our new writers, today reporting on a summary of this paper by Andrew J Apostoli and William A Gough, covering the difficulties of pursuing reduced greenhouse gas emissions whilst fuelling one of the largest populations on the planet – India. The actions of this country are contributing to the eventual achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 13 – Affordable and Clean Energy, and Climate Action respectively.

India makes up 18% of the world’s population (1.2 billion people) with this value predicted to rise to 1.5 billion by 2030. Like many countries in the Global South, India is currently reliant upon fossil fuels to meet its energy demands, but it lacks the natural resources to provide energy for its people in this way – already 80% of its oil is imported, and this is likely to increase in the coming years. On top of this, India’s current energy production is falling short of their present requirements, with only 44% of households having access to electricity and 600,000 villages yet to be connected to the national electricity network.

You could be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that reducing carbon emissions would not be a priority, with the more pressing issue of making sure all Indians have access to energy taking precedence. This, however, is far from the reality, and although per-capita emissions are predicted to increase significantly as a result of the demands of a growing population, India’s renewable energy sector is ranked fifth in the world (Figure 1), and plans are in place to ensure that this sector’s growth does not stop here.

Figure 1: Global renewable energy investments. Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment, 2016

Although a factor in this statistic is the huge (and expanding) population of the country, it seems that India truly are passionate about pursuing a sustainable future. A survey recently revealed that many Indian citizens were happy to pay a carbon tax due to their awareness of the environment and the problems it is currently facing. To some, the environmental conscience of the country is seen as exacerbating India’s energy problem – if India can’t generate enough energy to ensure that all of its people have access to a sizeable and dependable energy source, why restrict the use of some of the most reliable methods of energy generation on the planet? – Others however have seen it as an admirable step in pursuit of sustainable development.

India has adopted ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through climate change policies and financial incentives to promote the development of new renewable energy initiatives, but it is currently unclear whether this will be enough for India to overcome its present day energy difficulties and meet the environmental promises that they have made both to their public and the global community (e.g. pledging to reduce emissions by 20-25% by 2020, although this is not legally binding).

Figure 2: Smog in New Delhi, India. Source: Prakhar Misra (distributed via

The landscape and climate of India are well suited to many forms of renewable energy generation, making these options financially viable. It is clear that if India is to achieve its goal of supplying affordable energy to allow economic growth in an environmentally-conscious manner, renewable energy must be heavily invested in, enabling technological developments to be made in this industry.

The Indian government has produced a number of funding initiatives to encourage such investment: for example the ‘National Action Plan on Climate Change’ (NAPCC) was formed ‘to make India a prosperous and efficient economy that is self-sustaining for both present and future generations while confronting climate change’ (Apostoli and Gough, 2016). Its aims include reducing poverty, reducing the anthropogenic effects of climate change and developing technologies at a fast pace to ensure the regulation and mitigation of greenhouse gases.

Other funding initiatives include the coal tax, which has risen form 50 rupees per tonne of coal in 2010 to 400 rupees per tonne in 2016, the money from which is used to finance the national clean environment fund. Up to 2015 this fund had developed 46 clean energy initiatives, and has allowed further projects to take off since. In addition, tax-free bonds were offered from 2015-2016 for the financing of renewable energy initiatives, valued at around $800 million.

India therefore has succeeded in creating motivation for the development of renewable energy and has a plethora of methods of renewable energy generation available – the details for some of which I have outlined below:

Hydropower: With altitudes ranging from the highs of the Himalayas to lows of the Ganges delta, India’s landscape is perfectly suited to both large and small scale hydropower plants. As of 2013 17%  of the total electricity generated in India was from hydropower stations, second only to coal, demonstrating the potential for the development of this field in the future.

Solar: Sitting between the tropic of cancer and the equator, India is ideally situated for the generation of energy through the use of solar cells. Solar energy has the potential to surpass India’s annual energy consumption and allow it to become a global leader in solar energy, although the initial costs of the solar cells required is considerable. With schemes such as the ‘National Solar Mission’, aiming to have 22 GW of solar capacity by 2022, the solar sector in India is expected to expand rapidly.

Wind: There is huge potential for the wind industry. Wind generation is not only the largest growing renewable energy sector in India, but is also experiencing a recent rise in social acceptability, leading to the prediction that in 2020 wind energy will save 48 million tonnes of CO2.

Biomass: This is an incredibly important energy source for India, as 70% of the country’s population rely on it for energy. Currently, however, biomass is being used inefficiently, exposing children and women to high levels of indoor pollution. Policies have been developed to encourage more efficient and cleaner utilisation of this abundant fuel, but there is still a long way to go in improving the use of biomass.

Figure 3: Landscape of the Indian Himalaya, well suited to many methods of renewable energy generation. Source: Yuval Sadeh (distributed via

The progress in the renewable energy industry sounds promising, but as ever problems are arising. Last year the Indian state Tamil Nadu generated more energy using solar cells than it required – but this energy could not be passed on to other states as the grid was not sophisticated enough to  connect this excess of renewable energy to neighbouring states. It is clear that developing methods of renewable energy generation is of great importance, but without careful planning much of the future renewable energy generated may go to waste.

