Sunday, 15 September 2013


Volume 2,  Issue No. 3, June/July 2013

A great leap in clean water access could be made by exploitation of African groundwater  resources

  • Chair’s forward
  • African Quantum Leap
  • Welcome - Dr Enas Ahmed
  • Earth Science Book Reviews
  • Earth Science Events
  • References and  Selected Reading

Foreword by the Acting Chair of Society of African Earth Scientists, Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu
Welcome to the ninth issue of the bi-monthly newsletter of the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES), in which we focus on fascinating implications of Africa’s 21st century development trend.
   We should begin by asking ourselves: How can we affect a revolution for the good in 21st century African thought about development in Africa, in terms of its health care, access to water, agriculture, energy, and communications?
  The nature of African development in the past 10 years has given us cause for articulation of an interesting and optimistic African development model. For want of a name, we call it a quantum leap model.

African Quantum Leap
   An African quantum leap development model assumes that Africa will not follow the same path as Europe in development. It will skip steps. In the past decade we have seen much of Africa  leap frog other countries by largely skipping the widespread landline use phase of telecommunications, which might not have widely materialised  for the next  hundred years, and jump straight to mobile  and internet use - even in rural areas1. This has been accompanied by indigenous innovations, with Africans creating their own internet-connected devices and applications software.
Community school, rainwater harvesting roof
 In energy we are poised to see a repeat of the same phenomenon with Africa largely skipping the fossil fuel powered industrial phase of European development and jumping straight to solar and other renewables. This also is being accompanied by innovations, including solutions that span across the disciplines such as physics and plant biology in the case of explorations of the solar properties of plants2.
   Roads towards African quantum leaps in water, food and medicine may yet appear with innovations in technology. For example a recent discovery by Irish scientists, promises to increase food yield simply by watering crops with radio wave treated water3.  Literally a quantum leap in the improvement of clean water access could be achieved by greater exploitation of African groundwater resources and rainwater harvesting.14, 15
Runoff harvested from surrounding land (and collected in excavated pan)
Despite the contrary view on African development from some quarters, GM is not considered here as part of a quantum leap; because it is at odds with a philosophy of African self reliance in food production. It risks loss of food sovereignty and the evidence cannot show that it increases food yield; whereas various traditional agricultural practices are more agro-ecological and effective in doing so. With GM we are left only with the negatives: the risk to health, the damage to the soil, the loss of food sovereignty – specifically, the loss of a fundamental freedom: to eat our own natural food from seeds not produced or patented by a global corporation.
   In medicine, it is gradually dawning on us that Africans must re-develop their inventory of medicinal plants. This case is made most forcefully in cases where we see that the drugs from pharmaceutical corporations are not only expensive but sometimes ineffective (as in the treatment of malaria). In these cases, the argument for traditional or novel plant based medicines which are produced locally and therefore cheaper, is strengthening4. The case for such action is even more compelling when most African hospitals have a scarcity of both doctors and medicines, so there is little state healthcare provision for the ordinary people.
The imminent solar energy revolution in Africa  merits that we focus the remainder of our discussion  on this energy source.  Solar will be the immediate example of a quantum leap in development5, provided African communities (with or without government assistance) are able to manage the opportunity to their benefit.
   Part of the challenge for African governments of managing the opportunity presented by solar must be the careful choice of when to invest in solar panel manufacture, and when to invest in large scale solar power production plants. 
   It is probably good to have a mixed strategy that involves both the building of solar power plants and solar panel manufacturing plants.  Manufacturing panels will encourage Africans to build their own plants and mini-plants and home off-grid installations which will ensure that solar  in the country is more widely available beyond those served by the large scale power plant  - even into rural areas which are unlikely to be served by large scale schemes.
   If resources allow only one of the two options, then it has to be said that the case for manufacturing plants is compelling as the choice having optimum benefits.
Solar panel manufacturing at Karshi plant, Abuja, Nigeria
here are at present five solar panel manufacturing plants in Africa, located in Ethiopia (cost: $5 million), Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal (cost: $8.8 million) and South Africa. On the whole solar panel manufacturing plants would appear to be cheaper, costing units of millions rather than tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Solar panel manufacturing plants also have the added value of potentially enabling more indigenous installation projects.
  At present the largest operational solar energy plant on the continent is at Ouarzazate in Muaritania. This 15 Megawatt (MW) plant will supply the country with 10% of its requirements6.   
Ouarzazate solar power plant, Mauritania
In South Africa, which is trying to lessen its dependence on coal, the Jasper power plant in Northern Cape is set to generate 96 MW when it becomes operational at a cost of  $12million7.
   Ghana plans to build the continent’s largest solar energy plant, the 155 MW Nzema plant at a  cost of $400million8.  
   In Africa’s current energy make-up renewable energy (excluding hydropower)  accounts for just 1% of the total; with oil and gas 81%;  nuclear 2%;  hydro-power  16%.  Exploiting solar will probably make Africa a world leader in renewable energy. 
   Quite obviously, Africa has huge untapped potential in solar energy. It is a regrettable fact that more proportion of the African population than populations elsewhere in the world are without access to electricity.  It is estimated that 70-90% of Africa’s population has no access to electricity.
The Nzema plant, Ghana,  will generate 155 MW
There are obstacles to changing this situation, including a prevalent lack of political will.  In the case of solar energy, it still suffers from the myth that it is over-expensive9. There is a need to educate African governments with the facts about solar.
   A study by NORAD has shown that solar photovoltaic power used in an African rural setting is now cost competitive with diesel powered generators. One of the factors putting fossil fuel at a disadvantage is the 50% of the fuel cost which is added for transportation10.
   European organisations like NORAD can foresee the revolution in solar coming to Africa: As fossil fuel costs continue to rise, the gap between solar and the more expensive fossil fuel energy will grow, to a point where solar becomes inevitable.
   The benefits of solar in future will include: no pollution, no moving parts, comparatively very little maintenance,   falling cost with increasing usage.
Solar powered Senegal health centre
Probably the key obstacle to the uptake of solar among ordinary African people is the upfront cost.  Solar becomes cheaper after the initial investment.  Options include government support for community installations. But it is clear that for those Africans who pay for diesel generators; solar is a more economic long term option. Governments could assist citizens joining as groups or cooperatives in making the switch for the improvement of the economy and environment, and citizens can take the initiative whereby villages or several households can join resources to install solar on a local community level, even without government assistance. Also, for many Africans that are based in the Diaspora and remit money home, or undertake building projects in their home countries, solar is also likely to be affordable. These various economic groups can become a catalyst in popularising solar (causing its cost to fall) and stimulating intra-African trade activity in solar modules.  In this way, the cost of solar can eventually be brought down to be within reach of the ordinary majority. Certainly, the cost of solar may already be within the reach of the ordinary majority on a community or collective level, at least.
   Africa stands on the cusp of an opportunity to take a leap into solar energy and lead the way; but it is not a given. It has to still be ensured that the opportunity is managed correctly so that the benefit is enjoyed by ordinary African citizens.

