Water Quality and Environmental Health in Botswana: Coupled Dynamics in a Water-Scarce Environment

Water-restricted environments that experience strong seasonal variation are extremely vulnerable to landscape alteration and pollution from human activities. Increasingly, degradation of limited water resources is identified as an important and urgent problem facing much of the world, in particular Africa. This research project will evaluate coupled human and ecological drivers influencing water quality, and the health of human and animal populations in the Chobe River Region of Botswana. The investigators will use Escherichia coli as a model microorganism to track transmission linkages between the Chobe River and different trophic guilds of wildlife, domestic animals, and humans in the system. Using predictive models calibrated with field samples the researchers will investigate long-term effects of climatic changes; seasonal variation in hydrology; increases in human population; and landscape modification impacts on water quality and human and animal health.

This project will identify markers of high-risk environments where coupled human-natural systems influence water quality, forming the foundation of an early-warning system that can be used by communities and governments to improve preparedness and interventions. This project integrates educational and government outreach into a research approach, which aims to develop a more predictive and fundamental understanding of the present and future impact of coupled dynamics of societal change and development on water quality and health and the potential long-term influence of climate change on these interactions.

This research project establishes multidisciplinary scientific networks and international partnerships. The project will support a graduate student-training program between the USA and Botswana, which is integrated with a multifaceted outreach program directed at Botswana youth living in the study area. This approach will strengthen cross-cultural understanding and minority-leadership capacity in scientific discovery. This study promises direct benefits to society through the translation of research findings into developmental policy that will promote the sustainability ecosystems on which human populations depend. Results from this project will advance our understanding of coupled human-natural systems and the influence this has on water quality and health for humans, livestock, and wildlife.

Lead Investigator: