Measuring water point functionality is trickier than you’d think. Here’s how we tried to make it more reliable in Uganda.

If you measure something, how do you know that someone else would get the same result? This is a fundamental question in many fields including medicine and psychology, but it is rarely considered in rural water supply.

This is a guest blog by Daniel W. Smith, a Water & Sanitation Advisor at the Center for Water Security, Sanitation, and Hygiene at USAID in Washington, DC.

Photo: A handpump mechanic performs preventive maintenance in Uganda
(Photo: Daniel W. Smith)

If you measure something, how do you know that someone else would get the same result? This is a fundamental question in many fields including medicine and psychology, but it is rarely considered in rural water supply.

This problem became painfully apparent during a recent study of professionalizing handpump maintenance in Uganda conducted by the Program for Water, Health, and Development at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and International Lifeline Fund. Our data collection team had a seemingly straightforward instruction: Count a handpump as functional if it provides water. But different data collectors interpreted the instruction differently. Some would count a handpump as functional even if it took a long time to get a little water. Others counted handpumps in a similar condition as nonfunctional. We needed a clearer, more reliable procedure to ensure that handpump functionality measured by different people would be comparable.

Continue reading “Measuring water point functionality is trickier than you’d think. Here’s how we tried to make it more reliable in Uganda.”

Learning from Gujarat’s past relationship with rural water through its stepwells

India: home to almost a fifth of the global population. Yet, its rural communities continue to face challenges in accessing water, due to overextraction depleting groundwater, poor recharge, and increased demand for water as industries expand and the rural economy grows. Ensuring water security for the future requires us to learn from the past. Across  India, rural populations once met their water needs through ingenious feats of architecture in the form of stepwells (or baolis or vavs). I went to visit Adalaj Ni Vav (Rudabai Stepwell), on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in February 2023. In this two-part blog series, I reflect on the lessons we can learn about the significance of stepwells for India from past uses of Adalaj (part 1) and look ahead the role that stepwells could play in the future (part 2).

What are stepwells?

Stepwells are linear buildings. Steps lead down to landings with pavilions that house two shrines, and columns which make them resemble a room, followed by more steps, until reaching a cylindrical well at the bottom. The roof of one room becomes the floor of the pavilion above. Gujarat’s stepwells range from 60 to 80-feet in depth, with their upper-most landings receiving the most light, screened by walls known as Jalees to provide shade. Stepwell corridors are open to the sky except where it enters a pavilion. The terraces of stepwells are typically marked by noises and splashes as women beat clothes and scour pots, animals drink and children run around. The stepwells are referred to by landmarks (e.g. station vav), goddesses (e.g. Surya Kundi), patrons (e.g. queen) or place (e.g. Adalaj)[i].

Shrine in a pavillion at Adalaj (Photo: Amita Bhakta)

Adalaj Ni Vav: a well with a tragic tale

Adalaj Ni Vav is a 75.3-metre-long stepwell laid out in a north-south direction. On my visit, I made my way down one of the three flights of steps arranged in a cross to enter the vav, which are attached to the main stepped corridor leading to the well at the bottom, with an octagonal opening at the top and a pavilion resting on 16 pillars with 4 built-in shrines. The vav was built between 1498-1505 by Sultan Mahmud Begada in honour of Queen Rudrarani, who he promised to marry after it was completed. When the vav was completed, Rudrarani committed suicide by jumping in to the well. Through his grief, the Sultan killed those who built it to prevent another similar vav from being built, who are buried in the graves in the nearby garden i.

Learning from Gujarat’s past links to Adalaj

Adalaj Ni Vav was once a hub for the local community until the British Raj put it and many other vavs into disuse, deeming it unhygienic and introducing taps, pumps and borewells. Rainwater harvesting enabled the community to wash their clothes and feed their animals. Travellers used the vav, built along trade routes to support India’s economic development, as a resting site[ii].

Whilst it is no longer used as a water point, Adalaj’s long-standing spiritual connections to local people can help to sustain the cultural legacy of the stepwell. There is scope to pave a way for the community to continue its traditional purpose as a place of worship. The shrine on the outer wall has long been used and maintained by local Brahmin women to the present day, who worship local goddesses for fertility, health, and family prosperity.

But, it is not just people who stand to benefit from lessons from Adalaj’s past. Birds and animals used to be attracted to the vav as a cool spot, drawn in by food left over from festivals. In an era of global challenges such as climate change, it is important to recognise that the stepwell was once a place where rich biodiversity could flourish.  

Moving forward: bridging the history of Gujarat’s stepwells to the future

The history of Gujarat’s rural stepwells reflects the cultural significance they held in the past, and show a need to recognise them as previous places of sustenance and of continued spiritual value. Whilst it is unlikely that Adalaj will once again serve as a water point, it can provide a place for biodiversity to flourish, and has the potential to teach and reengage local communities with their own water management systems for future preservation, particularly in these parts of Gujarat where drilling for petroleum is creating depressions in the water table. Let’s recognise the collective memory of Gujarat’s rural stepwells as historical sites of interest and work to preserve these ancient structures for the future.


Special thanks to my friend, Mona Iyer, for facilitating this field visit, and to Mahesh Popat for his brilliant support in the field. Thank you  to the secretariat for their moral support for this work and to Temple Oraeki for reviewing drafts of this blog.

About the author: Amita Bhakta is a freelance consultant and co-lead for the leave no-one behind theme at the Rural Water Supply Network. She has specialised in looking at hidden issues to achieve equity and inclusion in WASH and has a keen interest in rural water heritage in India.

Photo credits: Amita Bhakta.


[i] National Institute of Design (1992) Adalaj village: a course documentation Ahmedabad: National Institute of Design

[ii] Adalaj stepwell exhibition, Adalaj, India

A Mentoring journey, by Fadzai T. Munodawafa and Kerstin Danert

For International Women’s Day, we would like to highlight two participants from the RWSN Mentoring programme for young professionals and women, Fadzai T. Munodawafa-Bhurabhura (from Zimbabwe) and Dr Kerstin Danert (from Switzerland). You can find out more about their experience of mentoring through RWSN below. RWSN plans on launching a new edition of the mentoring programme soon, and encourages women of all ages in the water sector to sign up. To find out more, sign up to become a RWSN member today.

Mentorship is a reciprocal learning relationship in which a mentor and mentee work collaboratively toward the achievement of mutually-defined goals that will develop a mentee’s skills, abilities, knowledge, and/or thinking.

Fadzai’s words:

I am Fadzai T. Munodawafa, a WASH professional with an international Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in Zimbabwe. I support teams who implement WASH in the rural communities in Zimbabwe. In addition, I am responsible for managing the drilling unit of the organisation. With such responsibilities as a young professional, I sought to increase my understanding of rural and urban water supply and sanitation as well as groundwater monitoring, which both have a significant bearing on improving access to water for under-privileged communities.

A message of invitation for young professionals in the water sector to join the mentorship programme under the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) was shared on the Zimbabwe WASH Cluster platform. I thought this was an opportunity to learn from senior professionals and firm up my career. Following acceptance within the mentorship programme in 2020, I was linked with Dr Kerstin Danert a water sector professional researcher and facilitator.

Kerstin’s words:

I am Kerstin Danert, a rural water supply professional who has been active in RWSN since 2004, when I was still living and working in Uganda. I work as a consultant, with a range of types of work including research, training, facilitation and knowledge-brokering. I currently live in Switzerland.

Fadzai’s words:

My mentorship experience was a flexible one where I would ask questions or a raise discussion point and Kerstin would have a topic for discussion for our scheduled meetings. During our 9-month mentorship relationship, Kerstin and I discussed broadly on topics such as groundwater management, remote sensing and sustainable community-based management of water points key areas that have helped me in my career in the water sector. Kerstin’s experience in sub-Saharan Africa and remote areas made our connection easy as she could relate to my experiences and questions.

