Experimenting with practical transition groundwater management strategies for the urban poor in Sub Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: UNESCO IHE Institute for Water Education
Department Name: Water Engineering


Adequate public water services are not provided in, or expanded to, informal unplanned urban areas in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Explanations in the literature range from technical difficulties, weak institutional settings, and poor cadastral information. Also, urban poor tend to lack the political or economic resources to exercise power within the urban arena to change their situation; rather, they are subject to commercialisation, industrialisation and 'full cost recovery' for water access. In such cases, groundwater is turned to as an alternative, mainly through private vendors, self-supply from own or shared wells, and/or NGO-run kiosks. However, groundwater of good and safe quality is scarce, either seasonally or at different locations throughout the urban area. Also, there is very little insight in the hydrologic cycle within the urban area, including surface water and groundwater flow patterns and interactions, associated transport velocities, dynamics of pollutant transport, and the presence of recharge and discharge areas in the urban area. Therefore, it is unknown if and how long natural groundwater reserves can sustain these increasing urban groundwater demands.

Social, institutional, financial and environmental conditions make the dependence of urban poor on groundwater a challenge that may lead to reduction of the quality of living, income, and life expectancy of the urban poor. It can therefore be regarded a complex and persistent societal problem, which is highly uncertain in terms of future developments and hard to manage, since it is rooted in different societal domains. Also, these problems seem impossible to solve with traditional approaches and instruments or through existing institutions. What is lacking is information, integration, coherence, and systemic thinking. The solution to the problem is likewise complex and not straight-forward; it will involve different stakeholders, it requires social learning, and arriving at the solution is uncertain and will take a long time.

Hosted by Local Transitioning Teams, and focusing on parts of Kampala (Uganda), Arusha (Tanzania), and Accra (Ghana), as examples of growing mixed urban areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, including poor people in slums, who depend on groundwater, T-GroUP will first firmly root itself in cutting edge demand-led interdisciplinary social and natural research. What are current and historic multi-scale groundwater use-regimes and multi-level governance arrangements, how were and are power structures and power dynamics present in these areas, and what is how do financial and economic factors come into play? These are the more social, governance, institutional and socio-economic type of question we ask ourselves. From the environmental and natural sciences point of view, we aim to unravel complex urban groundwater flow systems and patterns in pathogen distributions in aquifers using next generation DNA sequencing techniques and qPCR techniques we recently developed. Then, our project will turn into a socio-biophysical transition experiment. These areas described above become Urban Transitioning Laboratories in which we plan to implement a Transition Management Cycle (TMC), which is able to properly deal with the complex societal problem described above, and which can convert unsustainable water use into inclusive urban groundwater management, thereby focusing on the role and the needs of the urban poor. Key components of the TMC include multi-stakeholder platforms ('Learning Alliances'), strategic planning, and small scale demonstrations to show the promise in making the transition towards sustainable groundwater management. Being designed for development impact, the TMC is also subject of research: departing from a TMC we developed earlier, we aim to arrive at a TMC tailored to groundwater use in the complex context of our study areas, which can be replicated in other cities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

The first group of direct beneficiaries of T-GroUP are the urban poor living in Bwaise slum (Kampala, Uganda), Unga/Sombetini (Arusha, Tanzania), and in Dodowa (Accra Plains, Ghana). The total number of inhabitants in these areas amounts to around 175,000 persons, who live in abject poverty. They lack nutrition, healthcare, education, clothing and shelter. Of the urban poor, around 60-70% can purchase water from taps, NGO run kiosks or privately operated wells on a regular, almost daily basis. However, when there is insufficient income, either public wells or springs or both are used, which are generally for free. The slum dwellers who cannot afford to buy water (30-40% of the total slum population) also depend on public wells and/or springs.

The second group of direct beneficiaries are the municipal authorities, private or state owned public drinking water supply companies, and ministries or water basin authorities. They implement policy rules and regulations on the ground, and every day, they are confronted with the complex societal problem of the urban poor not having access or insufficient access to drinking water in general and to sufficient good quality groundwater in particular. In case of the public supply drinking water companies, they also have to aim to earn an income by selling water to the urban poor.
The indirect beneficiaries of T-GroUP include those slum dwellers in Sub-Saharan Africa who depend on groundwater as one of their sources of drinking water. According to UN-Habitat, in 2010, around 200 million people were living in urban slums in Sub-Saharan Africa. Assuming that some 30% of those depend fully on groundwater while some 50% regularly uses groundwater, the total number of slum dwellers who can indirect benefit from T-GroUP amounts to 160 million people. In addition to these niche level players, there is a multitude of organizations both at the regime level and landscape level, who can potentially benefit from the research T-GroUP plans to carry out.

