International Science Programme (ISP)

Contaminated ground water in Burkina Faso

Master student Hannes Öckerman did his minor field study in collaboration with the ISP-supported research group in Physiochemical characterizations and purification of surface water and groundwater at University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Where did you go and what was your research subject?
Together with my friend Emma Lundin, I went to the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. In the northern arid parts of the country, the only source of fresh water is deep wells. However, the ground water here is naturally contaminated with arsenic causing severe health problems in the region. Therefore, at the department of chemistry we investigated a column method to adsorb arsenic in ground water with Granular Ferric Hydroxide (GFH). I had never been to West Africa before and wanted to improve my French so this was a great opportunity for me. Emma and I found the project through SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), where a professor needed our study as part of a SIDA funded research project.

Did you reach any interesting results?
Yes! This was the first time the method was tested on natural water in the region. So our study showed that the GFH adsorbs basically all arsenic until it gets saturated even though other competitors (anions) for adsorption in the water are present. The longer time the GFH and the water are in contact, the better results. And finally, we concluded that a full scale model for cleaning water in villages in need is scientifically possible and economically viable!

A woman at an bore-hole well in the rural areas of Burkina Faso, in which arsenic content often is extremely high.

What would you say are the most important experiences from your time in the field?
Patience, patience, patience. Our plan had to be changed several times during our study. Equipment we thought would be available to use weren't there when we arrived. So we always had to find new solutions, but we were always helped by someone! So I think in the end, things always work out for the best. Of course some of the best experiences from Burkina Faso were also outside the lab work and with all the amazing people we met!

Do you recommend others to apply for a MFS grant? Why?
Of course! It's a wonderful opportunity to put your knowledge into practice and do something in areas where your knowledge is needed. It gave me a new perspective on my education and a boost to work with development aid or something similar in the future. The fact that you spend a couple of months living in the country also gives you a very valuable insight into the culture of the country, which is hard to get if you are just there visiting.

The small laboratory in which Hannes and Emma spent eight weeks doing experiments.

What are you doing at the moment?
I've just completed my fourth year of the master program in Environmental and Water Engineering. This fall I'll study ecosystem modeling and then hopefully write my master thesis in the spring of 2015. After that, who knows where I'll work?

Name: Hannes Öckerman
University: Uppsala University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Program: Master of Environmental and Water Engineering
Level of thesis: Advanced level (15 credits)
Period and year of MFS: June-July 2013

Hannes Öckerman did his minor field study in collaboration with the ISP-supported research group in Physiochemical characterizations and purification of surface water and groundwater at University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.