Elisabeth (Lissie) Liddle

Lissie Liddle Otago University

While an undergraduate at Otago University, Lissie developed a strong interest in how human activities affect the natural environment which then hinders future human development, especially in the case of developing countries. She knew then that any future research she undertook would need to be linked to development issues and how communities can better use their natural environments to improve their quality of life.

From this stemmed her Masters thesis (University of Otago), in which she looked at the spatial variability of surface water and groundwater quality in Ndola, in the Copperbelt region of Zambia. Shallow hand-dug wells are commonly thought of as being limited to rural areas, however, for the city of Ndola, a limited municipal supply network has left 93% of the population responsible for their own water supply. With the demise of surface water sources as a result of extensive mining in the region, it was found that locals have rapidly taken on the rural practice of digging shallow wells in their backyards to meet their daily water needs. While groundwater appears to be plentiful in anthropogenic benefits, improving human health and food security, it can also pose threats to local users, whereby quality is expected to vary both seasonally and as a function of lithology. In this, Elisabeth assessed the state of groundwater quality in Ndola, the level of interaction between polluted surface waters and groundwater, and whether there are hot spots for contamination. She also explored the ways in which the formal sector, local government, NGOs and community groups can help improve access to clean drinking and irrigation water in the future in order to enhance the quality of life in Ndola.

In late 2014 Elisabeth received the Cambridge-Rutherford Memorial Scholarship to undertake her PhD studies at the University of Cambridge. Her research will continue to foster her passion for ensuring safe water access in developing nations. She will be joining a hydrogeological study that is to be conducted alongside a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) funded research project on why rural water supplies in Africa fail. The work will be a coupled with another parallel study developing a system dynamics analysis of the factors contributing to well and borehole failure across Zambia, Uganda, Malawi and Ethiopia.

In terms of the future, Lissie sees her work continuing down this path, she hopes as a project advisor for either an NGO or a government agency, assessing current situations in the developing country of interest, and then working with the local communities to devise an action plan for how the funding agency can aid them in rectifying the problem.