Groundwater for Refugees

Project Information
2020 - Present

Source: UNHCR
Source: UNHCR

Worldwide, millions of people have been forced to flee as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. Most refugees are hosted by the least developing countries where access to water and sanitation is already a challenge. This IGRAC project is about collecting, processing and making available of information relevant for groundwater assessment in regions with refugees or regions prone to conflict.

Project background

In emergency situations, water is one of the basic needs to be provided for refugees. Based on its vast and long-term experience, UNHCR has developed an Emergency Handbook, guiding rapid initial assessment of water needs and (potential) water sources, including groundwater. Additionally, the UNHCR WASH Portal contains some georeferenced borehole data, groundwater levels and pumping data, all useful for further groundwater assessment at those locations. Currently UNHCR, supported by the University of Neuchâtel (CHYN) is preparing a manual specifically for rapid assessment of groundwater resources. It includes the use of satellite imagery, geological maps and fracture analysis, as well as morphological analysis combined with assessment of potential groundwater recharge patterns. The aim of the manual is to guide in identifying the suitable locations for further geophysical investigations and ultimately to drill for water. 

At the same time, the wider groundwater community is advancing mapping of groundwater resources on various scales and for various purposes. The idea behand this project is to join forces and provide on-line a set of groundwater related data and information dedicated to refugee water supply from groundwater, both for emergency situations and the longer term (the average lifespan of a refugee camp is 20 years).  Therefore, a connection has been made with the WHYMAP programme which brings together leading geological surveys on the issues of global groundwater mapping. Since most of the refugee areas are located along international borders, the assessment of transboundary aquifers conducted in the framework of the ISARM programme, is also relevant for this joint initiative.  Groundwater data and information made available through these programmes are primarily regional and they need to be compiled/organized to serve as a basis for assessment at the scale relevant for water provision in refugee camps. This upscaling can be carried out for dedicated areas with (potential) refugee camps using additional/proxy info and local data. 

Pilot area in Western Africa

CC Balancing Act by Anita Ritenour
Balancing act, by: Anita Ritenour

Starting in January 2020, IGRAC developed a pilot study in Western Africa, in collaboration with visiting scholar Samuel Anderson from Tulane University (USA). Next to remote-sensing based hydro-geomorphological analysis, various proxy parameters were tested for their possible role in assessing groundwater potential at the local scale. Eventually, local scale data were brought in for testing and comparison purpose.

The pilot was completed In March 2021 and subsequently disseminated and promoted in order to be replicated elsewhere. IGRAC, as the only global groundwater centre, will be happy to assist in reuse of the piloted approach in other areas throughout the world with scarce data and need for a rapid groundwater assessment.