The 2017 Ineson Lecture was held at the Geological Society, London on 25 October. Presentations and posters from the meeting are now available to download.


Dr Callist Tindimugaya, hydrogeologist and Commissioner for Water Resources Planning and Regulation in the Ministry of Water and Environment, Uganda, headlined the day, speaking widely on the theme of the meeting – Africa, Groundwater and the Sustainable Development Goals – and on the challenges and opportunities for the hydrogeological community in Africa.

Attendance was strong, 115 in total, with about 50% coming from academia (including all of this year’s Birmingham MSc Hydrogeology class), 30% from private consultancies, 5% from NGOs and 15% from government agencies, including the Environment Agency. The day was packed with exciting and interactive material:

  • A wide ranging reflection on the past, present and future of hydrogeology and groundwater development in Africa from Dr Callist Tindimugaya, who also acknowledged historical connections with European hydrogeologists;
  • Supporting talks on groundwater policy, data, climate change and quality in Africa:
    • Guy Howard of DFID called for better synthesis of research results, and more outcome-based, applied research that is realistic about the financial constraints of implementing policy
    • Brighid Ó Dochartaigh, of BGS, who showed examples of good data management and asked whether water point and groundwater monitoring efforts should be more closely linked
    • Richard Taylor, of UCL, who demonstrated the importance of long term records to understand groundwater recharge and the impacts of climate change; and
    • Dan Lapworth, of BGS, who highlighted the potential of groundwater to support urban development in Africa, but the urgent need for regulation and groundwater protection.
  • A lively debate on whether a levy should be paid to governments towards groundwater monitoring every time an NGO or private institution drills a borehole;
  • A very strong collection of posters on a wide range of topics around the meeting theme, and ample time for interaction with their authors; and
  • A panel discussion allowing extended time for audience questions.

The meeting also fitted in the AGM for the GeolSoc Hydrogeological Group, which saw a massive expansion in committee membership and lively discussion on the best use of funds.

A number of awards were presented during the day:

  • The Whitaker Medal, awarded by the Hydrogeological Group to Jane Dottridge of Mott Macdonald – the first ever woman to be awarded the medal in its long history
  • The John Day Bursary, awarded by the IAH British Chapter to Rachael Fletcher to support her MSc Hydrogeology project through the University of Birmingham
  • The belated award of the Early Career Hydrogeologists’ Network Best Poster from the 44th IAH Congress in Dubrovnik in September, to David Walker of the University of Newcastle.

Proceedings were rounded off by an opportunity for attendees to catch up with colleagues and continue discussions at a very well attended and stocked drinks reception in the beautiful setting of the GeolSoc’s Lower Library.

The talks

The subject matter was diverse but focussed on key issues facing groundwater development in Africa.

Callist Tindimugaya’s Ineson Lecture covered a broad sweep of the current and the historical related to groundwater in Africa. He began by setting the scene – 75% of the African population depends on groundwater for drinking, and groundwater demands for potable and all other uses are set to increase in future because of population rise, climate change and the need to combat food insecurity. He introduced the various ways in which groundwater is used in Africa – for domestic water supply, for irrigation at small and large scales, for livestock, to support income generation and livelihoods, and its influence on human health. Africa has huge hydrogeological diversity and complexity, including major transboundary issues, but also has major groundwater management challenges. These include:

  • Limited knowledge of groundwater resources as a result of insufficient and inadequate groundwater data and information;
  • Weak regulation;
  • A lack of appreciation of the importance of groundwater, including in the WASH sector;
  • Gaps in technical understanding, for example about the causes of borehole and pump failure;
  • Growing groundwater pollution, especially in cities; and,
  • A disconnect between groundwater research and policy/practice.

But all is not gloomy – Callist highlighted how Africa is not short on initiatives to improve groundwater use and management, including national and regional programmes and agencies to improve the assessment and development groundwater resources, raise capacity among groundwater practitioners and carry out necessary applied research. He reflected that much of the historical work done to improve groundwater understanding in Africa was done by European hydrogeologists – initially very much French hydrogeologists in the Francophone countries and British hydrogeologists in Anglophone countries, but more recently increasingly collaborative work among European and African hydrogeologists and others.

Callist finished by reiterating that groundwater is poised to play a key role in Africa’s future development and that Africa faces enormous groundwater management challenges, but that existing groundwater management-related programs and frameworks offer great hope for addressing these challenges. He left us with a key question – how do we effectively coordinate a successful groundwater development agenda across the whole of Africa?

Guy Howard, Water And Sanitation and Health (WASH) Policy leader at the Department for International Development presented “Groundwater research into policy within the context of Africa & the SDGs”. Guy described the main challenges faced by Government policy makers and set the scene for the day:

  • Water availability: Where is it, what is the cost of abstraction, how sustainable is it, what is the quality and what are the emerging threats to supply?
  • Economics: More effort required on cost benefit analysis and trade-off / comparative studies.
  • Groundwater and climate change: what will the effect be on the availability and quality of water? Should water be kept in reserve? Can we map the hotspots?
  • The Food-Energy-Water nexus: water resources cannot be viewed in isolation: food, energy and water strategies must be integrated. What is the total demand across relevant industries? And how can demand be managed? How to balance resource allocation?