How will they benefit from this research?

During the execution of T-GroUP, the project will actively engage key stakeholders across a range of sectors and levels through different stages of the transition management cycle, which we plan to implement in the 3 areas described above. The urban poor learn to acknowledge and recognize their differences (in terms of gender, religion, tribe, etc.) and to construct a trusted network which can make collective claims towards being actively engaged in the process of decision-making over municipal budget allocation, payment schemes and discussing viable (socially sustainable) technologies of groundwater resources and delivery.
When T-GroUP has come to a close, there will be many ways for transition management and transitioning processes to continue. These ways may include engagement of more people and organizations to work towards a sustainable future, internalizing project outcomes in policy processes of various domains and organizations, opening-up and creating space for and building upon emerging initiatives, igniting and inspiring people and make them think beyond their own stakes, routines and perspectives, or entering into a next round of transitioning and visioning in order to accommodate new knowledge, identify new knowledge gaps, and adjust the long term vision on a sustainable groundwater future.


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Chávez García Silva R (2020) Estimating domestic self-supply groundwater use in urban continental Africa in Environmental Research Letters

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Foppen J (2020) Groundwater flow system analysis in the regolith of Dodowa on the Accra Plains, Ghana in Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies

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Lutterodt G (2018) Microbial Groundwater Quality Status of Hand-Dug Wells and Boreholes in the Dodowa Area of Ghana in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Description Domestic groundwater use in the urban environment of Sub-Saharan Africa

We calculated that in 2015 about 369 million urban inhabitants (~79% of the total urban population) of continental Africa could potentially supply themselves with groundwater (Garcia Silva et al.; 2020). There is considerable potential to use groundwater in urban parts of Nigeria, around the lakes in Eastern Africa, in the Nile delta and around the Nile valley in Egypt, in Ethiopia, NE South Africa and Zimbabwe, and along the northern African coast (see figure below). However, due to presence of a public water supply network, the geographic distribution of socio-economic classes in the city, and groundwater use restrictions, we calculated the likely number of urban inhabitants using groundwater obtained via self-supply was less: about 150 million (~32% of the total urban population). A video abstract of the Garcia Silva et al. (2020) paper including the paper itself can be found on t-group.science.

Hydrogeology and groundwater safety

In the three areas we worked in, groundwater tables were relatively shallow. In Dodowa and Bwaise, the aquifer was mainly composed of at most 50 m thick unconfined-to semi confined aquifer material in weathered basement rock with transmissivities in the order of < 6e-5 m2/s (Foppen et al., 2020). Recharge can take place in the elevated areas, while discharge is in the valleys as springs and more diffuse into streams (Ocoromac, 2017). Most shallow groundwater was mixed with infiltrated wastewater and characterized by low flow rates. In contrast, in Arusha, transmissivities were high (> 10 m/d), and here the local aquifer is heavily exploited. By combining satellite imagery, urban growth modelling, groundwater modelling and hydrogeological field expeditions, we estimated that due to increased evapotranspiration and expansion of paved surface, groundwater recharge will reduce 30-44% and will cause groundwater levels to drop by up to 75 m. If this scenario becomes reality, we predict that wells will run dry, creating health, social and environmental risks (Olarinoye et al., 2020).

To assess the suitability of water sources for drinking purposes, in each of the three areas we worked in, we took samples from groundwater sources (boreholes and hand-dug wells). Our results indicated that in almost all (>90%) sources E. coli was present. Furthermore, in Dodowa, using qPCR, we also found Adenovirus for the boreholes and hand-dug wells (27% and 55% positive, respectively), while all borehole samples tested negative for Rotavirus and 27% of the dug wells was positive (Lutterodt et al., 2018; Hoiting, 2016; Tetteh Manuel Kofi, 2017). We concluded there is systemic microbial and fecal contamination of groundwater in the area. On-site sanitation facilities, e.g., pit latrines and unlined wastewater drains, are likely the most common sources of fecal contamination of groundwater in the area. Furthermore, in these groundwaters, we found DNA of 25 different DNA virus families, some of them with adverse health risks for humans. In particular, these are herpesviruses, poxviruses, and even a case of papillomavirus, which may cause cancer. Please click on one of the below references:

