Southern African River Assessment Scheme: establishment of a capacity-building research framework to promote river health and biodiversity in tropical southern Africa

In all developing countries the traditional methods for assessment of water quality, using chemical analysis procedures, are simply too expensive for widespread regular application. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for monitoring agencies to track and control river pollution issues.

Project Templates

The project will build local networking and research capacities among academic institutes and stakeholders (such as water management agencies in ACP countries) needed to construct cheap and effective biomonitoring procedures for assessing river water quality and supporting biodiversity functioning of rivers in the southern tropical region of Africa. As such, the project will contribute to improving safe water supply and protecting riverine biodiversity.

Good river health – defined as high quality water, supporting a rich and healthy riverine biodiversity – is of universal importance for human welfare. This applies to direct usage (e.g. potable supply) as well as to the maintenance of biodiversity which is of economic value to human populations (e.g. fish, animals important for ecotourism).

The development of cheap, accurate, and simple-to-use biomonitoring procedures for assessing water quality is a key element of the study.  These are based on the use of aquatic indicator organisms (notably aquatic plants, benthic algae - diatoms), and benthic invertebrates, key elements of the riverine biodiversity), which are sensitive to changes in water quality conditions, and which respond by altering the community of organisms present, to reflect the change in these conditions. Biomonitoring based upon changes in riverine animal and plant communities can also indicate pollution over a long period of time, which has been missed by traditional discontinuous chemical sampling, because the biota reflects even intermittent pollution events. This is another major and well-recognised advantage of the biomonitoring approach.

The project is designed around four phases with corresponding activities:

1. Network consolidation, data compilation and initial analysisfor establishing the research framework:

  • Consolidation of the partner / stakeholder network.
  • Collation of existing data and collection of new data to fill gaps in existing information.
  • Compilation of appropriate aids for the identification of target organisms;
  • Identification of suitable criteria for identifying sensitivity in changes to water quality.
  • Allocation of organisms to sensitivity classes for each pollution type.

2. Preliminary assessment of research needs

  • Critical examination of outputs produced by application of existing schemes (e.g. the South African Scoring System) using appropriate data from Phase 1.
  • Assessment of implications of improving river assessment procedures for formulation and implementation of research policies.

3. Capacity building through pilot scheme development

A pilot biomonitoring scheme will be applied (based upon modification of existing schemes from other countries, incorporating new procedures where necessary) as a focus for capacity building to meet the needs of river health assessment in rivers of southern tropical Africa.

4. Assessment, demonstration, training and dissemination

  • Assessment of the effectiveness of the pilot scheme in southern tropical African rivers.
  • Demonstration and short-term training sessions for agency staff in utilising the pilot scheme.
  • Dissemination of findings to stakeholders, and via broader publication on the internet and via scientific publications.



  • Findings on appropriate methods of assessing water quality based on biomonitoring techniques published on-line and via scientific publications.

An intra-ACP and international network capable of:

  • Improving water quality assessment and biodiversity support management procedures in rivers of southern tropical Africa, via improved quality, better capitalisation, and improved dissemination of research results.
  • Building capacity, through knowledge and skills transfer, and through development of appropriate research approaches in order to improve river management in southern Africa, specifically by building a pilot biomonitoring scheme to assess river water quality status and biodiversity support functioning.
  • Undertaking testing, training, demonstration and dissemination of the results of the project to influence research and implementation policies in southern tropical Africa.
  •  Preparing and submitting project proposals for funding, in order to further develop project outputs.
Grant: AFS/2009/219013
Project duration: 36 months (from 17/10/2009 to 16/10/2012)-CLOSED
EC funding: EUR 758,938.81
Total budget: EUR 892,869.19
Project contact:

Dr. Kevin Murphy
University of Glasgow
Glasgow Centre for International Development (GCID)
Glasgow G12 8QQ
United Kingdom
Tel: +44-141-330.6632
Fax: +44-141-330.5971
E-mail: k.j.murphy [at]

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