Kerstin’s words:

Our mentoring relationship commenced just as I was branching out to start my own company, which unfortunately coincided with the start of the Covid pandemic. It was not an easy time (as we all know), and I was worried as to whether my company would even survive. It very soon became apparent that this would not be a one-way mentorship by any means. Fadzai not only helped me to make contact with field realities (which I was very much missing), but also gave me a lot of support and encouragement regarding my new venture.

Fadzai’s words:

As a young professional, I was not confident speaking in public forums, a weakness my mentor helped me to work on. Now I can confidently speak in professional forums following her encouragement. Our engagement also looked into working on my resume and boost it to showcase the experience and skills I have. In addition, she connected me with experienced drillers and water specialists in Zimbabwe.

Kerstin’s words

Although I have now worked in the water sector for over 25 years always as a consultant, I still remain concerned work may not come in going forwards. Further, I think that I had began to take my years of experience for granted. The exchanges with Fadzai helped me to fully appreciate that I am actually not at the start of my working life, but (hopefully) in the middle of it with a lot under my belt already!

Both of us

Since the mentorship programme under RWSN, we have kept in touch resulting in our participation in the UNHS Climate and Gender podcast on Global Partnership: Gender, Progression and Climate-Orientated Careers (The UNHS Podcast and Spotify) in 2021. The following year, our mentorship led us to work on a report and video documenting the impact stories from participants of online courses on professional drilling by the RWSN

Fadzai’s words:

As a result of my mentorship experience, I can more effectively allocate my time for various activities, connect and confidently engage with other professionals in the water sector as well as have knowledge on key aspects of documentation. I highly recommend other young professionals to join the mentorship program that will build them up in their career within the water sector. Many thanks to the RWSN for this amazing and life changing experience.

Kerstin’s words:

This mentorship brought me closer to the field again. I learned so much from the conversations with Fadzai – and drew insights from her into all of my ongoing assignments, whatever the topic in fact. She always had such insightful contributions to make. And I argue that I was the mentee just as much as Fadzai was. So I encourage others to take the time to get involved in this programme.  It has been so rewarding and I look forward to finally meeting Fadzai one day!  We have been talking regularly now for three years. A big thanks to RWSN for this chance.

To find out more information about the RWSN mentoring programme, please see here.

30 años en la búsqueda de agua potable en Nicaragua

Este año celebramos los 30 años de la fundación formal de la Red de Abastecimiento de Agua en Zonas Rurales. Desde unos inicios muy técnicos como grupo de expertos (en su mayoría hombres) la Red de Tecnología de Bombas de Mano- hemos evolucionado hasta convertirnos en una red diversa y vibrante de más de 13.000 personas y 100 organizaciones que trabajan en una amplia gama de temas. En el camino, hemos ganado una reputación de imparcialidad, y nos hemos convertido en un convocante global en el sector del agua rural.

La RWSN no sería lo que es hoy sin las contribuciones y los incansables esfuerzos de muchos de nuestros miembros, organizaciones y personas. Como parte de la celebración del 30º aniversario de la RWSN, estamos llevando a cabo una serie de blogs en, invitando a nuestros amigos y expertos del sector a compartir sus pensamientos y experiencias en el sector del agua rural.

Esta es una entrada de blog del miembro de la RWSN Joshua Briemberg, con sede en Nicaragua.

Mi carrera en el sector del agua y el saneamiento comenzó en 1993, poco después de que naciera la RWSN. Fue una elección deliberada para mí después de un breve período en la industria petrolera del Reino Unido que siguió a vivir y trabajar durante 4 meses entre 1991 y 1992 en la zona rural de Nicaragua para construir una casa escuela de dos habitaciones. Durante ese tiempo, la diarrea estaba a la orden del día, y de la noche, en una rudimentaria letrina de pozo. Todavía recuerdo que miraba a las hojas de plátano gigantes que se agitaban a la luz de la luna para encontrar una sensación de paz en cierta agonía. En aquella época, luchaba por concentrarme mientras estaba en la universidad en Canadá, entre los estudios de ingeniería química, con una clase de tratamiento del agua que me llamaba la atención, y los estudios de humanidades, intrigado por el debate sobre los derechos del agua y los pueblos de las Primeras Naciones de Canadá.

Una vez terminada mi carrera de ingeniería en 1992, mi verdadera vocación siguió eludiéndose y me trasladé al Reino Unido. Durante mi estancia en Londres, primero como mensajero en bicicleta y luego como ingeniero de salud y seguridad para la construcción de una plataforma petrolífera de 11.000 millones de dólares en el Mar del Norte, la librería Intermediate Technology (que más tarde se convertiría en Practical Action) se convirtió en mi destino favorito y la publicación mensual Waterlines en una temprana inspiración, mientras planeaba volver a Nicaragua para hacer algo, cualquier cosa relacionada con el agua. También recuerdo haber llevado algún que otro paquete como mensajero a una pequeña oficina de WaterAid en un edificio cercano a Green Park. Veinte años más tarde, todavía viviendo en Nicaragua, se me pediría que diseñara y luego dirigiera el primer programa de país de WaterAid en América Latina.

En algún momento, dejé de lado cualquier idea de seguir una formación formal en las aulas de institutos de renombre como el WEDC de la Universidad de Loughborough, donde una vez me reuní con John Pickford, o el IHE de Delft, donde también hice una breve visita. El campo se convertiría en mi aula.

Mi andadura en el mundo del agua y el saneamiento en 1993 empezó de verdad al realizar un estudio sobre la presencia de pesticidas en las aguas subterráneas de las ciudades del histórico cinturón algodonero de Nicaragua en los años setenta. De ahí pasé a un par de trabajos en lo que iba a ser mi campo como ingeniero químico: planes maestros de alcantarillado para Managua y tratamiento de aguas residuales mientras estaba brevemente en Canadá.

Foto: Clase de graduados de Agua para la Vida

Pero fue entonces, cuando me encontré dirigiendo el primer ciclo de un programa de formación de ingenieros de pueblos para diseñar y construir pequeños sistemas rurales de abastecimiento de agua por gravedad alimentados por manantiales en las montañas del centro-norte, cuando realmente encontré mi vocación: el abastecimiento de agua en zonas rurales. En poco más de 30 años esta operación –Agua para la Vida– ha trabajado con pequeñas comunidades rurales de montaña para establecer más de 100 sistemas de abastecimiento de agua utilizando herramientas de diseño de última generación para optimizar el rendimiento y el coste. Los sistemas de abastecimiento de agua por gravedad alimentados por manantiales de montaña bien diseñados son asombrosamente duraderos con unos costes de funcionamiento muy manejables; el principal reto es la protección de la zona de recarga de la cuenca y garantizar la cohesión de la comunidad y una gestión eficaz.

Cautivado por la alegría de abrir el grifo y tener agua limpia a borbotones después de meses de sudor y esfuerzo, me sentí impulsado a seguir en la búsqueda de un vaso de agua limpia en todas partes.

Una cosa que descubrí durante estos años fue que, mientras diseñábamos para el crecimiento, las comunidades a menudo se reducían en tamaño debido a la migración en busca de mayores oportunidades económicas en otros lugares.

Aproveché los conocimientos aprendidos con las comunidades devastadas por la guerra en la frontera agrícola para trabajar con las comunidades indígenas Miskitu y Mayangna para llevar agua limpia de montaña a la gente a lo largo de un sistema de ríos en las profundidades más lejanas de una de las dos reservas de la biosfera en Nicaragua. El suministro de agua por tubería alimentada por gravedad siguió siendo mi opción por defecto hasta que se agotaron los manantiales.

En mi primera misión de reconocimiento, en 1997, en la aldea de Raiti, en el río Coco (Wangki), que separa Honduras de Nicaragua, me acompañó un hidrogeólogo estadounidense que no hablaba ni español ni la lengua local, el Miskitu. Durante la conversación con los líderes de la comunidad sobre la existencia de fuentes potenciales de manantiales, un líder de la comunidad me dijo que la fuente potencial estaba a unos 15 minutos de distancia mientras que otro dijo que estaba más bien a un día de distancia. Ni que decir tiene que mi hidrogeólogo decidió quedarse atrás y tardamos cerca de 6 horas en llegar al lugar que los aldeanos consideraban una fuente viable.

Desafortunadamente, como casi todas las fuentes de agua superficiales en la región oriental o caribeña de Nicaragua, estaba situada a una altura inferior a la de la comunidad, que era la forma en que las comunidades se protegían contra el riesgo de inundaciones. Y así comenzaron mis primeras experiencias de excavación y perforación de pozos con lo que para entonces se había convertido en un estándar nicaragüense: la bomba de mecate.

Transportando tubos en el Río Coco (2000-2003)

No fue hasta principios de la década de 2000, y con una década de experiencia empírica sobre el terreno, cuando empecé a entrar en contacto con redes como la RWSN, que se convirtieron en referencias esporádicas pero importantes, combinadas con otros focos de inspiración que encontraba en las escasas oportunidades en que salía de comunidades remotas por senderos, caminos de tierra y ríos.

A través de estos contactos, me inspiré para añadir nuevas herramientas a mi caja de herramientas en la búsqueda continua de agua limpia. La recogida de agua de lluvia y el tratamiento en el punto de uso o los filtros se convirtieron en aspectos importantes de mi búsqueda para llegar realmente a la última milla, al tiempo que experimentaba con bombas hidráulicas de ariete en el camino. Además de las tecnologías en sí, enfoques como el Marco de Aplicabilidad de la Tecnología (TAF), la aceleración del autoabastecimiento y el fortalecimiento de los sistemas se han convertido en herramientas esenciales en los últimos diez años de mi viaje.

Además de la RWSN, que no conocí formalmente hasta 2011, cuando asistí al 6º Foro Internacional de la RWSN en Kampala, Uganda, también encontré inspiración en la red HWTS, la Alianza Internacional para la Recolección de Agua de Lluvia (IRHA), el Grupo del Centro SMART, SuSanA, Agenda para el Cambio y otros. A nivel local, las redes WASH de Nicaragua y Centroamérica (RASNIC y RRAS-CA, respectivamente) representaron los esfuerzos por llevar la colaboración a los niveles regional, nacional y local.

De estos contactos surgieron no sólo referencias técnicas clave, sino una mayor comprensión de la importancia del contexto en la aplicabilidad de una solución, la complejidad de la sostenibilidad, la importancia de los enfoques basados en la demanda acompañados de sistemas que no son necesariamente exclusivos del sector público, sino que incluyen el papel del sector privado local, el espíritu empresarial, las alianzas y la aceleración de los modelos de autoabastecimiento de la prestación de servicios.

Todavía existe una tensión considerable entre estos dos enfoques del suministro de agua -el fortalecimiento de los sistemas y la aceleración de los modelos de autoabastecimiento-, aunque considero que estos últimos son complementarios y forman parte de los primeros, y a pesar de que en el ámbito del saneamiento las soluciones familiares individuales siguen siendo la norma para la población de las zonas rurales.

Ni que decir tiene que pasé de mis inicios en los sistemas de abastecimiento por gravedad alimentados por manantiales a los pozos de sondeo superficiales y profundos, a la perforación manual y mecánica, a las bombas manuales y a las impulsadas por energías renovables, a la captación de agua de lluvia en los tejados y al tratamiento y almacenamiento de agua en los hogares. También me adentré en el concepto de resiliencia y en los conceptos de usos múltiples y fuentes múltiples o sistemas híbridos, este último todavía menos considerado.

No debe pasar desapercibido que mi búsqueda de agua limpia en Nicaragua se ha visto confrontada y marcada en el camino por un número creciente de huracanes: Mitch en 1998, que me llevó al río Coco para construir sistemas de abastecimiento de agua donde no los había, pero donde las comunidades a lo largo del río habían sido totalmente arrasadas. Félix, en 2007, dejó una franja de destrucción en la costa caribeña nororiental. Y, más recientemente, Eta e Iota, en noviembre de 2020, arrasaron con todos los más de 250 sistemas de captación de agua de lluvia en los tejados, con tanques de ferrocemento de 4.000 litros, que habían sido construidos uno a uno durante 5 años por hombres y mujeres en la comunidad de Wawa Bar.

Training RWH System installers Wawa Boom (2021)

En el camino, también me encontré con algunas contribuciones significativas al abastecimiento de agua en las zonas rurales, incubadas en Nicaragua en el espíritu de su afamado poeta de las letras españolas modernas Rubén Darío: Si la Patria es pequeña, uno grande la sueña. Entre ellas se encuentran la bomba de mecate, el filtron de barro (Filtron) y un clorador en línea de fabricación artesanal (conocido originalmente como CTI-8).

Fueron el tratamiento y el almacenamiento de agua en el hogar y Ron Rivera, de Alfareros por la Paz, los que me iniciaron en el concepto de autoabastecimiento y los enfoques basados en el mercado. Este concepto ha terminado por costarme dos veces mi trabajo con organizaciones “sin ánimo de lucro” que no están dispuestas a socavar su modelo de caridad y su dependencia de un estado permanente de “filantropía humanitaria”.

Ahora que mi camino de vida entra en su recta final, mi enfoque es reunir tanto física como virtualmente la mayor cantidad de todas estas grandes iniciativas y las nuevas que surjan, dentro de un marco basado en el contexto y la construcción colectiva de modelos de prestación de servicios adecuados.  Mi vehículo desde 2017 es el Centro SMART de Nicaragua: Conectando, asistiendo, acelerando.  El Centro SMART fue inspirado en 2015 por Henk Holtslag, a quien conocí en el Foro de la RWSN en Kampala en 2011.

El Centro SMART en Nicaragua

A principios de este año, RWSN publicó una versión concisa de mi evaluación rápida del impacto a largo plazo del enfoque SMART: El caso de la bomba de mecate en Nicaragua, una mirada retrospectiva a 40 años de desarrollo como historia de éxito del autoabastecimiento acelerado. Sólo me queda esperar que el faro de la Red Rural de Abastecimiento de Agua siga iluminando el camino durante otros 30 años para que yo pueda aportar unos cuantos granos de arena más.

Sobre el autor:

Joshua ha trabajado como profesional en el sector de WASH rural durante más de 30 años, casi en su totalidad en Nicaragua, América Central, con la excepción de un período de 3 años en el que dirigió el desarrollo de un programa en Colombia. Su trabajo le ha llevado desde breves periodos en el sector público y en una empresa privada de consultoría de ingeniería, hasta organizaciones no gubernamentales pequeñas e internacionalmente reconocidas, y agencias de ayuda bilateral. Es el director fundador del Centro de Tecnologías SMART de Agua, Saneamiento e Higiene de Nicaragua, una empresa social que reúne a los sectores público y privado, las instituciones de microfinanciación y el mundo académico para promover los enfoques SMART, incluido el autoabastecimiento para llegar a la última milla. Recientemente ha sido coautor de una nota de campo de la RWSN en la que se hace un balance de los 40 años de historia de la bomba de mecate en Nicaragua.

¿Le ha gustado este blog? ¿Le gustaría compartir su perspectiva sobre el sector del agua rural o su historia como profesional del agua rural? Invitamos a todos los miembros de la RWSN a contribuir a esta serie de blogs del 30º aniversario. Los mejores blogs serán seleccionados para su publicación y traducción. Por favor, consulte las directrices del blog aquí y póngase en contacto con nosotros (ruralwater[at] para obtener más información.Si aprecia el trabajo de la RWSN y desea apoyarnos económicamente, puede hacerlo aquí.

RWSN updates February 2022 and upcoming events

Dear RWSN members

We hope you all had a great start to 2022. The year is already going in full swing, and we would like to share some RWSN updates and upcoming events with you. 

My name is Tommy Ka Kit Ngai and I am the Head of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at WaterAid UK. At the RWSN Executive Steering Committee on 27 January, I was honoured to accept the role of RWSN Chair for the remainder of WaterAid’s tenure. I have been a RWSN member for about 10 years and have always been encouraged by the unwavering commitment of fellow RWSN members to collaborate and support each other in bringing sustainable and reliable water supplies to all rural people.  Collectively, we have a world-leading, immense pool of knowledge and experience in rural WASH.  I am thrilled to be here. I look forward to learning from and working alongside with all of you.   

