Assessing Risks of Investment in Groundwater Resources in Sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: World Agroforestry Centre
Department Name: Research

Abstract

Decision-makers in the developing and developed world are notoriously poor at considering the risk that an investment or intervention could fail to achieve its objectives. This is also true for groundwater development projects in African drylands. Social and environmental sustainability of groundwater refers to a fair distribution of this natural asset between users and across generations. Aquifers are one component of groundwater and require particularly careful management, particularly fossil aquifers, which do not replenish naturally. The risk is that current use of an aquifer will draw down on the water needs of future generations. To achieve sustainability, there is a need to properly assess any new water abstraction infrastructure, such as a pipeline to supply a town. The accuracy of such assessments is weakened by the fact that the current practice inadequately addresses uncertainties surrounding the impacts of increased groundwater use, particularly the impact of groundwater development on the aquifer and the people that relying upon it. Uncertainties around the impacts of groundwater development are particularly high for aquifers in dryland areas since information on the current geo-hydrological parameters and how these will evolve under future change is typically scarce. Thus, the proposed research will first develop a conceptual framework on how to address uncertainties around ground water development in data scarce areas. Second, it will use this to model the uncertainties around investments that significantly increase groundwater use. Third, the project aims to assess the social impacts of these increased water abstractions. To this end, it will assemble information, including the visions and perspectives of various stakeholders and groundwater users to support dialogue on how to achieve sustainable water use for Kenya's largest aquifer, the fossil Merti aquifer in arid northeastern Kenya. This aquifer provides water to the world's largest refugee camp, population 630,000, and may already be over-utilized. Furthermore, it feeds the Juba River, which runs through southern Somalia, the discharge of which is decreasing. The project will focus on plans -- already far advanced -- to increase abstractions from the Merti aquifer to supply drinking water to the city of Wajir. The initiation of a dialogue is complicated by scarce and unreliable data and lack of synthetic insight into the consequences of current and future use. Thus the challenge is to develop the information, which acknowledges uncertainties around the outcomes of the planned groundwater development to support a sustainable management approach in a data-scarce environment. The models that will be developed will assess the level of uncertainty and value of information of the basic geo-hydrological parameters. This value of information approach will serve as guidance for selection of key parameters to focus on for a follow up proposal to the next UPGro round with a view to supporting initiatives to manage the aquifer to achieve greater social sustainability including intergenerational equity.

Planned Impact

The proposed research has the following beneficiaries and envisaged impacts:

1 - To investors in groundwater development the project will provide a method to assess the uncertainties and risks around investing in the development of groundwater resources. The approach will be equally interesting to investments in the developing and developed world, because uncertainties are high in both;
2 - To practitioners in groundwater engineering and impact assessment the method offers an innovative approach how to provide a best possible forecast of the impacts of groundwater development in data scarce and uncertain environments;
3 - To water management authorities responsible for the allocation of abstraction permits as the model allows assessment of the immediate and long term hydrological and social impacts;
4 - To M&E experts and managers of groundwater resources, because the value of information approach allows them to assess which variables to monitor and where to focus relatively greater effort in order to reduce uncertainties most efficiently
5 - Ultimately the project will have an impact on groundwater users across the African continent, because the models allow evaluation of the possible impact of investment and management decisions on the benefits that they derive from groundwater, with the potential such information holds to influence and affect the decisions ultimately made.
6 - Finally, the specific application of the thinking to the Merti aquifer will be of immense importance to, among others, aid agencies supporting the refugees in Dadaab; the government of Kenya, which seeks inter alia to provide for pastoralists and their livestock as well as providing water to a growing township, Wajir; and across the border, the government of Somalia and aid agencies seeking to restore agriculture and prevent further degradation of the fragile ecosystem.
 
Description Decisions on groundwater development tend to be risky as they have to be taken with imperfect information. Traditional ex ante project impact assessment approaches tend to ignore the uncertainties that arise from such imperfect information. The approach that we developed models the risks around groundwater development based on uncertainties estimated by experts. Our focus on risks associated to groundwater development differs from the approach taken by proponents of such projects who tend to emphasize the benefits and ignore risks. The stakeholders attending the workshops that we organized appreciated our analysis of the risk as a good starting point for discussion on the desirability of the project.
Exploitation Route We think that the approach taken by the ARIGA team has wider applicability, it could be used to assess risks around groundwater development in other parts of the world. Within the NERC UPGRO project we will write and publish a second paper that will focus on the socio political risks. Beyond the UPGRO project, ICRAF will continue working on the development of tools and training to allow practitioners in the developing world to undertake stochastic risk assessment. We anticipate that such tools could be applied by practitioners to assess risks around groundwater development.
Sectors Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.worldagroforestrycentre.org/Ariga
 
Description Yes, from the start we have been engaging with stakeholders from Wajir County who will be affected by the Wajir Habaswein water supply project that has been the object of study of the NERC UPGRO grant. The information has been used by these stakeholders to form their opinion about this groundwater supply project. The senator of Wajir County has been very proactive in stimulating the use of the information generated by the NERC UPGRO ARIGA project. He publicly announced that he would like to see that the information of the ARIGA project would be considered in the decision making process and that he would ensure that no decision would be made before the release of our research findings. The Senator also took the initiative to organize a one and a half month consultation (October - November 2014) among the various stakeholders and invited the ARIGA team to share its findings during a public hearing organized in Nairobi Silverprings Hotel on the 7th November 2014.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Citation in Kenyan newspapers
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in advisory committee
 
Description ARIGA Stakeholder Workshop II 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact During this second stakeholder workshop of the NERC UPGRO funded ARIGA project (26 May 2014) stakeholders were informed about the results of our research. Three presentations highlighted the hydrological, financial and social risks around the proposed Wajir Habaswein water supply project. These presentations stimulated heated debate on the desirability of this groundwater development project.

Several influential decision makers indicated that the results that were presented during this workshop changed their perspective on the Wajir Habaswein water supply project. This was best articulated by the chairman of the Ewaso Ngiro Water Board who said that he arrived as a proponent of the project but now realized that there are several risks that need to be considered before taking a decision.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://arigaupgro.blogspot.com/2014/08/stakeholder-workshop-on-risks-of.html
 
Description ARIGA stakeholder workshop I 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact In 2012 the Government of Kenya proposed to develop boreholes and a pipeline to abstract water from the Merti aquifer near Habaswein to supply the city of Wajir with freshwater. This workshop was the first time stakeholders were informed on the Wajir Habaswein water supply project. The workshop sparked a lot of interest and dialogue between stakeholders with contrasting perspectives on the desirability of the project.

The senator of Wajir informed the meeting that he considered the research group undertaking the NERC UPGRO funded research project an impartial party which he trusted would provide objective information on the pros and cons of the Wajir Habaswein water supply project. He indicated that he would ensure that the information produced by the ARIGA UPGRO project would be included in the decision making around the Wajir Habaswein water supply project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.worldagroforestry.org/sites/default/files/ARIGA%20stakeholders%20workshop%20report%20nov%...
 
Description ARIGA stakeholder workshop III 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The third stakeholder meeting of the ARIGA project (7 November 2014) was organized on request of the Senator of Wajir who would like to share the information gathered during the NERC UPGRO funded project with stakeholders from various parts of Wajir county. The ARIGA team gave three presentations which generated intense debate between the various stakeholders.

After our presentations stakeholders expressed their gratitude for the ARIGA research which they consider had helped them to better understand the pros and cons of this project. The stakeholders also felt that vital information on the Wajir Habaswein project is still missing, and identified that there is a need to make this information publicly available to allow stakeholders to properly build their opinion and advise on the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014