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.
Description - We identified a whole range of DNA viruses in groundwater below slum areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. The findings are in the write-up phase.
- Our findings indicated that groundwater tables will drop significantly in urban areas in Sub-Saharan Africa as a result of on the one hand climate change and on the other hand
population growth.
- Implementation of groundwater management strategies via transition management and involving local communities can be successful when the right boundary conditions have been met. We're still in the process of carving out these boundary conditions. Progress so far is promising.
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/