Thank you, Louisa Gosling and SDC 

  • It is with much sadness that Louisa Gosling stepped down as Chair of RWSN due to health issues as of December 2021. We thank her so much for her great leadership and passion for the network, and in particular, she worked tirelessly with the Leave no One Behind theme and has been a great advocate of RWSN over the last ten years. We wish her strength and good health in her next chapter. 
  • The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has supported this network since the beginning when we were founded as the Handpump Technology Network in 1992. Thanks to their steadfast partnership, RWSN has grown from a mailing list of a few dozen engineers to a diverse, global network of nearly 14,000 individuals and more than a hundred organisations in 167 countries. The RWSN Strategy, Roadmap and ongoing governance review are setting the network on an exciting new path and we will share more details in future updates. SDC’s strategic orientation is shifting and with it our modality of collaboration. We thank the SDC Global Programme Water for providing exceptional support over the last 30 years, and to Dr Daniel Maselli in particular who has been a great ally and guide over the last few years. Switzerland remains committed to improving global water security and we look forward to continuing our partnership in new ways. 

Welcome to Ndeye Awa Diagne, Dr. Amita Bhakta, WHO and USAID – and “Data for Action” 

  • Ms Ndeye Awa Diagne (“Awa”) has joined the RWSN executive committee. Awa is a Water and Sanitation Specialist at the World Bank in Washington DC, with 10 years experience, including 6 with the World Bank and 2 at the Société Nationale des Eaux du Sénégal. Her current responsibilities include managing the Bank’s internal community of practice on rural WASH. Linkedin  
  • New Leave No One Behind (LNOB) theme co-lead Dr. Amita Bhakta. Amita is a Freelance Consultant in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); Website: Amita Bhakta – Hidden WASHLinkedIn   
  • Welcome to our new RWSN project partners, USAID, who are funding REAL-Water, a five year research programme on rural water headed by Aquaya Institute with KNUST Ghana, ATREESafe Water NetworkAguaconsult and Water Mission
  • We are delighted to be collaborating with WHO as they prepare to finalise and publish “Guidelines For Small Drinking-Water Supplies: Policy Guidance And Supporting Tools”. Look out for more updates later in the year! 
  • Finally, the RWSN Theme “Monitoring and Mapping” will be changing its name to  “Data for Action”; the change will be effective over the course of this year. 

    Upcoming events 
  • On 22nd March we celebrate World Water Day. This year the theme is “Groundwater: making the invisible, visible”. You can take part in the celebration and raise awareness on groundwater by checking the website: There are many materials available for download to share with your community and networks, raising awareness on groundwater. RWSN also has a wealth of resources related to Groundwater, see below. 
  • 9th World Water Forum, Dakar – RWSN is delighted to be hosting French/English Session 2A4 on Rural Water Supply Management Models in Room 3 at 9am on 22 March. For those coming to the Dakar, we look forward to welcoming you to this great session, with interesting case studies from Morocco, Madagascar, Senegal, Ghana and Uptime and panellists including the Director General of Water from the Government of Spain.  

    RWSN resources related to Groundwater 
  • Does your organisation drill boreholes, or perhaps fund others to drill?  If so, check out the wealth of materials on borehole drilling on the RWSN website: 
  • Do you want a quick, and easy introduction to borehole siting, supervision, procurement and drilling itself?  If so, then watch these very short animated films (available in English and French): 
  • Want to know about how to unlock the potential of groundwater in Africa, then check out this short film: 
  • Are you looking for ways to support access to groundwater at a low cost? Then you should find out if manual drilling is an option? This is a good place to start: 
  • Want to learn about professional drilling from other RWSN members and partners? There is an archive of presentations and webinars available here: 
  • Do you have questions or concerns about using solar-powered water systems to pump groundwater? This is a good place to start:  


    New Groundwater Publications from RWSN and in collaboration with others 

    Dr Kerstin Danert, co-lead of Sustainable Groundwater Development Theme has been extremely busy over the last year and involved in lead and co-author roles on several key publications that will be published over the next month:  

Best regards,

RWSN Chair and secretariat

Floods with silver linings: Redefining how aquifers replenish in dryland Africa

This blog by Sean Furey was originally published in GeoDrilling International and is available here.

Drilling for water is only useful if there is good water to be had now and into the future. Since 2013, researchers in the UK-funded programme Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor, have been working all over Africa to understand better the continents aquifers and how their hidden wealth can be used to benefit everyone. Now after years of patient work, exciting results and resources are emerging.

One is that the Africa Groundwater Atlas, curated by the British Geological Survey, now has downloadable GIS maps for 38 countries. They are quite large scale, so not detailed enough for individual borehole siting, but a good starting point for identifying where major aquifers are. This supports the wealth of other useful information, in English and French, on the soils, climate and groundwater use in all 52 of Africa’s countries.

Meanwhile a major finding published in the leading science journal Nature in August overturns our understanding of how aquifers are recharged in Africa’s drylands. In humid areas of the continent, like the tropical Congo Basin, there is a direct relationship between the rain that falls on an area of rainforest and what percolates down into the soil and rock. Not so in the Savannah’s and scrub land of the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and Savannah’s of East and Southern Africa.

Analysis of the precious few long groundwater records, combined with local studies in Niger, Ethiopia and Tanzania have shown that here rainwater is only able to percolate into the aquifer in well-defined locations, like ponds and riverbeds, and only after very intense storms. As a hydrogeologist that used to work on the Chalk aquifers of South East England, this is almost is a polar opposite. In the UK, nice steady drizzle over the winter maybe unpleasant for most people but it is heaven for ducks and water resource managers, because the soil gets saturated and water flows down into cracks and pore-spaces of the underlying rock, then on to providing baseflow for rivers and wetlands.

In the African drylands, it is the floodwater that is critical for focused recharge along ephemeral river valleys and depressions in the landscape. In parallel to this work, research on climate change indicates that in these areas of West and East Africa, rainy seasons are likely to come later and have fewer rain days – but with the same or more volume of rainfall. The inference from this is that when it does rain, it will rain harder – and more of it will find its way into the ground.

So, looking ahead, the role of aquifers in acting as a buffer between periods of flood and drought will become more and more important. This makes Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) look increasingly important to capture floods, both to protect lives and property from damage and to have that water available through the long dry seasons.

One such low-cost opportunity is the way that road drainage is designed so that instead of dumping storm water into already swollen rivers, they divert the water into infiltration ponds and ditches, which can farmers can use when the storm subsides.

Tropical and sub-Tropical climates around the world are always challengingly variable, and these extremes look set to expand, but for drillers and water users at least there is this one silver lining.


Just how much do countries rely on groundwater point sources for their drinking water?

Preliminary analysis of census and national survey data from the 2019 Joint Monitoring Programme, by Dr Kerstin Danert

An important issue for those of us that think a lot about groundwater is the extent that various countries rely on it for their drinking water.

The data presented in the table below has been prepared from the 2019 data published by the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF (see Each country has an associated Country File (an excel spreadsheet) with collated data on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene use. This data is gathered from national censuses as well as household surveys such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and many others. The country files given excel spreadsheets on the JMP website (not to mention the underlying surveys) contain a wealth of data!

The table below shows the percentage of the population that rely on groundwater point sources as their main source of drinking water for every country and territory for the most recent year for which census or survey data is available. The data is presented for urban, rural and total populations.  Groundwater point sources include protected and unprotected wells and springs, as well as tube wells and boreholes.  Countries may have slightly different nomenclature for the above terms, but these are harmonised in the country tables produced by the JMP.

It is important to note that the data only includes point sources.  Water that is bought from vendors, sold in bottles/sachets or transmitted in pipes may also originate from groundwater, but this information is not generally collated by the censuses or surveys and thus cannot be reflected.  Consequently, the actual dependency of a particular on groundwater for drinking may be considerably higher. In addition, national governments may also make calculations based on the infrastructure available and assumed number of users per source. Due to the different methods of data collection and calculation, these estimates may differ from that collected by the household survey or census.

Please note that the analysis below has not been peer-reviewed, and so if you are intending to use the data, please do check in the respective JMP country file.  You can access Country Files on: Click on map to select country, download “Country file” and open the “Water Data” tab. In case you spot any mistakes in the table below, please respond in the comments in the blog below or contact the author directly, via

Table 1 Groundwater point source as main drinking water source (% of the population classified as urban, rural and total)

Urban Rural Total
Country Census/ Survey Year Ground-water point source as main drinking water source (% of the urban pop.) Census/ Survey Year Ground-water point source as main drinking water source (% of the rural pop.) Census/ Survey Year Ground-water point source as main drinking water source (% of the total pop.)
Afghanistan 2017 57.3% 2017 71.5% 2017 68.1%
Albania 2012 6.4% 2012 14.7% 2012 10.2%
Algeria 2013 6.6% 2013 19.6% 2013 11.3%
American Samoa 2010 0.5%
Andorra 2005 6.6%
Angola 2016 17.7% 2016 43.0% 2016 26.8%
Anguilla 2009 0.7% 2009 0.7%
Antigua and Barbuda 2011 0.4%
Argentina 2013 9.1% 2010 37.7% 2010 15.0%
Armenia 2016 0.1% 2016 2.6% 2016 1.1%
Aruba 2010 1.3%
Australia 2013 0.1% 2013 1.1% 2013 0.5%
Azerbaijan 2017 0.1% 2017 12.1% 2017 5.4%
Bahamas 2010 2.9%
Bahrain 1995 1.4%
Bangladesh 2016 66.4% 2016 94.7% 2016 84.9%
Barbados 2010 0.1% 2012 0.1%
Belarus 2012 2.7% 2012 32.9% 2012 11.1%
Belize 2016 0.3% 2016 4.1% 2016 2.5%
Benin 2014 39.4% 2014 56.8% 2014 48.9%
Bhutan 2017 0.3% 2017 0.6% 2017 0.5%
Bolivia (Plurinational State of) 2017 5.0% 2017 42.2% 2017 16.5%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2012 3.6% 2012 11.4% 2012 8.9%
Botswana 2017 0.1% 2017 14.9% 2017 5.3%
Brazil 2017 0.4% 2017 8.4% 2017 1.6%
British Virgin Islands 2010 1.9%
Brunei Darussalam 2011 0.1% 2011 0.1% 2011 0.1%
Bulgaria 2001 0.4% 2001 2.7% 2001 1.1%
Burkina Faso 2017 17.1% 2017 85.6% 2017 72.9%
Burundi 2017 8.6% 2017 68.1% 2017 61.5%
Cabo Verde 2007 0.1% 2012 15.1% 2012 5.1%
Cambodia 2016 13.5% 2016 47.2% 2016 40.2%
Cameroon 2014 35.5% 2014 74.1% 2017 50.0%
Canada 2011 0.1% 2011 0.7% 2011 0.3%
Caribbean Netherlands 2001 27.3%
Cayman Islands 2010 4.9% 0.0% 2010 4.9%
Central African Republic 2010 49.1% 2010 92.1% 2010 75.4%
Chad 2015 48.0% 2015 82.4% 2015 74.6%
Chile 2017 0.6% 2017 4.0% 2017 2.4%
China 2013 7.4% 2013 43.1% 2016 22.4%
Colombia 2018 0.4% 2018 13.7% 2018 3.3%
Comoros 2012 5.1% 2012 21.3% 2012 16.2%
Congo 2015 24.9% 2015 65.7% 2015 38.3%
Cook Islands 2011 0.0%
Costa Rica 2018 0.0% 2018 0.5% 2018 0.2%
Côte d’Ivoire 2017 33.9% 2017 71.0% 2017 49.5%
Croatia 2003 3.3% 2003 18.0% 2003 20.0%
Cuba 2011 13.5% 2014 41.9% 2011 18.2%
Curaçao 2011 0.9%
Czechia 2003 1.5% 2003 7.1%
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2017 17.1% 2017 58.1% 2017 33.1%
Democratic Republic of the Congo 2014 33.0% 2014 79.4% 2014 63.5%
Djibouti 2017 0.6% 2017 55.5% 2017 10.9%
Dominica 2001 0.6% 2001 6.3% 2009 0.3%
Dominican Republic 2016 0.1% 2016 2.3% 2016 0.7%
Ecuador 2017 1.1% 2017 17.1% 2017 6.1%
Egypt 2017 0.4% 2017 2.1% 2017 1.4%
El Salvador 2017 3.0% 2017 12.3% 2017 6.6%
Equatorial Guinea 2011 44.7% 2011 51.9% 2011 48.4%
Eritrea 2010 3.4% 2010 36.0% 2010 24.6%
Estonia 2010 1.7% 2010 18.8% 2010 6.7%
Eswatini 2014 3.7% 2014 31.5% 2014 24.0%
Ethiopia 2017 5.1% 2017 62.3% 2017 52.0%
Falkland Islands (Malvinas) 2016 43.7%
Fiji 2014 1.1% 2014 13.6% 2014 7.2%
Finland 1999 1.0% 2005 5.0% 2005 1.0%
French Guiana 1999 5.0% 1999 6.0% 2015 13.5%
Gabon 2013 3.3% 2013 37.8% 2013 8.2%
Gambia 2013 14.4% 2013 60.0% 2013 32.6%
Georgia 2017 4.9% 2017 46.9% 2017 22.2%
Germany 2007 0.8% 2007 0.8% 2007 0.0%
Ghana 2017 11.3% 2017 56.7% 2017 36.0%
Greece 2001 0.2% 2001 3.8%
Grenada 1999 4.0% 1999 18.0%
Guadeloupe 2006 0.8% 2006 0.3% 2006 0.8%
Guam 2010 0.1%
Guatemala 2015 5.0% 2015 19.6% 2015 13.4%
Guinea 2016 32.8% 2016 75.3% 2016 59.0%
Guinea-Bissau 2014 41.0% 2014 78.0% 2014 61.7%
Guyana 2014 1.3% 2014 5.5% 2014 4.4%
Haiti 2017 8.1% 2017 56.5% 2017 37.5%
Honduras 2017 2.0% 2017 4.2% 2017 3.0%
Hungary 1990 5.0% 1990 28.9%
India 2016 23.8% 2016 63.7% 2016 50.5%
Indonesia 2018 35.2% 2018 66.9% 2018 49.6%
Iran (Islamic Republic of) 2015 1.8% 2015 4.6% 2015 0.8%
Iraq 2018 0.5% 2018 4.6% 2018 1.8%
Ireland 2006 0.0% 2006 0.5%
Italy 2001 3.9%
Jamaica 2014 0.0% 2014 1.2% 2014 0.6%
Jordan 2016 0.3% 2016 0.7% 2016 0.4%
Kazakhstan 2015 3.2% 2015 21.0% 2015 11.5%
Kenya 2017 21.2% 2017 54.1% 2017 46.2%
Kiribati 2014 0.0% 2014 0.0% 2014 0.0%
Kyrgyzstan 2014 1.1% 2014 11.3% 2014 8.1%
Lao People’s Democratic Republic 2017 9.0% 2017 46.0% 2017 34.7%
Latvia 2003 2.4% 2003 12.5%
Lebanon 2016 10.9%
Lesotho 2015 5.5% 2015 27.8% 2015 21.4%
Liberia 2016 58.7% 2016 74.7% 2016 65.3%
Libya 1995 35.8% 1995 26.9% 2014 19.1%
Madagascar 2016 24.5% 2016 61.6% 2016 57.6%
Malawi 2017 16.3% 2017 86.0% 2017 73.8%
Malaysia 2003 0.8% 2003 6.7%
Maldives 2014 0.1% 2014 0.2% 2017 0.5%
Mali 2018 19.5% 2018 72.3% 2018 56.2%
Marshall Islands 2017 0.2% 2017 2.5% 2017 0.6%
Martinique 1999 0.5% 2015 0.4%
Mauritania 2015 6.5% 2015 49.4% 2015 29.1%
Mayotte 0.0% 2013 2.5%
Mexico 2017 0.8% 2017 9.5% 2017 2.8%
Micronesia (Federated States of) 2010 3.6% 2010 10.7% 2010 9.1%
Mongolia 2016 12.8% 2016 52.7% 2016 25.8%
Montenegro 2013 5.1% 2013 29.2% 2013 14.1%
Montserrat 1998 2.0% 1998 100.0% 2001 0.1%
Morocco 2012 1.0% 2012 27.2% 2012 10.2%
Mozambique 2015 21.4% 2015 62.5% 2015 49.6%
Myanmar 2016 34.3% 2016 74.8% 2016 64.0%
Namibia 2016 0.6% 2016 23.4% 2016 11.8%
Nauru 2011 1.6% 2011 0.0% 2011 1.6%
Nepal 2016 41.8% 2016 46.8% 2016 44.4%
New Caledonia 2014 3.1%
Nicaragua 2014 4.4% 2014 59.9% 2016 21.4%
Niger 2017 33.9% 2017 71.0% 2017 49.5%
Nigeria 2018 45.3% 2018 73.1% 2018 60.0%
Niue 1999 20.0% 2010 0.0%
North Macedonia 2011 1.5% 2011 15.1% 2011 7.7%
Northern Mariana Islands 2000 1.3% 0.0% 2010 1.1%
Oman 2014 5.1% 2014 10.0% 2014 6.4%
Pakistan 2016 30.4% 2016 44.0% 2016 39.1%
Panama 2015 0.7% 2015 14.6% 2017 0.0%
Papua New Guinea 2017 2.8% 2017 7.5% 2017 7.1%
Paraguay 2017 2.1% 2017 9.2% 2017 4.8%
Peru 2017 1.5% 2017 11.1% 2017 3.8%
Philippines 2017 8.4% 2017 37.6% 2017 23.9%
Portugal 2001 0.1% 2001 0.7%
Puerto Rico 1995 1.8%
Republic of Korea 2015 1.0%
Republic of Moldova 2012 16.9% 2012 65.1% 2012 47.1%
Réunion 2015 0.2%
Romania 1994 11.3% 1994 81.0%
Russian Federation 2009 3.4% 2009 19.5% 2009 8.6%
Rwanda 2017 17.2% 2017 58.4% 2017 50.4%
Saint Kitts and Nevis 1999 27.0% 1999 27.0% 2007 0.3%
Saint Lucia 2012 0.5% 2012 2.0% 2012 1.6%
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 1999 20.0% 2012 0.1%
Samoa 2016 2.6% 2016 5.6% 2016 5.0%
Sao Tome and Principe 2010 4.5% 2010 11.7% 2010 6.9%
Saudi Arabia 2017 0.2%
Senegal 2017 7.2% 2017 35.0% 2017 22.5%
Serbia 2014 2.4% 2014 11.7% 2014 6.2%
Sierra Leone 2017 54.7% 2017 68.9% 2017 62.6%
Sint Maarten (Dutch part) 2011 7.4%
Slovakia 2003 2.3% 2003 2.3% 2011 13.1%
Solomon Islands 2015 8.6% 2016 27.6% 2015 17.5%
Somalia 2017 9.5% 2017 60.5% 2017 34.1%
South Africa 2017 0.5% 2017 10.1% 2017 3.8%
South Sudan 2017 66.5% 2017 80.1% 2017 77.3%
Spain 2003 0.6% 2003 0.3%
Sri Lanka 2016 17.3% 2016 51.0% 2016 45.3%
Sudan 2014 2.2% 2014 13.2% 2014 9.8%
Suriname 2017 3.1% 2017 5.4% 2017 3.8%
Syrian Arab Republic 2018 4.2% 2018 11.6% 2018 8.4%
Tajikistan 2017 5.2% 2017 18.7% 2017 15.4%
Thailand 2016 1.8% 2016 6.2% 2016 4.2%
Timor-Leste 2016 20.0% 2016 33.6% 2016 29.9%
Togo 2017 36.6% 2017 61.2% 2017 51.8%
Tonga 1999 28.0% 1999 24.0% 1996 1.7%
Trinidad and Tobago 2011 0.9% 2011 1.0% 2011 0.9%
Tunisia 2015 0.5% 2015 10.8% 2015 3.7%
Turkey 2013 5.0% 2013 40.0% 2013 13.0%
Turkmenistan 2016 4.4% 2016 34.3% 2016 22.6%
Turks and Caicos Islands 1999 22.0% 1999 40.0% 2012 1.7%
Tuvalu 2007 1.7% 2007 0.5% 2007 1.1%
Uganda 2017 35.8% 2017 79.6% 2017 71.9%
Ukraine 2018 11.5% 2018 61.2% 2018 27.8%
United Arab Emirates 2003 0.2% 2018 0.1%
United Republic of Tanzania 2017 19.4% 2017 50.5% 2017 41.2%
United States of America 2015 3.0% 2015 45.2% 2015 11.1%
Uruguay 2017 0.0% 2017 3.1% 2017 0.2%
Uzbekistan 2015 6.9% 2015 22.7% 2015 14.2%
Vanuatu 2016 1.6% 2016 4.8% 2016 4.0%
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 2011 4.3% 2011 25.6% 2011 6.8%
Viet Nam 2016 19.5% 2016 57.2% 2016 45.2%
West Bank and Gaza Strip 2017 1.2% 2017 3.2% 2017 1.5%
Yemen 2013 2.3% 2013 43.1% 2013 31.6%
Zambia 2015 26.7% 2015 76.8% 2015 55.8%
Zimbabwe 2017 11.1% 2017 77.5% 2017 57.0%

