Knowing groundwater: Embodied encounters with a lively resource

Frances Cleaver
Lancaster University, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster, United Kingdom; f.cleaver@lancaster.ac.uk

Tavengwa Chitata
Grantham Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK; IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands; t.chitata@un-ihe.org

Chris de Bont
Independent researcher, Arusha, Tanzania; chrisdebont1@gmail.com

Kerstin Joseph
Independent researcher, Arusha , Tanzania; kerstinjoseph1@gmail.com

Lowe Börjeson
Stockholm University, Department of Human Geography, Stockholm, Sweden; lowe.borjeson@humangeo.su.se

Jeltsje Kemerink-Seyoum
IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands; j.kemerink@un-ihe.org

ABSTRACT: This paper is concerned with how water prospectors, well diggers, and irrigation farmers come to know groundwater. Drawing on cases from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the paper shows that much knowledge is derived from the close encounters with groundwater that occur through hard physical work, mediated by the use of low-cost tools and technologies. In this paper we show how this knowledge is embedded in everyday livelihoods, landscapes, and moral ecological rationalities. Through empirical material of such close encounters with groundwater, we make two interrelated points. Firstly, we draw attention to the importance of embodied forms of knowledge in shaping engagements with groundwater. Frequent close physical interactions with groundwater generate rich and intimate understandings of the changing quality and quantity of water flows. These understandings become primary ways in which people in communities know water, which is lively and sometimes invisible. Secondly, we argue that, though apparently mundane, reliant on low-cost technology, and highly localised, these encounters significantly shape broader socio-natural relationships in emerging groundwater economies. Amongst other examples, our data show groundwater prospectors monitoring the depth of borehole drilling in a shared aquifer in an attempt to ensure equitable access for different users. In concluding the paper, we reflect on the extent to which the knowledge and relationships formed through close physical encounters with groundwater have the potential to shape trajectories of groundwater management.

KEYWORDS: Embodied knowledge, farmers, groundwater economies, prospectors, well diggers, Tanzania, Zimbabwe