EGU Press conference on virus in groundwater below slums (after ca. 18 minutes):

Press coverage on virus in groundwater below slums:

https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/scienceandhealth/Cancer-causing-pathogens-found-slum groundwater/3073694-5062998-24agyvz/index.html

Modes and costs of domestic groundwater use in the urban environment of SSA: the 'combinator approach'

There is not one way of using groundwater; there are many different ways. In Arusha for instance, one of our study areas, we found some 23 different water supply strategies of which most included the use of groundwater (Abas, 2016; Fig. 2). Of these, more than 10 were urban groundwater self-supply strategies (whereby AUWSA, the local public supplier was not involved), ranging from bore-hole use as a primary source of water, to purchased groundwater from a nearby dug well as a secondary source of water, to free (without payment) spring water use as the only source of water.
In Dodowa, Ghana, piped water supplies just over half the population, while the District Assembly and individuals add ever-more groundwater abstraction points in the form of drilled and dug wells (Gronwall, 2016). Sachet water completes the picture of a low-income area, which is comparatively well off in terms of water access. In Bwaise in Kampala, ~ 37% of the population uses protected springs followed by yard taps (~ 27%), and pre-paid meter taps (~ 17%; source: oral presentation Isoke, 2017). Furthermore, we found that in these three areas, the poor pay more for water as the cost of utility piped water obtained from vendors of the yard tap, private tap, standpipe and public kiosk exceeded the approved nation tariff. Households that use off the grid groundwater sources spent approximately 4% to 14% of their monthly income on water (Oduro-Kwarteng et al., in prep).

Groundwater governance and power dynamics in groundwater access

In Dodowa, Ghana, there are five administrative bodies responsible for groundwater governance and groundwater access (Gronwall, 2016). However, responsibilities between them on the ground are ill defined, partly overlapping, badly managed, and not communicated well. With parallel bodies tasked with water provisioning and governance, the reliance on wells and boreholes among poor (peri-) urban users has for long been lost in aggregate statistics, making those accountable unresponsive to strategic planning requirements for groundwater as a resource, and to those using it. More on local scale, the management of most boreholes is done by so-called WATSAN committees. However, this is not understood by the residents: when asked, many households in Dodowa were not aware of the existence of such committees. At best, residents might know of their existence, without knowing who the members are, or what responsibilities they have (Nastar et al., 2018). Due to a lack of transparency in the operation of boreholes, there is a general felt lack of trust among residents in committees like WATSAN or in the District Assembly. Usually, it is only before elections that the local authorities come to their neighbourhood and attempt to deal with issues the community faces, such access to water. As a result, the interplay of actors in having power and control over access to groundwater resources in Dodowa extends beyond the formal institutional settings. Traditional community leaders and groups are influential actors in decision-making processes as well as in possession of resources to mobilise the community: paramount chief (mankrado), community chief (Asafoatse), elder committees, youth committees and unit committees When faced with issues, the community usually first contact the Asafoatse. If addressing the problem is beyond his capacity and beyond the capacity of the elder committee, households contact the DA representative.

In Arusha, the Pangani Basin Water Board (PBWB) is responsible for regulating groundwater drilling and use. However, due to a lack of an operational budget with which to monitor drilling, the PBWB has not been able to identify or monitor the number of unregistered boreholes, much less shut them down (Nastar et al., 2018). The second actor in the area of urban water service delivery is the Arusha City Council (ACC), given their role in urban planning and issuing land permits in the newly expanding urban periphery, where public supply by AUWSA (see below) does not yet extend. ACC planning priorities are driven by an economic development agenda with a potentially negative impact on water conservation. According to the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) officials, the ACC has been issuing land permits in groundwater recharge areas, which according to Water Resource Management Act is illegal. The third key formal actor is AUWSA, which currently relies heavily on contained aquifer groundwater as raw water supply for the piped water system. Their reliance on the resource is predicted to increase, given the declining quantity of surface water and competing demands in the basin. Currently, urban water resource decisions seem to be shaped by the negotiation of financial interests between the river basin authority, the urban water utility, and the city council. This is not to say that these formal actors are not concerned with the sustainability of the resource or the provision to lower income urban residents; however, these are not the dominant interests at play in the negotiations over decision-making to allocate groundwater resources. In addition to these formal organisations at the regional and municipal level, there are also important informal community level actors who shape allocation of water resources. These are the Balozi, the Street Chairperson, and landlords of tenant blocks, which can all broker between community and public entitity. Many tenants we interviewed did not know the Balozi or Street Chairperson. Rather, their most important social relationship was with their landlord, who resolved conflicts between tenants, loaned money, and connected them to the rest of the settlement. Based on what we have seen, we see the groundwater landscape evolving into a situation where small users rely on springs and shallow wells, while large users (commercial users and urban water authorities) are encouraged to sink deep boreholes (Komakech and de Bont, 2018). Amidst a lack of knowledge and enforcing capacity, exacerbated by different priorities among government actors, water access rights of shallow well and spring users are being threatened by increased groundwater exploitation.