Photo:  Groundwater provides over 80% of the rural population with its main source of drinking water in South Sudan. Photo taken in 2014 in Northern Bahr el Ghazal by Kerstin Danert.




The rise of the off-grid city?

Adrian Healy reports on the findings of research undertaken in Lagos on the proliferation of domestic boreholes. This article was originally published in GeoDrilling International, and can be read here.

The conventional model of urban development focuses on centralised water service provision, where the state ensures a supply of water through storage and treatment plants and a grid of interconnected pipelines. Yet in many of our fastest growing cities, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia, this model is being turned on its head. Here, households, and business users, are increasingly turning to an ‘off-grid’ model, where they take responsibility for their own water supply. Nowhere is this more true than in the thriving megalopolis of Lagos in Nigeria, which serves as an example to practitioners around the world.

The public supply of water is estimated to reach no more than one in ten households living in Lagos State and, with a rapidly rising population, that proportion is changing every day. Despite their best efforts, the city authorities struggle to keep up with the pace of change, hampered further by an ageing infrastructure. In the absence of a reliable and convenient supply of water, it is perhaps little wonder that those who are able to secure their own water supplies do so. The result is a proliferation of domestic boreholes, as households seek to tap the accessible groundwater reserves beneath their feet. Whilst the actual number of domestic boreholes is unknown the possible numbers are staggering. Lagos State Water Corporation suggests that there may be anything up to 200,000 such boreholes in the State. Separately, a 2017 survey of 539 households living in Lagos State found that 51% reported owning their own borehole, with a further 36% reported that they shared a private borehole with other families[1].

The rise in the numbers of domestic boreholes is typically explained as a failure of the government to supply water to households. The public network often does not reach new housing developments and, where it does reach, failures of supply are commonplace. What is less often remarked on is the role played by a thriving drilling industry, fuelled by innovation and new entrants. Certainly, the development of new technologies, often imported from the oil industry or from abroad, has played a major role in driving the establishment of the borehole-drilling industry in Lagos. As costs of entry have fallen, increasing numbers of new companies have started up, offering cheap construction methods which are affordable by more and more households. Together, these factors are driving the evolution of a city that relies on off-grid water infrastructures.

