Online learning on groundwater – strengthening capacity in African member states and beyond

Professional Drilling Management & Groundwater Resources Management

Thanks to funding from the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) in Germany, 2022 saw Ask for Water GmbH, together with the Africa Groundwater Network, Cap-Net UNDP and other partners develop and run two online courses on groundwater. The courses strengthened the capacity of the staff of governments, NGOs, the private sector and academia in African member states and beyond. 

The courses, hosted by Cap-Net UNDP, and offered free of charge to participants, were entitled Groundwater Resources Management and Professional Drilling Management. Each course was specifically developed for professionals working on these issues, or responsible for decision making.

Professional Drilling Management Course

Drilled water wells are vital to achieving universal clean drinking water, providing safe, affordable, reliable and available water sources. To ensure that the water wells or boreholes are built to last, they must be drilled, developed and completed in a professional manner. Key elements of a professional drilling sector are robust procurement, contract management, siting, borehole design, construction, and supervision. Furthermore, the management of the groundwater resources must also be considered and support provided to long-term maintenance if services are to last. Unfortunately, in many countries it is difficult to develop skills in these areas due to a lack of training and mentoring opportunities.

The 2022 online course on Professional Drilling Management provided participants with a comprehensive overview of the different aspects of drilling management, specifically (i) groundwater data and siting; (ii) procurement and contract management (including costing and pricing; (iii) borehole drilling and supervision and (iv) legal and institutional frameworks. In the last of five modules, participants were encouraged to reflect upon and share actions that they as individuals and as organisations could take to raise drilling professionalism in the context in which they work. From the 781 people who applied for the course, 314 were selected, of which 209 were active participants. A total of 162, equivalent to 78% of the active participants passed the course. 

You can access the 2022 course report, manual and key training materials here.

If you would like to learn about what alumni of previous online courses on Professional Drilling Management have done with their knowledge, check out the short film below or the short report of their testimonials.

Groundwater Resources Management Course

An estimated 50% of the global and 75% of the African population rely on groundwater for their drinking water supplies. Groundwater supports social and economic development and will become increasingly important in the face of climate change, as groundwater resources are often less affected than surface water by climate change impacts. If groundwater is to provide reliable, safe and sustainable water supplies now and for future generations, the resource must be well-managed. This requires consideration of the entire system of policies & laws, strategies & guidance, monitoring & management as well as investments & projects. Good groundwater management needs sound capacities in water authorities. But at same time, as many elements of groundwater management fall in other sectors, a general understanding of groundwater management principles in sectors like agriculture and urban planning is key for its successful implementation. 

The 2022 online course on groundwater resources management provides participants with a comprehensive overview of the multiple factors that impact upon groundwater. It was a self-paced course and was hosted on the virtual campus of Cap Net/UNDP.

The course comprised 5 modules; each with a short introduction, goal, learning objectives and orientation video, as well as mandatory videos and reading materials: 

  • Module 1: Characterization of Aquifer Systems from a Management Perspective
  • Module 2: Groundwater monitoring and data/information management & communication
  • Module 3: Groundwater quality and source water protection
  • Module 4: Groundwater regulation, licensing, allocation and institutions for aquifer management
  • Module 5: Transboundary aquifers in Africa: Approaches and mechanisms

You can access the 2022 course report, manual and key training materials here.

What next?

Ask for Water GmbH, the Africa Groundwater Network (AGW-Net), Cap-Net UNDP and partners would like to offer these courses on an annual basis. We are currently looking for sponsors/funders to make this possible. In case you are interested, please contact us via Should we manage to get these courses off the ground, we will announce them through the Africa Groundwater Network, Cap-Net UNDP and the Rural Water Supply Network as well via LinkedIn.

Looking back and looking forwards

In 2004, as a young professional living in Uganda, and working as a freelance consultant, I was delighted to take on the role of leading a ‘flagship’ for the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) on ‘low cost drilling’, which we renamed ‘cost-effective boreholes’. Back then I could never have imagined that this decision would enable me to engage with dozens of organisations, hundreds of people, work in some 15 African countries and, some 16 years later, end up championing the subject of drilling professionalism at global level. That decision helped propelled me to Switzerland four years later, to become an employee of Skat Consulting AG and lead the flagship from there, until this year, when I decided to establish my own little company, Ask for Water GmbH.

Ensuring that water supplies last requires every borehole to be constructed in a professional manner (Source: Kerstin Danert)

Research into developing and introducing manual drilling equipment, a project funded by the then UK Government Department for International Development (DFID) was what took me to Uganda in 1998. What I anticipated to be a technical design project, became an exploration of how innovations are adopted (or not). I was thus considerably stretched from my mechanical engineering background, into something much broader.  It became clear that technology – in this case drilling technology – does not succeed or fail by the strength of technical aspects alone, but also by the people, society, economy and institutions that surround it. 

The professional drilling topic of RWSN has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2004, where we set out to understand why boreholes in Africa tended to be so expensive.  We learned that this was not just a technical issue. The risks associated with drilling, irregular work, challenges of getting credit, corruption, late payment by clients, contract terms and conditions all play a part in determining the cost, and ultimately the price of a borehole. 

As drilling markets across the African continent have opened up over the past decade and a half, competition has grown, and in many cases, prices seem to have come down.  Alas this has come at another cost – with concerns being repeatedly raised about construction quality, and rural, as well as urban dwellers in Africa left with infrastructure that they simply cannot maintain. ‘No water no pay’ clauses, where all of the responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the driller drive up prices for successful wells, or lead to corners being cut as drillers struggle to recover their financial losses on drilling efforts that are not paid for.  

Over the past decade and a half, I have engaged with drillers in Africa and their clients, trying to understand their strengths, alongside the opportunities and challenges of the contexts in which they both operate work.  Together with UNICEF, WaterAid, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and others RWSN has developed guidance materials, run short courses to train supervisors, managers and groundwater consultants.  We have developed and launched short films that explain siting, supervision, drilling and its management in five minutes each. 

The immense information generated through the RWSN theme over these years is available on the RWSN Professional Drilling page with a sister page on manual drilling

And so, what next for me with my start-up?  Well, as I move into this new venture, I gladly remain with the role of leading the RWSN topic of professional drilling.  By taking on its responsibilities and risks directly, as well as searching for funding, I also grant myself some more freedom. It is time for a pit stop! I want to take stock of what we have achieved to date, reflect on what others are already doing to engage with others to drive forwards a global effort to raise the capacity of drillers, supervisors, consultants, managers, and those that take decisions which affect borehole drilling quality. The foundation is set for improving drilling professionalism – for finding way to ensure that rural and urban dwellers have a borehole that they can maintain. Who would like to join the effort?

This article first appeared in GeoDrilling International (September 2020).