Building understanding of climate variability into planning of groundwater supplies from low storage aquifers in Africa (BRAVE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology


Africa's population is growing rapidly and is expected to increase by over 150% between 2000 and 2050. This will result in an increased demand for water. Groundwater has been identified as having the potential to meet much of the growing water requirements for domestic use, food production and other productive uses, especially as it is seen as being more resilient to climate variability than surface water resources. However, it is recognised that in large regions of Africa where the groundwater store is relatively small there may be occasions when extended periods of low groundwater recharge result in water shortages.

As groundwater is being promoted as a means to address Africa's future water supply needs, further research is crucial to study the potential vulnerability of communities that become more reliant on these low storage aquifers. This will allow better decisions to be made when planning groundwater development. The BRAVE project (Building understanding of climate variability into planning of groundwater supplies from low storage aquifers in Africa) aims to take advantage of recent developments in models of climate, the land surface and groundwater to improve the understanding of how these groundwater resources are affected by climate variability, under present and future climate, and by changes in land use and water demand. A key element of the project is to ensure that the output from the model is in a form that addresses the questions being asked by those making decisions on water resource development.

The BRAVE project will use the River Volta Basin (RVB) in West Africa as a case study area, working in Burkina Faso and Ghana. It brings together a strong team of internationally-recognised meteorologists, hydrogeologists, land surface modellers and knowledge exchange experts, with extensive experience of working in Africa, and builds on recent NERC-funded research.

Planned Impact

Increased development of groundwater resources is being promoted as an important means to address Africa's growing water demands. However, where groundwater storage in the underlying rocks is low, people that depend on this water are highly vulnerable to the impact of climate variability when it results in extended periods of reduced recharge. These low storage aquifers underlie almost half of Africa and therefore assessment of the impacts is not only a pressing issue for those planning infrastructure development and adaptation at local and national level but also for international organizations such as the IPCC. The interdisciplinary nature of the problem makes co-generation of knowledge essential. We propose to address this through demonstrating how information about climate impacts on groundwater resources can inform planning decisions. In the two focal countries, Ghana and Burkina Faso, we will undertake a full stakeholder evaluation and set up a network of collaborations, facilitated by AfClix and carefully selected in-country partners e.g. CARE International-Ghana. At these workshops we will aim to bring together a large group of users of water resource information (e.g. district level water resource agency staff, experienced NGO field staff) as well as national forecast agencies and civil society and government policy makers, to engage with and inform the research. In particular, insight will be needed as to the current response of communities to water stress and ongoing plans for the development of groundwater by the major stakeholders.

The BRAVE project will provide an essential ingredient for evidence-based mitigation and adaptation policies for which there is a pressing requirement in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It will do so by linking the UK community land surface model (JULES) to a well-established and versatile groundwater model (ZOOM). This development will have substantial impact on the land surface and hydro(geo)logical modeling communities, facilitating subsequent studies of hydrological processes. Through working directly with stakeholders through face-to-face meetings and the planned workshops in each country, we will be able to develop water demand scenarios to inform the modelling, based on current domestic, agricultural and productive use needs, set within the context of the contemporaneous impacts on, for example, groundwater-based irrigation schemes. The use of participatory methods will ensure people act as researcher-advocates and that they contribute to policy uptake by providing practical evidence to inform policy change and new practices across the continent. Such collaborative working with key stakeholders, is essential to ensure the legacy of enhanced scientific capacity.

The robust international partnerships we have through the project team, will enable sharing of good practice guidelines and the findings from the project more widely across SSA, ensuring indirect benefits beyond the two chosen study countries. This will be supported by the strong collaborative partnerships established through AfClix and via major international programmes such as: the Met Office/DFID Climate Science Research Programme; WMO's THORPEX-Africa Programme; the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analyses (AMMA) Project; and initiatives such as the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Programme; and WASCAL (West African Science Service Center for Climate Change and Adapted Land Use) a major new research and capacity building programme funded by the German Federal Ministry for Science and Education. Impact will also extend to providing substantial benefit to model developers by providing a practical demonstration of how the high resolution climate models developed in NCAS-Climate and Hadley Centre can aid decision-making in Africa.


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Description During this phase of the BRAVE programme we set up and tested a land surface model and linked it to a groundwater model. We evaluated the output and tested the sensitivity of groundwater resources to land use and climate change. We found that the model needs further development but that it is already clear that the expected increases in rainfall intensity affect the division of water between surface flow (river discharge) and subsurface runoff (aquifer recharge).
Exploitation Route The developments to the land surface model are now being taken forward in a follow on consortium project.
Sectors Environment