Geoscientists without Borders® (GWB): Improving global community resiliency with sustainable water supplies

by Katie Burke (Managing Director- SEG Foundation) and Pallavi Bharadwaj (Program Manager, GWB-SEG)

Teolam well drilling in progress (GWB’s current Uganda water project). Photo credit: Linda Harrison, Invermere

Water is a fundamental part of all aspects of life. The United Nations 2023 Water Conference this month is aimed at uniting the world for water. According to Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the world has not managed to take decisive action to tackle the global water crisis, and many issues discussed at the first UN conference on freshwater back in 1977 remain unresolved. It is hoped that the UN 2023 Water Conference will make more people understand that we need to radically change how water is used, managed and valued.

The world has changed from potable water being readily available for many communities, to a vast number of communities now faced with severe water challenges exacerbated by extreme global events and chronic stresses. The destructive floods in Pakistan, cyclone Freddy in Malawi, earthquake and landslides in Türkiye and Syria, or the atmospheric rivers inundating California, as well as the historic droughts in mid and southwest USA are only a handful of examples. Chronic events are equally contributing to the global water crisis in places like South Sudan, or the Horn of Africa, where many communities face challenges daily to get potable water.

World Water Day 2023 is the halfway point in the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development. 2023 is also the one and half decade mark for GWB, working towards ensuring sustainability for global communities by helping provide continual and reliable geosciences solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as clean water. More than half of the 58 GWB projects have helped to address SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation for all), while concurrently working on SDG17 (Partnerships for goals).

Here are 3 ways to demonstrate GWB’s experience that partnership is the key to achieving SDG6:

  1. Focusing on building community buy-in first. Community buy-in ensures the long-term sustainability and replication of the work performed by GWB projects. In Kenya, a GWB water project was aimed to provide a reliable water resource to the rapidly expanding Kakuma Refugee Camp and Town site, home to over 185,000 African war refugees. Then came one of the most successful water projects in Acholiland, Uganda. One example to showcase the sustainability of these two projects is the current Uganda water project, which is being carried out by the same project lead with most of the original project participants. It is not a success story build upon random coincidences. The project lead and participants first built trust and got buy-ins from these communities in need via discussing concrete plans and actions. Working in the rugged terrains of Acholiland, Uganda and with the Turkana community in Kenya is not for the faint of heart. GWB’s grantee partner, IsraAID, has a long-standing history and record of working with these local communities, especially women and youth. In addition, the success of this project is also being observered in neighboring countries such as Sudan.
  2. Investing in low-cost scientific solutions and partnerships. One of the biggest barriers to providing long-term solutions is required equipment costs. The GWB water project in Benin recently concluded its project activities. Over the past four years, graduate and undergraduate students led the development and testing of low-cost DC resistivity, EM induction, and seismic nodal systems. These instruments were designed to be straightforward to build and use in hydrogeophysical projects in Benin and throughout West Africa. Despite facing challenges, such as a global pandemic, the team was still successful in achieving its project goals. This is because the project lead not only invested in low-cost scalable solutions but also in partnering with the local universities. These local institutions will carry on the legacy of this project and ensure that knowledge transfer does not remain confined to only one country. Ultimately, investing in partnerships to train and educate the next generation of geoscientists has ensured the long-term sustainability of this project.
  3. An inclusive approach for cross-sectoral collaboration and commitment. GWB’s current water project in Nepal aims to help communities in the Sagarmatha National Park (Mt. Everest region) by improving access to and the availability of potable water. Previous work by the project lead has shown that local water contamination primarily results from human activities, such as poor sanitation, water handling, and climate change. However, effective water solutions and resource management must balance conflicting interests between the local economy, governance, location (topography, altitude, and remoteness), infrastructure, environment, culture, and traditions. Therefore, the GWB project team is applying the ERT survey while also including local and tourists’ ideas about environmental issues and water resources in this area. This collaboration goes beyond just applied geosciences alone and addresses the water scarcity challenge from a multi-sectoral approach to ensure sustainability for the local communities.

According to global experts as well as traditional knowledge spanning more than a millennia, water is considered instrumental in ensuring good human health, and ensuring ecosystems’ health and balance. We invite you to help us advance the mission of GWB and our commitment to provide sustainable solutions to global humanitarian challenges by [donating](, [volunteering]( and contributing to the discussions. By working together with partners from academia, associated societies, local communities, funding institutions, government bodies, as well as public and private sectors and individual members, we can help ensure water security for all by 2030.

To learn more about how you can make a positive global impact by joining GWB’s cause, please visit our Geoscientists without Borders webpage or email us at [email protected]. Thank you!