Geology for Global Development

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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.

Water Series (1): The Quantity and Quality of Groundwater

The water available in or near your home can vary dramatically over short distances. In Manchester, there is a robust supply of fresh water from the Lake District, whereas in London (only 200 miles away) the water has passed through limestone, leaving it with a cloudy taste and causing limescale build-up. Signs up on the London underground at the moment are encouraging people to save water by taking the “4 minute shower challenge” and this summer we have had a series of localised droughts and floods. Food prices are expected to rise because there was too much rain this summer, leading to widespread crop failure. Even in the UK, where we have plenty of year-round rainfall, controlling the quantity and quality of water is an expensive and precarious business.

It was in London that the connection was first made between water and health. John Snow noticed that the cholera outbreak in Soho was being caused by a contaminated water supply from the broad street well. In the UK there is now a secure and safe water supply. However, the water available to people around the world is much more variable. Over two million deaths a year are caused by poor water hygiene – equivalent to AIDS or malaria.

The primary control on precipitation (water that falls as rainfall, sleet or snow) is the large-scale convection cells in the atmosphere, which vary systematically with latitude – are you in a tropical zone or a desert zone? Groundwater levels, however, follow more complex patterns. Groundwater maps of Africa produced by a team at UCL show surprising levels of groundwater in unexpected places, such as deep beneath the sahara desert. The primary control on the quality of water is often geological – what rock and sediment does the water pass through between the source and the point of access?

NASA’s landsat educational archives: Latitudinal bands of tropics and deserts across the globe are driven by large scale atmospheric circulation cells.

In developing countries projects often have to work on a local scale, because there is no centralised water supply. Lack of access to water often has a disproportionate impact on women, who are normally expected to walk long distances to collect water from uncontaminated wells. Babies and small children are then the most vulnerable to health problems if the water supply is contaminated. Provision of clean water  is the single most important factor in reducing infant mortality.

Clean groundwater is being extracted from a deep borehole in Ethiopia – giving local communities a better chance of staying healthy. (c) Geology for Global Development 2012

Surface water is more susceptible to contamination from bacteria, but groundwater is more susceptible to heavy metal contamination. Two of the most worrying contaminants are Fluoride and Arsenic, and we will discuss each of these in depth in future blog articles. GfGD has discussed problems relating to water supply in the past, such as our winning entry in last years blog competition, and Donald John MacAllister’s guest blog sharing his practical experience in Bangladesh. Look out for more on our ‘water series’ over the coming weeks.