Research: Is climate change making groundwater supplies in Sub-Saharan Africa less reliable?

africa_waterOver 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) depend upon groundwater supplies, and this is set to rise dramatically. Safe and reliable access to water for the rural poor is a critical factor when reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. As the majority of poor people in Africa depend upon farming for their livelihoods, developing resilient agricultural water supplies is an essential first step.  Groundwater could provide a solution to this as there is the potential to tap into huge groundwater ‘reservoirs’ under the Sahel to provide water  (

Groundwater resources are considered to be more resilient to variations in rainwater levels compared to surface water, and may therefore provide an important water resource to help adapt to changing climate and land use. However growing evidence suggests that extended periods of low rainfall may cause groundwater supplies to fail, dependent on the underlying rocks in the area. It is therefore unclear whether the planned development of groundwater resources to meet increases in demand is feasible in all areas.

It is vital for the survival of rural communities to understand how well levels are being affected by climate change and how extraction of groundwater in one area affects other areas.  Over use of groundwater in one area (e.g., for irrigation) can trigger wide spread well failure in other areas.

The Walker Institute, University of Reading is leading a consortium which is working with practitioners and government in Ghana and Burkina Faso to understand where to drill, how deep and what well failure can be expected.

The BRAVE project will address this by incorporating the most up-to-date scientific knowledge within Earth System models to develop appropriate tools for water resource planning in the Volta River Basin of Burkina Faso and Ghana. These new groundwater planning tools will be piloted in eight communities, and their impact on the livelihoods of some of the poorest communities in the region will be evaluated.

The plan is to deveLorna_Younglop seasonal groundwater status reports which will be linked into the Rainwatch-AfClix Drought Early Warning System in Burkina Faso and Ghana.

Within the project, the Walker Institute is working with the Lorna Young Foundation to communicate early warning of drought/flood through radio broadcasts to reach remote farming communities.