Responding to the global water crisis: A strategy for improving water supply

2023 Global Sustainability Lecturer

Paul Bauman


Though 98% of the available freshwater in the world is groundwater, groundwater resources are not easily available in much of the world where subsurface water is the only option.  In sub-Saharan Africa, conditions are particularly dire as 58% of the population is rural, and 90% of that rural population is dependent on agriculture. The increasing frequency and severity of droughts in East Africa and Southern Africa have further exacerbated the reliance of rural populations on groundwater. Today, more than 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in water insecurity, meaning that they lack reasonable access to either sufficient quantities of water or to water of acceptable quality. For rural populations, a direct consequence of water insecurity is food insecurity. In the Horn of Africa alone, more than 60% of the population is food insecure, with more than 20 million people currently approaching famine conditions.

This talk will address four related actions in which sub-Saharan rural groundwater development can be ameliorated. These include:

  1. The improvement in assessing drill hole siting using geophysics
  2. Targeting aquifers of superior water quality
  3. Combining hand pump repair programs with geophysical exploration programs
  4. Educating governmental, non-governmental, and multi-national organizations working in rural water poverty as to the cost-effectiveness of using appropriate groundwater exploration methods, especially geophysical techniques.  

Examples of rural water development programs will be presented from Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Zambia, and Tanzania.


Since the early 1990s, Paul has directed water exploration programs in some of the most water stressed locations on the planet including Yemen, post-tsunami Aceh Province in Indonesia, refugee camps, and conflict affected areas in East Africa and Bangladesh, and drought affected areas of Southern Africa.

Paul has a B.Sc.E. in Geological Engineering from Princeton University, and an M.Sc. in Earth Sciences from the University of Waterloo. He is a principal geophysicist at BGC Engineering in Calgary where he directs the Near-Surface Geophysics group.  Paul was the 2020/2021 CSEG Distinguished Lecturer, and received the 2021 award for Applied Hydrogeology from the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH).  Some of his geophysical projects have been featured in movies and television documentaries including the National Geographic Television special Finding Atlantis, two NOVA documentaries (Ancient Refuge in the Holy Land and Holocaust Escape Tunnel), Discovery Network’s Finding Escobar’s MillionsFinding Water which documented a water program in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, and the Holocaust documentaries The Good Nazi and They Fought Back.


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