This rise of the off-grid city has, in many ways, enabled the continuous expansion of Lagos as a major economic centre. For those who can afford their own borehole it has also delivered peace of mind as well as health and economic benefits, at least in the short-term. Questions though are now being asked as to the longer-term implications of this, particularly by the more professional members of the drilling and groundwater community. They point to the rise of poorly constructed boreholes as prices and drilling standards fall. They worry that this may lead to widespread contamination of the groundwater, whilst also reporting falling water tables in many areas, leading to fears of over-abstraction and the potential for saline intrusion.

Understanding whether these worries are well-founded is hampered by the lack of any system for monitoring either the quality or the amount of water being abstracted from the aquifers. State Government proposals to require owners of domestic boreholes to register these have foundered on the fear that this will be a front for the taxing of private water supplies. At the same time, our research indicates that the broader population is relaxed about the upward trend in boreholes, regarding the supply of groundwater as infinite (Figure 1). However, attitudes towards the quality of that water are more mixed, with around half concerned for the future. Evidence as to whether these beliefs are well-placed is currently lacking and requires longer-term data collection, particularly in terms of the amount of ground water available. Our research into levels of e-coli found in 40 groundwater sources demonstrates that residents’ caution about quality is well-founded (Figure 2). However, again, longer term monitoring is required if we are to better understand the risks of contamination over time.

Figure 1: Residents’ perceptions of groundwater exploitation in Lagos


Figure 2



In Lagos, as in many other cities, the rise of the off-grid city is due to a mix of social, economic, political and hydrogeological factors. Attempts to overcome the water gap though public provision alone are struggling with the sheer scale of investment required and speed of change in population. The rise of private provision of water supplies has fuelled the growth of the city and, in turn, has been fuelled by a rising tide of prosperity. Yet there are real concerns that the sheer proliferation of boreholes and unregulated abstraction may be storing up problems for the future. So what are the answers? Certification and licensing approaches will certainly help, but only if there is both the will and means to enforce them. Improving knowledge and awareness through education and training, both of the wider public and amongst new contractors, will also help. In the short term it may be that we need to find new mechanisms to monitor the health of our aquifers if we are not to encounter longer-term crises. Drilling contractors can be at the forefront of this exercise, helping to ensure the resilience and durability of the off-grid city.


Dr. Adrian Healy, is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University. His research focuses on themes of urban resilience to shocks and hazards. He gratefully acknowledges the support of all his colleagues involved in the RIGSS project, particularly Prof. Moshood Tijani (University of Ibadan), Prof. Ibrahim Goni (University of Maiduguri) and the British Geological Survey. Financial support was provided by NERC-GCRF ‘Building Resilience’ grant (NE/P01545X/1). Further information on the issues of domestic borehole development in Nigeria can be found here.

Figure 2 is reproduced with thanks to Dr. Kirsty Upton and the British Geological Survey, who prepared the original version.




Understanding the invisible: Uganda’s efforts to increase access to detailed groundwater data

This is the second in a series of four blogs entitled Professional Borehole Drilling: Learning from Uganda written by Elisabeth Liddle, and a RWSN webinar in 2019 about professional borehole drilling. It draws on research in Uganda by Liddle and Fenner (2018). We welcome your thoughts in reply to this blog below. [Note: The original blog was revised on 03 April 2019 to correct an inaccurate representation of the situation].

While access to improved water sources has steadily increased across rural sub-Saharan Africa, several studies have raised concerns over the extent to which these sources are able to provide safe and adequate quantities of water over the long term (Foster et al., 2018; Kebede et al., 2017; Owor et al., 2017; Adank et al., 2014). Borehole design and siting are essential to ensure that the subsequent water point will continue to provide safe and adequate quantities of water. Access to detailed and accurate groundwater information can greatly aid siting and borehole design (UNICEF/Skat, 2016; Carter et al., 2014).

Skat Foundation and UNICEF have been key advocates for increasing access to detailed groundwater data including the recent guidance note which pointed out that ‘groundwater information’ is essential when seeking to improve the quality of borehole implementation in low- and middle-income countries (see Figure 1; UNICEF/Skat, 2016). In this blog I provide some insights into the ways in which Uganda has sought to increase access to groundwater data is recent years.




Fig. 1: Six areas of engagement for increasing drilling professionalism (Skat/UNICEF, 2016).

Groundwater resource mapping in Uganda

Significant steps have been taken in recent years to increase access to detailed groundwater data in Uganda. Much of this began in 2000 when the Directorate of Water Resources and Management (DWRM) within the Ministry of Water and the Environment (MWE) began a nationwide groundwater mapping project. Using data sourced from the borehole completion reports that drilling contractors are required to submit every quarter, DWRM has developed are series of maps for each district. These include:

  1. Water source location map, underlain by a geology map.
  2. Recommended water source technology map (technology recommendation is based on main water strike depth and yield information).
  3. Hydrogeological condition map – includes 4 sub-maps:
    • inferred first water strike depth[1],
    • inferred main water strike depth[2],
    • inferred thickness of overburden[3], and
    • inferred static water level depth[4].
  4. Groundwater quality map: highlights areas where water quality is expected to be problematic.
  5. Groundwater potential – Drilling success rate map: combines expected yield success rate[5] coupled with expected water quality conditions.

Tindimugaya (2004) explains these maps in greater detail, along with the ways in which such maps can help the implementation process. An example of these maps for Kibaale district is available on the MWE’s website.

This mapping work is ongoing, however, by May 2017 DWRM had mapped 85% of Uganda’s districts. The magnitude of these maps and the level of detail they capture is remarkable. These maps have become a great asset for district local governments, non-governmental organisations, and others responsible for water point siting and construction.

Ongoing challenges

While Uganda has made remarkable progress in recent years with their groundwater mapping efforts, there have been several challenges along the way (Liddle and Fenner, 2018), mostly related to data accuracy. When interviewing those in Uganda for this research, there were reports that in some (but not all) cases, inaccurate data is submitted. When looking at why inaccurate data is sometimes submitted, two key issues were noted:

  1. There often isn’t a qualified consultant on site full-time for drilling supervision. While it is the drilling contractor’s responsibility to have a member of staff recording the drilling log, an independent supervisor should also keep a log and check the driller’s log for accuracy before this is submitted to DWRM. Without full-time supervision, however, this cannot happen. Furthermore, even with full-time supervision, if the supervisor is not a hydrogeologist, it is unlikely that they will be keeping accurate and detailed logs.
  2. The lump sum no-water-no-pay payment terms via which Ugandan drillers are often paid (see blog “Turnkey contracts for borehole siting and drilling”). When these contract terms are used, to be paid, drillers need to prove that they have drilled a successful borehole; as a result, there were reports of drillers exaggerating a given borehole’s yield in order to be paid. Skewing data in this way is concerning, as not only will these boreholes struggle to provide adequate quantities of water post-construction, but this high-yield data is then entered into the drilling log database and used to produce the hydrogeological maps. Increasing the quality of drilling supervision and ensuring data is not skewed in this way is essential if the accuracy of DWRM’s maps is to increase going forward.

Overall, Uganda has made remarkable progress over the past two decades in increasing the level of groundwater information available in-country. There are very few examples in the African continent comparable to what Uganda has achieved! As noted above, the resultant maps have become a great asset for district local governments, non-governmental organisations, and others responsible for water point siting and construction.

Increasing the accuracy of borehole completion reports is an essential next steps for Uganda. Furthermore, other countries should be aware of these challenges as they embark on their own mapping exercises and ensure necessary measures are in place to prevent these problems in their own contexts.

What do you think?

So what do you think? Do you have experiences of collecting and collating groundwater data, or using groundwater maps? Is this something that should be started in your country? You can respond below by posting in the reply below, or you can join the live webinar on the 14th of May (register here).

[1]‘Expected first water strike depth’ = the depth at which a driller is likely to first encounter groundwater. In most cases the driller will need to continue drilling past this point if the borehole is to be able to provide sufficient quantities of water for users.

[2] ‘Expected main water strike depth’ = the depth at which a driller is likely to find the main aquifer that will be able to provide sufficient quantities of water for users.