Welcome - Dr Enas Ahmed
A warm welcome is extended to Dr. Enas Ahmed on her co-option to the SAES trustees’ board.  Dr. Ahmed is a geologist and paleontologist from Egypt.  She is the representative of the African Association of Women in the Geosciences for Egypt, and the Career Development Team Leader of the Young Earth Scientists Network. We look forward to her contribution and addition to our pan African board of trustees.

Affiliation and Association with other organisations
SAES is affiliated to the African Association of Women in the Geosciences, South Africa Young Earth Scientists Network, Solar Sister, and is an active supporter of the African led counter land grab initiatives, Stop Africa Land Grab and Stop Land Grabbing.

Earth Science Book Reviews

Geology for Civil Engineers by A Mclean and C Gribble 11

Conveying meeting points of engineering with earth science, this text book lays out the basics the civil engineer has to know to meet the geological challenges of civil engineering projects, often including knowledge to facilitate the secure founding of civil engineering structures on rock. For instance, it is the case that the location of a bridge or alignment of a road can change due to an unexpected rock distribution.  As well, the text introduces the engineer to the minerals and rocks, superficial deposits (soil) and distribution of rocks at or below the surface. The reader is then introduced to groundwater and the movement of groundwater below the surface. The text also looks at the implications of all of these factors, rocks, groundwater, etc., which affect civil engineering projects, as a part of a guide to project planning.

Earth Science Events
September 8 – 12, 2013
Geological Society of South Africa – Geoheritage 2013 Conference
Venue: Klein Karoo, Western Province, SA.
Conference invites papers focusing on various aspects of geoheritage, including Geo-education in relation to heritage and conservation, management of geoparks and important geological/geomorphological sites. There will be an exhibition of landscape art. Contributions on the role of landscape art in geoconservation are invited. Web link:

October 15-18, 2013

The Africa Climate Conference.
Venue: University of Dar es Salam, Arusha, Tanzania
Africa is highly vulnerable to current climate variability and extremes, and most likely to suffer adverse effects of change. Current limits to our collective understanding of the African climate system impede our collective ability to deliver adequate early warnings and climate predictions and restrict the use of climate information by those most vulnerable to the current and future impacts of changing climate.

October 28-29, 2013

2nd Annual International Conference on Geological & Earth Sciences (GEOS 2013)
Venue: Phuket, Thailand
With the advent of technology and industrialization, the Earth's resources are being pushed to the brink of depletion. Conference looks at the role of earth scientists in maintaining the balance between the Earth’s limited resources and the demands of industrialisation.
November 24-26, 2013
7th International Conference on African Geology
Venue: Assiut, Egypt
A conference to present new advances, and research results in the fields of theoretical, experimental and applied geology of Africa.

July 14-19, 2014
7th Conference of the African Association of Women in the Geosciences –
Earth Sciences and Climate Change: challenges to development in Africa
Venue: Nairobi, Kenya
Sub-themes to include: women and climate change, earth science and hydrology, geo-heritage, geo-tourism, earth science and local communities.

References & Seleted Reading
1.  NORPLAN Study, Cost Competitiveness of Rural Electrification Solutions, Norwegian Agency for Cooperative Development   (NORAD), 2012,
2.        Vanguard, Nigerian develops solar cells from weed (mimosa pudica), May, 2013.
4. IRIN, Africa: turning to traditional medicines in fight against malaria, Nov. 2009.  and
Malaria World, Why is WHO opposed to  an effective anti-malaria tea?, April 2013.
6.        Ibid.
7.        Ibid
8.        Ibid.
9.       NORPLAN Study, op cit.
10.     Ibid.
11.     Gribble, C. and A. McLean, Geology for Civil Engineers,  Taylor & Francis, 2005.
12.   International Fund for Agricultural Development, Soil and Water Conservation in Subsaharan Africa, Rome, 1992.
13.     Jordan, et al (eds), Land & Power:  Sustainable agriculture and African Americans - A collection of essays from the 2007 Black environmental thought conference. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2007.
14.     Gupta, S.K., Modern Hydrology and Sustainable Water Development, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, 2011.
15. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”:
16.    Link to Journal of African Earth Sciences:


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