JLU Giessen welcomes Ali Zura Said and Mitchell Oketch

Earlier this year, Ali Zura Said and Mitchell Oketch from the Kenyan Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation (MWSI) spent two months on secondment in the Department of Landscape Ecology and Resources Management at Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU) in Germany. Zura and Mitchell were hosted by Dr Suzanne Jacobs, but also worked with Prof. Lutz Breuer and PhD candidates Mathias Tesfaye and Fabia Codalli.

Zura Ali Said (right) and Mitchell Oketch (centre) conducting infiltration measurements with a JLU student (left).

Zura Ali Said is a Principal Chemist in the Water Quality and Pollution Control laboratory at MWSI. The lab works on various aspects of water quality, such as environmental water quality monitoring, surveillance of drinking water quality, and industrial and domestic pollution control. Zura works primarily on the monitoring and evaluation of water quality.

The main objective of Zura’s secondment was to analyse data on nitrogen content in different water sources on the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, contributing to knowledge on the stocks and fluxes of nitrogen. Zura worked with PhD student Fabia Codalli on the chemical and data analysis of samples previously collected in the field by Fabia.    

Mitchell Oketch is involved in conducting research on water resources management, analysing data related to water quality and availability, and collecting data on pilot projects in the water sector. His division is currently undertaking a 4-year project on integrated water resources assessment for the sustainable use and management of groundwater within the Nairobi Aquifer System (NAS).

The objective of Mitchell’s secondment was to collect information on nitrogen stocks in savannah soils and to compile a corresponding database. The comprehensive database developed will provide a basis for further analysis and will allow patterns and trends in soil nitrogen levels across savannah regions in Africa to be identified.

Zura and Mitchell also had the opportunity to attend short courses and participate in field trips, such as a visit to the university’s research farm to see an agroforestry field experiment and learn how to conduct infiltration measurements. Another field trip involved taking grab-water samples along a stream that flows from a forest through a farm towards a larger river. This exercise was conducted to understand changes in water quality along the stream in relation to land use. Participants learned how to use mobile sensors for water quality (pH and electrical conductivity) and how to take grab samples.

Zura and Mitchell both reported that the secondment offered a valuable capacity building opportunity, not only in terms of new technical skills that they will apply in their home laboratories, but also new insights on interdisciplinary research and valuable connections for ongoing collaborations. Mitchell has recently been awarded a fellowship from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to complete a Masters in Tropical Hydrogeology and Environmental Engineering at the Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany. In addition to being a valuable boost to his CV, his experience at JLU also broadened his interest in nitrogen studies and he consequently plans to complete his master’s thesis on integrating the use of isotope techniques to assess nitrate pollution vulnerability of the Nairobi Aquifer System.

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