[3] Overburden refers to the unconsolidated material that overlays the bedrock. The ‘expected overburden thickness’ map highlights the expected depth of this unconsolidated material across Uganda.

[4] ‘Expected static water level’ = the expected groundwater depth without any pumping disturbance.

[5] ‘Yield success’ refers to a borehole being able to sustain a pumping rate of 500 litres/hour. If a borehole can sustain this pumping rate, it is considered successful in regards to yield.


Adank, M., Kumasi, T.C., Chimbar, T.L., Atengdem, J., Agbemor, B.D., Dickinson, N., and Abbey, E. (2014). The state of handpump water services in Ghana: Findings from three districts, 37th WEDC International Conference, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2014, Available from

Carter, R., Chilton, J., Danert, K. & Olschewski, A. (2014) Siting of Drilled Water Wells – A Guide for Project Managers. RWSN Publication 2014-11 , RWSN , St Gallen, Switzerland, Available from

Foster, T., Willetts, J., Lane, M. Thomson, P. Katuva, J., and Hope, R. (2018). Risk factors associated with rural water supply failure: A 30-year retrospective study of handpumps on the south coast of Kenya. Science of the Total Environment,, 626, 156-164, Available from

Kebede, S., MacDonald, A.M., Bonsor, H.C, Dessie, N., Yehualaeshet, T., Wolde, G., Wilson, P., Whaley, L., and Lark, R.M. (2017). UPGro Hidden Crisis Research Consortium: unravelling past failures for future success in Rural Water Supply. Survey 1 Results, Country Report Ethiopia. Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/17/024), Available from

Liddle, E.S. and Fenner, R.A. (2018). Review of handpump-borehole implementation in Uganda. Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/18/002), Available from

Owor, M., MacDonald, A.M., Bonsor, H.C., Okullo, J., Katusiime, F., Alupo, G., Berochan, G., Tumusiime, C., Lapworth, D., Whaley, L., and Lark, R.M. (2017). UPGro Hidden Crisis Research Consortium. Survey 1 Country Report, Uganda. Nottingham, UK: BGS (OR/17/029), Available from

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This work is part of the Hidden Crisis project within the UPGro research programme – co-funded by NERC, DFID, and ESRC.

The fieldwork undertaken for this report is part of the authors PhD research at the University of Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor Richard Fenner. This fieldwork was funded by the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund and UPGro: Hidden Crisis.

Thank you to those of you from Makerere University and WaterAid Uganda who provided logistical and field support while I was conducting the interviews for this report (especially Dr Michael Owor, Felece Katusiime, and Joseph Okullo from Makerere University and Gloria Berochan from WaterAid Uganda). Thank you also to all of the respondents for being eager and willing to participate in this research.

Photo: “Groundwater Supply Technology Options map on display in the Kayunga District Water Office” (Source: Elisabeth Liddle).

Favouring Progress: Yemen’s Water Scarcity Dilemma of the 21st Century

Our RWSN Guest blogger Muna Omar takes a critical look at the issue of dwindling water supply in Yemen’s capital city

The population of Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen, depend on deep wells that are usually dug to a maximum depth of 200 meters for their drinking water. The wells draw on a cretaceous sandstone aquifer northeast and northwest of the city, with a third of the wells operated by the state-owned Sana’a Local Corporation for Water Supply and Sanitation drilled to 800 to 1,100 meters. The combined output the corporation’s wells barely meet 35% of needs of Sana’a growing population which includes displaced people, asylum seekers, refugees and other newcomers.

Public piped water delivery is once every 40 days to some houses, while others don’t receive piped water at all. Sana’a’s population is thus supplied either by small, privately owned networks, hundreds of mobile tankers and water from people’s own private wells. As water quality has degenerated, privately owned kiosks that use a water filtration method to purify poor-quality groundwater have spread in Sana’a and other towns. Many people rely on costly water that is provided by private wells supplying tankers. These tankers don’t really consider appropriate cleaning, so the quality of the water is questionable.

Despite the challenges with pumping due to a shortage of fuel and with rising prices, private well owners are trying to capture the remains of the valuable groundwater resources before their neighbours do. Coupled with the on-going war, drought sees Yemen facing a major water crisis. Water table data is based on old research which can be challenging to verify now. Given the data and the current severe situation as water use exceeds aquifer recharge, it is estimated that the water table drops by approximately 2-6 feet annually.

Although Sana’s groundwater is probably the best water in Yemen, it is considered below acceptable standards for human consumption as water infrastructure has been damaged by warplanes and the sanitation workers went on strike because they didn’t get their salary. The latter left plenty of garbage on the streets that led to contamination of drinking water supplies. Meanwhile wastewater began to leak out into irrigation canals and contaminate drinking water supplies. Inadequate attention to groundwater pollution has directly affected the quality of Sana’a’s drinking water supplies.

It Yemen, as a whole, it is estimated that about 14.5 million people don’t have sustainable access to clean drinking water. Inadequate water supply has affected the country with the worst outbreak of cholera in the human history. Over 1 million suspected cases of cholera have been reported in Yemen from 27 April 2017 to present day. Other water-borne diseases include a recent peak in diphtheria that reached 1,795 probable cases with 93 Associated Deaths and a case fatality rate (CFR) of 5.2% by 19 May 2018.

Yemen’s water problem is not only immediate with groundwater resources under pressure as never before to meet not only drinking water needs, but also demands for irrigation. In Yemen, the pressures of climate change, demographic change and the on-going conflict place an immense burden on professionals working in the country. The enormity of the urgent needs mean that water resources management is neglected, despite being absolutely essential for the future of Yemen’s population.

Sana’a groundwater resources are significantly depleted in many areas and acknowledged globally as one of the world’s scarcest water supplies. Sana’a may be the first capital city in the world to run out of water. Looking forwards, how can the country produce more food, raise farmer incomes and meet increase water demands if there is less water available?

Clearly, there are several interrelated aspects contributing to the current water crisis in Sana’a specifically and Yemen in general, and the population has to innovate to find solutions. Future supply options include pumping desalinated water from the Red Sea over a distance of 250 km, over 2,700 meter-high mountains into the capital, itself located at an altitude of 2,200 meters. However, the feasibly of this is questionable with the enormous pumping cost would push the price of water up to $10 per cubic meter. Other options to supply Sana’a from adjacent regions are fraught due to water rights.

Groundwater data is the critical foundation for water managers to both prevent problems and formulate solutions. Data is lacking in many of Yemen’s groundwater basins. Even heavily used basins have no record of how much groundwater was withdrawn and remains in the aquifers, where it was pumped from? Nor are adequate data available on groundwater quality or aquifer characteristics. Furthermore, while the drought and other cutbacks on surface water supplies are motivating groundwater users to drill new or deeper wells in increasing numbers despite the fact that well owners don’t know how their aquifer is doing and so can’t anticipate changes. There is lack of data on private wells.

Lack of groundwater data in Yemen is not the result of ignorance about its importance, but is rather the victim of chronic underfunding and politics, which have been exacerbated by the on-going conflict. The war has made it almost impossible to measure and manage groundwater development and secure its long-term sustainability.

Having just completed the online course on “Professional drilling management” led by Skat Foundation, UNICEF, and the United Nations Development Programme Cap-Net, I have learned about the need to develop our knowledge in this regard. The course highlighted important immediate and long-term actions for Yemen:

  • Raise awareness within Yemen of the groundwater issues faced by the country.
  • Find practical ways to better understand groundwater, regulate its extraction, introduce control mechanisms and engage with the local population to develop effective actions.
  • Build capacity of government, NGOs, consultants, policy makers and beneficiaries through training in groundwater management.
  • Invest in building rain-water harvesting facilities in rural areas so the people don’t have to walk miles to collect water.
  • Invest in re-building infrastructure alongside improving water resources management.

Muna Omar is an Ethiopian refugee and a young water professional, living and working in Sana’a, undertaking monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian programmes in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), health and nutrition sectors such as a cholera-response project, and an executive assistant with a local NGO.

This article was first published in GeoDrilling International and is reproduced with permission and thanks.