In Bwaise, Kampala (Uganda), in provision of basic water services, NWSC, the local public supplier, installed Public Stand Posts (PSPs). Along with this, NWSC aimed for 5000 prepaid standpipe meters. However, despite the increasing number of PSPs and prepaid standpipes, access to safe drinking is still a major challenge for the residents (Nastar et al., 2019). On the one hand, with their prepaid tokens, residents can buy less and less water for a given amount of Shillings. Prices can then become too high for many of low-income residents of slums. As a result, they need to buy water from caretakers of prepaid standpipes who have tokens and access to the water dispensers. Under such conditions, the price of one jerry can (20 L) of water is usually more than the original price. Caretakers then point to the costs of maintenance, cleaning and making phone calls to NWSC in cases of water interruption. In addition, they collect 12% commission by selling water to others. In many cases, however, as observed in the field by us and reflected by the residents, the price disparity is simply because of making profit out of a situation where residents have limited access to safe drinking water. The issue of limited access is also tightly linked to land ownership where water dispensers (or toilet facilities) are installed. Upon the installation of the prepaid standpipes, there has been a binding agreement between land-owner and NWSC, s/he lets people use water with the price set by NWSC on the condition that the land-owner receives a 12% commission. However, in practice, they overcharge residents as they can make decisions about who can access the service. The majority of the residents of these areas are tenants, and often unaware of the binding agreement between NWSC and the landowners. Thus, they usually pay much more per drop of water or look for other sources like unprotected or protected spring water. Spring water sources are often free of charge or cost less than other sources, but the quality is very low because of diffuse and/or point source infiltration of waste water throughout the spring recharge areas. So, increasing the number of water connections without paying enough attention to the politics of land rights have not necessarily improved water access for many of the slum residents. This highlights the limitations of quantitative approaches used by the local government to water service delivery. In case of issues, residents often approach chairpersons or committee members of their areas rather than contacting NWSC directly. Chairpersons and committee members constitute the local council, a locally elected governmental body within districts of Kampala (MoLG 1997). According to the Local Government Act, the election should take place every five years. However, in many of the visited slum areas, the chairpersons have been in charge for more than 20 years. The reason behind this, when we asked, is embedded in the relation between the ruling central government and the opposition which has a political influence in the Kampala city centre areas wherein most of the slums are located. Many of the residents believed that the central government is concerned with the potential social unrest that may arise by regularly holding elections in these areas. The absence of elections and overstay of the local leadership have contributed to distrust among the community residents in many areas.

Transition Management experiences

In T-GroUP, we experimented with Transition Management in order to spark changes in the communities we worked in. An impression of the way we worked and the results we achieved is in this video documentary, which was officially launched during the African Water Works Association (AfWA) Conference of February 2020 in Kampala, Uganda. A second video documentary of Rose gives the Arena participant perspective in Dodowa. This documentary can be seen at the t-group website (t-group.science).

In summary, we observed that due to the TM approach, communities started to actively organise themselves into different groups to set up multiple pilot projects and spin-off activities (i.e. transition initiatives) including:

