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Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: Enhancing Understanding of Domestic Groundwater Quality and Contamination Hazards in Greater Accra

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This project examined two aspects of urban groundwater management in Accra, Ghana, namely the packaging of groundwater into sachets (500ml bags) for sale and the use of shallow wells in poor communities. We found manufacturers packaging water from boreholes generally had contact with regulators and used multiple water treatment methods.

Start Date: 1/1/2016

End Date: 31/05/2019

Many African cities struggle to provide low income populations with affordable piped water given unplanned urban growth and limited resources. Groundwater provides a potential resource for addressing this issue. This Royal Society-funded project brought together the University of Southampton and Ghana School of Public Health (GSPH) to explore urban groundwater management in Accra, Ghana. Masters and PhD students from GSPH formed a key part of the project team, alongside more established academics. The project looked at abstraction of domestic water from shallow wells in poor neighbourhoods, and deep groundwater abstraction via boreholes for sachet water production.

Students on the project mapped the locations of sachet production premises, and interviewed sachet producers whose brands were sold in Accra. We found that sachet production generally takes place close to the point-of-sale, thereby reducing product transportation costs. Most producers interviewed obtained sachet water from boreholes. Producers treated borehole water using reverse osmosis, which reduces its salinity and removes many pathogens.

Given the emergence of this private sector-led industry, there may be scope to delineate sachet production areas as groundwater protection zones for longer-term public health protection. Students also developed an observation protocol for identifying contamination hazards around shallow wells, adapting this from rural protocols to cover urban hazards such as leaking sewerage pipes or uncollected refuse. Without conferring, two students used the protocol to observe hazards at a sample of Accra’s wells, recording their observations separately.

There was high agreement between the two students’ observations, suggesting urban contamination hazards could be reliably be recorded with the protocol. However, for safety reasons, both visited wells at the same time, so potentially their agreement could have been over-estimated. Nonetheless, this work provided a tool for observing and managing the particular contamination hazards found around urban wells, which remain very important for many poor urban households.

Related research groups

Population, Health and Wellbeing (PHeW)
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