Guy finished his talk with a number of slides on the topic of policy-research interface: Policy makers do not have time to understand research in detail, but must consider the outcomes in terms of trade-off economics. The need for research must be clear, there must be a socio-economic case for short and longer term investment and research should culminate in a clear synthesis of actionable results

Brighid Ó Dochartaigh, Senior Hydrogeologist at the British Geological Survey and lead researcher on the Africa Groundwater Atlas UPGro project, presented “Groundwater data in Africa”, a short title for a massive subject, including:

  • Examples of good groundwater data management, such as Uganda and Senegal;
  • Highlighting gaps in water point monitoring, during which useful hydrogeological information is very rarely recorded; and
  • Identifying emerging initiatives to improve groundwater data availability, such as the UNHCR borehole database and the Eawag Groundwater Assessment Platform.

Richard Taylor, Professor of Hydrogeology at University College London and co‐chair of the IAH Commission on Groundwater and Climate Change, presented “Groundwater and Climate in Africa: evidence from The Chronicles Consortium”. Chronicles here refers to long-term data sets as records of climate variability and water resource availability. Richard presented results from the Chronicles project to:

  • Demonstrated periodic replenishment of aquifer resources over multi-year cycles and significant resilience to abstraction.
  • Aggregated regional hydrographs to show annual recharge cycles and a better match with GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) moisture budgets a the regional scale.
  • Called for more work to represent bypass flow in large scale climate models if they are to be used as an effective water resource management tool.

Dan Lapworth, hydrogeochemist at the British Geological Survey, presented “Urban groundwater & groundwater quality in Africa”. Dan presented findings from his work in Nigeria. He discussed:

  • The growing importance of private groundwater supplies in African cities and towns – e.g. most people in Lagos, Nigeria rely on their own boreholes, not mains water supply
  • The growing problem of urban groundwater contamination
  • The huge potential for groundwater to support urban development in Africa, but the urgent need for regulation, or public health will end up paying a high price for cheap water.

The Balloon Debate


This was a highlight of the day, and saw two teams of experts fighting for the audience’s votes and debating the motion:

Each time an NGO, charity or private company constructs a water well or borehole for community water supply, they should be required to pay a small levy to Government to cover the costs of the groundwater monitoring and governance activities undertaken by the relevant public sector organisation(s)”

The team for the motion had Dr Callist Tindimugaya of the Ugandan Ministry for Water and Professor Robert Kalin of the University of Strathclyde; the team against the motion had Richard Carter of Richard Carter and Associates Ltd and Vincent Casey of WaterAid. Each team had ten minutes to set out their arguments before the floor was opened to the audience for questions. Each of the experts was able to respond to these questions before the debate concluded with a final address from each team.

A show of hands showed that around 70% of the audience supported the motion at the start of the debate, but persuasive arguments from Richard and Vincent swung the vote, and at the end the floor was split 50:50 at the final show of hands.

Some of the key arguments for and against the motion were:


  • African nations desperately need finance if they are to regulate groundwater effectively.
  • A short-term injection of cash from such a levy would allow governments to build infrastructure and overcome financial barriers to developing better governance.
  • The income would be attributed directly to the development of groundwater.
  • It would bring about action, instigate a new era in governance, start to provide the data required for research and policy makers to respond to the key challenges of urban water quality and climate change, and ultimately it would save lives.


  • A levy would encourage short-termism and greater dependence on foreign aid; and could create a conflict of interest in government – staff could be financially encouraged to award groundwater licences even if it encourages excessive abstraction;
  • A levy of this sort is a form of hypothecated tax, and it’s well established that hypothecated taxes don’t necessarily flow to their intended use
  • NGOs and others installing boreholes already pay tax – this is an added drain on their scarce resources
  • Governance of groundwater should be respected for its value to the nation and should be sustainable: funding through general taxation is more likely to achieve this goal.

The Panel Discussion

The last part of the day saw a panel of invited experts from key sectors involved in groundwater in Africa: government, academia and the NGO and private sectors. The panellists were:

  • Callist Tindimugaya, taking to the stage again and bringing his long experience of being a hydrogeologist working in groundwater management within central government in Uganda;
  • Chris Leake, of Hafren Water, bringing the perspective of the private sector to the issue of developing groundwater resources in Africa;
  • Vincent Casey, of WaterAid, talking from his experience in the NGO sector; and
  • Alan MacDonald, of BGS, bringing his knowledge of groundwater research in Africa

Each of the panellists first gave their answer to the question: If you had a magic bullet, what single thing would you change so that groundwater better supports water supplies in Africa? Questions then came from the audience for the rest of the session, which saw lively discussion of a range of issues. Some of the key points made were:

  • the importance of encouraging young people – hydrogeologists and others – to get involved in groundwater development
  • the importance of professional networking among hydrogeologists across Africa
  • the need for expertise by borehole developers to avoid the widespread problem of poor implementation and ensure there are good boreholes, not just many boreholes
  • the need to demystify groundwater for non-hydrogeologists
  • the  need to integrate technical and social aspects of groundwater management
  • the importance of integrated water resource management and including groundwater in catchment management programmes

With thanks

The convenors would like to thank again everyone who attended the meeting, those who provided support on the day and the speakers, authors of posters, debaters and panellists who made it such a great event.

Geraint Burrows, Alex Gallagher and Brighid Ó Dochartaigh