Mapping and enumeration of communities. With the collaboration of the grassroots network Slum Dwellers International and People's Dialogue NGO, community members mapped the quantity and quality of water and sanitation services in their communities. Through these activities, communities better understood household access to safe water and proper sanitation services and solid waste pollution. One of the outcomes of the process was the recognition of the need for improving sanitation facilities at household level. In addition, community members realized their need to learn how to build sustainable sanitation facilities themselves.
Sensitisation activities. Drama, music, radio and sports were organised in each community by different groups of participants. Community members developed their own jingles (i.e. short songs transmitted via radio). Community members scripted, composed, and recorded their own jingles in a studio. Each community owns an information centre, managed by the actors, which allows them to transmit their jingles and any other information. Community members have designed drama and theatre plays which carry messages of behavioural change towards sustainable toilet construction, abandoning open defaecation and obtaining household bins, among others.
Savings towards house toilet installation. Collective bank accounts were opened in various communities in order to save money -in saving groups- for household toilet and bio-digester construction.
Environmental campaigns. Clean up activities were organised in the different communities as part of the Transition Management process.
Setting-up of community led organisations. Community Based Organizations (CBOs) were set up in order to run and maintain activities related to the sustainable management of water, sanitation and waste as well as environmental protection.
Furthermore, we found that Transition Management (TM) was a way to build trust between communities in slums and institutions, provided it was carried out properly and tailored to local traditions and cultural values (Silvestri et al., 2018). Trust building started with communication and dialogue. TM empowered frontrunners and communities in order to give them a voice to engage in a constructive dialogue with institutions. In addition, TM created new partnerships between communities and public and private institutions (e.g. NGOs, companies). Finally, TM empowered women by giving them an equal voice in meetings, and in the design and execution of activities. As a result, women felt more self-confident, which contributed to the promotion of gender equality.

Power dynamics and Transition Management in urban Sub-Saharan Africa

We also think solutions for urban challenges should be seen inseparable from understanding and addressing power dynamics. Examples of existing power dynamics in the areas we worked in have been given above. Therefore, we formulated a number of recommendations to deal with power (Schipper et al., 2019):

1. Defamiliarise with existing framings and dominant characteristics of places and people. Social life and access to basic services in slums of Kampala, for instance, is organized around many (in)formal institutions such as community meetings, water committees, church groups and neighbourhood security teams. Moreover, while informal settlements might be illegal from an urban planning perspective, in fact 70% of Kampala is said to be 'illegally' built, these areas do have officially elected political representatives. In doing so, start generating the possibility to develop alternative solutions that correspond better with the urban realities of people living in informal settlements.
2. An in-depth systematic understanding of the challenge at hand should include co-produced dynamic maps of power relations, intersections, and interdependencies related to a specific urban challenge within a community. Additionally, this can be strengthened by understanding how urban challenges are engrained in the historical distribution of access to resources such as land.
3. This in-depth understanding should also take into account the power dynamics within the broader political system and how these affect the (interventions related to) water challenges.

Recommendations for application of Transition Management in urban Sub-Saharan Africa

In order to apply Transition Management we formulated a range of recommendations focusing on the strategic instrument of the transition arena and its step-wise implementation. The general outline of these recommendations is depicted in the figure below, and are detailed in Silvestri et al., 2018.

Here, we highlight three of those recommendations:

Build trust and capacities of the transition team. The members of the transition team that guide the transition arena process should be trusted by and well-connected within the community and should include actors with analytical skills. To address ineffective governance and deal with social inequalities, it is vital to strengthen the capacity of the transition team to connect with the local stakeholders early in the process, e.g., communication skills and expectation management.

Conduct a context-sensitive actor analysis. Since the social relations and inequalities between participants affect the process, a contextualized understanding of actor roles and relations should inform actor selection. This means understanding how conflicts of interest, power dynamics, and political tensions are interpreted and whether particular interests are prioritized. At the community level, this means thinking about who is constituted as 'the community', how the community is socially organised, and how power is distributed. Think of the allocation of resources (e.g., accessibility and affordability of water and possibly other services such as education) in relation to language, gender, religion, and political affiliation of the community members.

Integrate capacity building, popular education, and co-creation of knowledge. Unequal access to education and other social services is one of the challenges of the SSA context. To enhance the uptake and impact of transition arena outcomes over time, it seems important to build knowledge, skills, and capacity in a practice-oriented way. Activities rooted in a popular education paradigm or participatory development, or related to capacity building and co-creation of knowledge, bear the promise to address many of the challenges ahead. They can contribute to making the engagement of more vulnerable members and disadvantaged groups possible, encourage learning exchanges across communities, and contribute to the development of new networks. In addition, they can support active citizenship and social inclusivity, and foster governance capacities.
Exploitation Route - Detailing virus community work
- Implementation of transition management in other sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment

URL http://t-group.science/project-achievements/