In conclusion, sustainable development is of pressing concern to India, a country which houses a significant proportion of the world’s poor. There is currently heavy demand for fossil fuels, as the country undergoes unprecedented economic growth, rapid population increase and industrialisation. This places pressure not only on the national grid, but on unsustainable resources which will be exhausted under current consumption rates.

In response to these challenges India has invested heavily in the deployment of renewable energy strategies. With a combination of financial incentives, taxes and subsidies, India has caused a surge in renewable energy schemes, working to exploit the country’s landscape. Although it is still in the early stages of development, India’s dedication towards renewable energy will result in greater energy security for the world’s second largest population, providing them with the independence to facilitate economic growth whilst reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. There is certainly more work to be done, but the impetus that India has demonstrated in finding solutions to their energy crisis will hopefully result in a happy ending for this sustainable development story.

Read more: Andrew J Apostoli and William A Gough, (2016) India’s Energy-Climate Dilemma: The Pursuit for Renewable Energy Guided by Existing Climate Change Policies, Journal of Earth Science & Climatic Change, 7:362.

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Heather Britton). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **

Introducing Our New Authors (3) – Jesse Zondervan

We’ve been introducing you to a couple of new faces on the GfGD blog, bringing fresh ideas and perspectives on topics relating to geoscience and sustainable development. We’re delighted to have their input, and look forward to their posts. Today we interview Jesse Zondervan.

I’m Jesse Zondervan, a PhD student at Plymouth freshly arrived from Imperial College in London and I hope to use the science communication experience I have to contribute to GfGDs exciting vision.

What is your academic background?

I have just started a new PhD project at Plymouth University and graduated from Imperial College in London.

I’m looking at Quaternary river system development in the High Atlas of Morocco together with my supervisors in Plymouth with support from Ibn Zohr University (Agadir, Morocco).

I got inspired to do this project through the work I did for my MSci research project. Here I worked towards understanding how rivers erode and shape the landscape, which we surprisingly can’t model very accurately yet. Since what goes on at the surface of our planet is largely dictated by forces directly or indirectly connected to rivers, it is important that we can understand fluvial processes quantitatively.

Connecting my research to development, I will mention that I recently went to Morocco to see the river systems I will be working on. I couldn’t help but notice how people interact with geological hazards in some of the poorest areas in Morocco. I am sure that I will see more as I do field work in Morocco over the next three years.

What experiences do you have of science communication and why do you think it is important?

My first contact with science communication was before I started my degree. In fact it’s the reason why I chose to do geology, so I’m aware of the impact science communication can make on young student’s career choices.

Over the years of my degree in London and Australia I maintained an interest in communicating science myself. I worked with a science marketing team and joined the editorial board of a science communication blog aggregator, ScienceSeeker. I’ve also got a video on YouTube and I’ve been working on a podcast for a while.

I believe science communication is important for two main reasons: inspire and direct people in their research careers & help academics maintain a fresh perspective on the research they do by communicating in a non-academic way (as I reflected on in my post Why communicating science is beneficial to everyone’s mental health).

How did you come across GfGD and why do you want to engage in our work?

Through my local university GfGD group I heard about Geology for Global Development. I did not get involved in their activities during my undergraduate, but as I started to think about my career after graduating, I became more interested in their work.

Over the years studying in London and Australia I accumulated quite a few friends who are involved in UN work or international development in general. Inspired by my friends, I started looking towards GfGD to guide me in making an impact while using my expertise and research work.

In 2015, the UN Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development tracks merged to form the 2030 Agenda launched in New York. I believe the UN 2030 agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals present a change in the way policy recognizes the importance of working towards a sustainable future to achieve development goals, for all countries including the first world.

The new UN agenda creates an exciting new time in which geoscientists may be encouraged to work towards international development goals and receive more publicity and funding for research that contributes to understanding the way to sustainable development.

GfGD is one of the main pioneers in research on the intersection between geoscience and international development and promoting this new theme to the geoscience community.

The shifting of policy in development together with GfGD’s vision mean GfGD is well positioned to direct future research, which is what excites me about GfGD.

What themes and topics are you interested in and may be likely to write about in the future?

Since I do research in surface processes and tectonics, I am most easily interested by Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and hydrogeology (groundwater) topics.

I would like to learn more about the institutions which are involved in geoscience for international development. I will be collecting regular round-ups of blogging and news items about geology for global development topics.

As I’ve got an interest in making videos and podcasts, I would also love to work towards producing these for GfGD. If you have experience with this and would like to get involved contact me!

Plans for the future?

I would like to see how I can direct my research towards sustainable development relevance or to contribute to future research projects. I could see myself working for a Geological Survey (e.g., BGS) or as an academic affiliate to institutes like the Sustainable Earth Institute at Plymouth or the Earth Institute in New York.

I look forward to getting more involved in GfGD. Thank you for following our blog and I hope to bring you more content soon!

Jesse Zondervan can be contacted via Twitter: @JesseZondervan or email: jesse.zondervan[at]

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author. These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **