A final personal tribute the Erik Nissen-Petersen (1934-2022)

Dear fellow Rainwater Harvesting Enthusiasts,

It is with a heavy heart that I wanted to report to this network the sad news I recently received about the recent passing of Erik Nissen-Petersen in Nairobi.

While I am not party to all the details, I understand he had been in hospital for some weeks following an incident in which he was attacked by a stranger with a stun-gun while he was riding a taxi. Nevertheless, it is his life’s work that I want to focus on in this short personal tribute and I invite others, particularly those who knew or worked with Erik in East Africa and beyond to add their own tributes.

Continue reading “A final personal tribute the Erik Nissen-Petersen (1934-2022)”

Arsenic detected in rainwater harvesting tanks in Bolivia

This is a guest blog by Riley Mulhern, a PhD student at the University of North Carolina. If you are interested in issues related to water quality monitoring, you can join our online community here.  

In areas of water scarcity around the globe, made worse by climate change and pollution of groundwater, rainwater harvesting remains an important source of water supply for rural communities.

This is especially true in the Bolivian altiplano, where drought and mining work together to create pockets of severe water stress in what is generally considered a water-rich country. I lived among these communities high in the Andes for two years working with an organization called the Centro de Ecología y Pueblos Andinos (Center for Ecology and Andean Peoples, or CEPA). I assisted CEPA with a small-scale rainwater harvesting project for rural communities with high needs.

Over the course of the project, CEPA monitored the quality of harvested rainwater through consecutive wet and dry seasons. Surprisingly, we detected arsenic in every tank we monitored, 18 in total, whereas no microbial contamination was found.

This finding alerted CEPA to the risk of rainwater contamination in the region. Further testing identified roof dust that flushes into the tanks from the roof catchment as the principle source of arsenic in the rainwater. No arsenic was detected in raw rainwater before it interacted with the roof or tank. The source of the arsenic in the dust, whether naturally elevated in the altiplano soil or mobilized due to mining activity and released into the environment, is unknown, but widespread mining contamination in the area is likely a contributor.

Given these findings, the implementation of rainwater harvesting as an alternative drinking water supply by nonprofit groups and charitable organizations without adequate monitoring and evaluation of water quality is a potential concern. Since rainwater is presumed to be arsenic-free, rainwater harvesting has been promoted as an alternative drinking water source in other areas affected by arsenic contamination of groundwater as well, such as Mexico, parts of Central America, and Bangladesh. It is not safe to assume rainwater will be entirely arsenic-free, however. The levels found in collection tanks in Bolivia were double the WHO health guideline of 10 parts per billion.

As a result, arsenic and other metals should be included as standard monitoring parameters in rainwater projects. Groups implementing rainwater harvesting projects should seek additional partners with the tools and knowledge to perform thorough water quality testing.

This can be accomplished either through basic field tests, which provide semi-quantitative information for initial screening, or through laboratory analysis. Research done at North Carolina State University found that the standard field method—where inorganic arsenic in a water sample is reduced to arsine gas, which then reacts with a mercuric bromide strip to turn color—tends to underestimate the actual arsenic concentration as verified by ICP-MS (a sophisticated method that detects counts of atoms in a sample at specific molecular weights, allowing for a precise quantitative measurement). However, these low-cost and easily transportable kits still offer an accessible and simple screening tool for the presence of arsenic. The ITS Econoquick, for example, provides 300 tests with a 0.3 ppb detection limit for less than $200. For more precise measurements and longer term use, the Palintest Arsenator includes a standardized digital reading of the colorimetric output for $1,200. Both kits were field tested by CEPA and were easy to use for untrained operators.

In addition to greater testing, practitioners should also consider the required first flush volume for their project. First flush systems are essential for any rainwater harvesting scenario to mitigate both microbial and chemical risks. This is especially true when used as a drinking water source. One rule of thumb is that first flush systems should be able to capture at least 4 liters of water for every 10 square meters of roof. The tanks monitored in Bolivia did not meet this standard. Thus, the risk of arsenic contamination of rainwater and simple controls for system design and monitoring should also be communicated widely through knowledge platforms such as RWSN and the RAIN Foundation.

The results of this monitoring study were compiled by CEPA and a Belgian organization, the Comité Académico Técnico de Asesoramiento a Problemas Ambientales (CATAPA). The full results have been published and are accessible through the journal Science of the Total Environment. This work has also been featured previously by EngineeringforChange.org.

About the author

Riley Mulhern is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. He worked previously as a technical water quality adviser for a Bolivian environmental justice nonprofit addressing issues of mining contamination in rural indigenous communities in Oruro, Bolivia. He is from Denver, Colorado and received his B.S. in physics and geology from Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL and M.S. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. He has worked previously on water projects in Nicaragua and Haiti.

Photo: Rainwater tank monitored for the study being installed. Photo credit: Maggie Mulhern.



In Memoriam: Hon. Maria Mutagamba

It is with great sadness that we have heard of the passing of the Honorable Maria Mutagamba, former Minister for Water & Environment, Uganda.

by Sean Furey, RWSN Secretariat

It is with great sadness that we have heard of the passing of the Honorable Maria Mutagamba on 24 June, at the age of 64. Mrs Mutagamba was an economist and politician, who according to Wikipedia:

…was born in Rakai District on 5 September 1952. She studied at St. Aloysius Senior Secondary School in Bwanda, Kalungu District for her O-Level studies (1967–1970). She then attended Mount Saint Mary’s College Namagunga in Mukono District for her A-Level education (1971–1972). She attended Makerere University from 1973 until 1976, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in economics. She also held a Diploma in computer programming from the ICL Computer School in Nairobi, Kenya, obtained in 1980, and a certificate in executive leadership from the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, obtained in 1997.[5] In 2013, she was presented with an honorary doctorates in law from the Canadian McMaster University.[6]

DSC_0177She served in various posts in the Government of Uganda, most recently as Minister for Tourism. However, she is best known to RWSN members as the State Minister for Water Resources, from 2000, and then Minister for Water and Environment between 2004 and 2012. During this period she served as President, African ministers’ council on water (AMCOW), (2004–2012).

Under her leadership, the Ministry of Water & Environment became internationally recognised as leading actor in African water management issues, with a capable civil service team and an open attitude to innovation and collaboration with international partners.  Annual processes of Joint Sector Reviews and Sector Performance reporting became the gold standard of improving coordination, reporting and accountability across the WASH and water resources sectors.

I had the pleasure of meeting her when she came to open the 6th RWSN Forum in 2011 – of which she was a great supporter – and then again at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille. I was struck by how humble and thoughtful she was, yet also strong and with a keen intellect.  She had a particular passion for rainwater harvesting, which she saw as an opportunity that was being missed.

According to the New Vision and other news sources, she had been suffering poor health for some time and died of liver cancer.  Uganda has sadly lost a great water champion.

Photos: Hon. Maria Mutagamba opening the 6th RWSN Forum, Kampala, 2011



13 ways to provide water and sanitation for nine billion people

Summary of Live Q&A discussion on the Guardian Development Professionals Network, which included RWSN input on the expert panel.

How can water be better managed to ensure enough supply for a growing global population? Our panel of water experts have their say.

Continue reading “13 ways to provide water and sanitation for nine billion people”

RWSN Programme News – March 2015

UPGro – Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor

UPGro – Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor

Knowledge Brokers: Sean Furey, Kerstin Danert, Richard Carter, Bertha Camacho

UPGro – Unlocking the Potential for Groundwater for the Poor is seven year research programme that takes a social and natural science approach to enabling sustainable use of groundwater for the benefit of the poor. During 2013-14 there were 15 ‘Catalyst’ projects that are one year studies. This year a five ‘Consortium’ projects will get underway for the following 4-5 years. UPGro is funded by the United Kingdom through the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DFID).

What happens when the wells run dry?

In the science journal, Nature, Professor Richard Taylor of the GroFutures UPGro project challenged readers to take groundwater depletion seriously put the case for why we need better science to understand complex recharge processes – before it is too late. His words echo that the World Economic Forum who place the Water Crisis as the number one risk, in terms of impact, facing the world today, and one of the most likely to occur.

Analysing groundwater storage changes in Benin & Burkina Faso

The Chronicles Consortium – a network of scientists collating and analysing multi-decadal groundwater-level records from across Africa under UPGro Groundwater Atlas with support from IRD – held a 3-day workshop from the 9th to 11th of February at the Laboratory of Applied Hydrology of the University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin) to examine long-term records of groundwater levels in Benin & Burkina Faso. Led by Professor Richard Taylor (UCL), Professor Moussa Boukari (University of Abomey-Calavi) and Dr. Jean-Michel Vouillamoz (IRD), participants included scientists from Burkina Faso (Dr. Youssouf Koussoubé, University of Ouagadougou) and Benin (Dr. Henri Totin, University of Parakou) as well as post-graduate students from the University of Abomey-Calavi.

The workshop focused on the use of long-term groundwater-level records (chronicles) to assess the responses of groundwater systems to climate variability and human activity (e.g. abstraction, land-use change, dam construction) in different aquifer environments and climate regimes. Key activities of the workshop included: (i) installation of automated water and air pressure dataloggers to enable high-frequency monitoring of groundwater storage responses, (ii) the evaluation of errors in long-term chronicles, and (iii) quantification of groundwater storage and discharge from recessionary trends in these chronicles. The chronicles provided excellent foci for critical discussion of current conceptual models of the operation of groundwater systems in Benin and Burkina Faso. Dr. Vouillamoz also presented new field determinations of groundwater storage co-efficients from the EU-GRIBA project to enable the quantification of groundwater storage changes from the chronicles.  The Chronicles Consortium plans to report on new evidence from collated long-term records and high-frequency monitoring at the 41st IAH Congress in Rome.

UPGro invited by UNICEF to present at the UN Zaragoza Conference

The UN-Water Annual Zaragoza Conferences serve UN-Water to prepare for World Water Day, which in 2015 will focus on “water and sustainable development” and celebrated the end of the International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’, so it was especially important for taking stock of and learning from achievements as well as planning the next steps. In the theme “Academia contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals related to water” on the 16th January, the was a session titled “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): Tools for WASH implementation from an equity lens”, led by Jose Gesti-Canuto, with short presentations by three UPGro collaborators: John Chilton (IAH, Hidden Crisis), Sharon Velasquez-Orta (University of Newcastle, IN-GROUND) and Fabio Fussi (University of Milano-Bicocca, Remote Sensing for Manual Drilling)

Read more and find the presentations on the UPGro website

ODI event in London stirs up the groundwater debate

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) hosted a 1-day event, just as the last RWSN newsletter was going to press. The day was packed with great presentations and discussion, not just from the UPGro researchers also much wider sharing about the role of groundwater science and knowledge management in tackling deeply ingrained poverty. Video recordings of the event are now available online on the ODI website.

New UPGro Publications

Publications, reports, papers and presentations from the UPGro studies can be found on the upgro.org website.

RAIN – Rainwater harvesting for rural water supply and food security

Co-ordinators: Robert Meerman (meerman @ rainfoundation.org), Hans Merton (hans @ merton.nl). Join the rainwater harvesting community on Dgroups: dgroups.org/rwsn/rainwater  and follow on twitter at @rainwater4food.

Event: Symposium on Rainwater Harvesting in Ethiopia

RAIN are proud to inform you that in collaboration with SEARNET and AFRHINET, we will organise an international symposium on: ‘Unlocking the potential of rainwater with adaptive strategies and impacts for upscaling the technology’

1-12 June 2015 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In this symposium rainwater harvesting (RWH) will be assessed from three angles: Policy, Know-how and Training. The Policy angle will engage stakeholders from governments and INGOs and discuss how to incorporate RWH in policy frameworks, projects and programmes. The Know-how angle will gather academics and practitioners in writing about their projects and research. Finally, a practical training will take place most probably in the Dire Dawa area, which will focus on practicalities and discussions on various RWH/3R technologies.


High Level Policy Discussions: 1st – 2nd June 2015

Write-shop: 3rd – 5th June 2015

Practical Training: 8th – 12th June 2015

Information and registration

More information and details will come soon – but please find the first announcement here. We are looking forward to seeing you there – registration is now open!

Implementation: RAIN is expanding to Latin America

The ‘dry corridor’, that covers most of Honduras’ southern region, is highly vulnerable to climate change. Small-scale farmer families of the region depend on the availability of natural resources. However, they are the ones mostly affected by prolonged dry spells and water scarcity. This leads to a progressive increase in both the severity and the number of families affected by food insecurity. Remedy for these areas often stagnates, due to Honduras’ weak institutional structure, an elevated poverty rate and a high-risk security situation.
The Program for Communal Watershed Management of the Goascoran catchment (‘Programa de Gestion Comunitaria de Cuenca – PGCC’) seeks to alleviate this situation with:

  • Adequate Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction measures and
  • Strengthening local governance structures for integrated catchment management.

The Swiss development Cooperation (SDC) chose a Consortium, comprised of IUCN, iDE, FUNDER and RAIN to act as a Facilitator in this change-process. The Goal is to empower communities to face more extreme weather conditions by improved resilience to climate change and better living conditions of the inhabitants of the Goascoran basin. This will be achieved through enhanced production capacities: introducing effective irrigation schemes, water harvesting techniques and better market access, for an institutionally backed sustainable use of natural resources. RAIN will provide monitoring and evaluation of the project, knowledge management and communication and technical advice on 3R (water recharge, retention, reuse) and MUS.
You can read more on “Crop and income diversification via rainwater reservoirs and drip irrigation and for smallholder farmers in Honduras” in Marai El Fassi’s blog.

Implementation: 3R – Recharge, Retention and Re-use

WUMP+3R, Nepal

HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Nepal, co-funded by RAIN, is implementing a program on the so-called WUMP (Water Use Master Plan) and 3R (Recharge, Retention and Re-use) in several villages in Dailekh district. The multiple year program includes the development and implementation of local water management plans including WASH, which are developed in close collaboration with the local government and communities. Due to the efforts of HELVETAS, Dullu was declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) on December 31 2014. For more information, please read the project update here. Another project update of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Nepal of the project in Paduka can be found here.

3R in Bahasa, Indonesia

Timor Tengah Selatan, on the island of Timor is one of the most water stressed areas of the Indonesia.  On the 3rd November 2014 in So’e, 60 people gathered at the government office to discuss the need for Recharge (Mengisi Kembali), Retention (Penyimpanan) and Re use (Penggunaann Kembali) of water. Maarten Onneweer of RAIN presented the results of a project implemented earlier that year by Bina Swadaya Konsultans and used this as example on how to integrate 3R in the projects of the Partners for Resilience Alliance in Indonesia.
Bina Swadaya Konsultans implemented a number of cost effective water harvesting technologies, adapted to the local situation and making use of locally available materials. These interventions followed from an earlier advisory mission of RAIN end of 2013. Results could already be seen and the overall enthusiasm for 3R had definitely increased. Organisations are now translating relevant parts of the book “Water harvesting, guidelines to good practices” in Bahasa to support their technical staff. You can read the full news item here.


Rainwater Harvesting: harnessing the storm Briefing Note on the RAIN-RWSN webinar series 2014 (S. Furey, 2014)

RWSN March Headlines

2015 Early Webinar Series + Rainwater Harvesting

What is a webinar? It is an online presentation where you can hear a presenter, watch their slides and have the opportunity to ask questions. If you cannot attend the live event, a recording is usually posted online.

RWSN has started 2015 with a series of ten webinars about groundwater, self-supply approaches and equality.  Presenters from more than 15 different organisations, working in over 15 countries are sharing their practical experiences and research findings.  Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions, and meet others with similar interests. You can register for one, or several webinars by following the link:  http://tinyurl.com/RWSN2015A

Continue reading “RWSN March Headlines”

Our Rainwater Harvesting Community of Practice: towards our 2nd anniversary and beyond

reblogged from www.rain4food.net

by Hans Merton, RAIN/Akvo

Mid 2013 we launched our Community of Practice on Rainwater Harvesting as a part of the Rainwater Harvesting for food Security programme, so with 1,5 year on the road it’s about time to look back and more important: where should we be heading to?

Where are we?
Continue reading “Our Rainwater Harvesting Community of Practice: towards our 2nd anniversary and beyond”

Providing drinking water is not enough to end poverty

by Francis Mujuni, World Vision Uganda

Francis Mujuni, World Vision, Uganda
Francis Mujuni, World Vision, Uganda

In his blog post, Henk Holtslag highlighted that muitple use of water is very critical in ending poverty. I have already shown in my earlier discussions that provision of safe drinking water is not enough. In the developing countries where agriculture employs the bulk of the poor people, availability of water for families, their animals and crops is very essential. When we talk of “provision” the quick question is by who? Self supply then becomes the ideal solution. But how many of our governments, Communities and development agencies are promoting this concept? Do they know much about it? Do they know it exist and it is very feasible?

Continue reading “Providing drinking water is not enough to end poverty”