A hidden crisis: strengthening the evidence base on the sustainability of rural groundwater supplies: results from a pilot study in Uganda

Bonsor, H.C.; Oates, N.; Chilton, P.J.; Carter, R.C.; Casey, V.; MacDonald, A.M. ORCID:; Calow, R.; Alowo, R.; Wilson, P.; Tumutungire, M.; Bennie, M.. 2015 A hidden crisis: strengthening the evidence base on the sustainability of rural groundwater supplies: results from a pilot study in Uganda. British Geological Survey, 85pp. (OR/15/019) (Unpublished)

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Extending and sustaining access to rural water supplies remains central to improving the health and livelihoods of poor people, particularly women, in Africa, where 400 million rural inhabitants have no form of utility provided water, and universal access to water hinges on accelerated development of groundwater (UN 2013). The ‘future proofing’ of groundwater investments is therefore vital, especially in the context of global and local trends including demographic shifts, environmental impacts of human activity and climate change (Taylor et al. 2013). The emphasis, in recent years, on accelerating access to new infrastructure has obscured a hidden crisis of failure. More than 30% of sources are non‐functional within a few years of construction (Rietveld et al. 2009, RWSN 2009, Lockwood et al. 2011) and a greater number are seasonal (for example 50% in Sierra Leone) (MoEWR 2012). The accumulated costs to governments, donors, and, above all, rural people, are enormous. The original benefits generated by the new infrastructure – improved health, nutrition, time savings, education, particularly for the poorest – are lost if improved services cannot be sustained. The cumulative effect of rural water supply failure in Africa over the past 20 years has been estimated by the World Bank to represent a lost investment in excess of $1.2 billion. Critically, there is limited data or analysis on why sources are non‐functional and therefore little opportunity to learn from past mistakes. This report provides a summary of the work undertaken by the UK‐funded UPGro research programme ('Unlocking the Potential for Groundwater for the Poor') for sub‐Saharan Africa (SSA) funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Department for International Development (DfID). The Catalyst Grant project ‘A Hidden Crisis’ was aimed at developing a methodology and toolbox to investigate the causes of failure in groundwater‐based water services in SSA, which could form the foundation for more substantial and larger‐scale research in the future to develop a statistically significant evidence base to examine water point functionality and the underlying causes of failure across a range of physical, social, institutional and governance environments in SSA. To test the toolbox and methodology developed, a pilot study was conducted in northeast Uganda Overall, the approach and methods developed in the catalyst project have been shown to make a significant step towards developing a replicable and robust methodology which can be used to generate a systematic evidence base for supply failure. The work has gone a significant way to encapsulating the complexity of the interlinked aspects of the problem, balancing the natural science and engineering (“technical”) aspects of the research with those concerning the ability of communities to manage and maintain their water points (the “social” aspects). The multiplicity of interlinked causes of water point failure was explicitly acknowledged and taken into account through the use of multi‐disciplinary field and analytical methods within the toolbox and in selection of the research team. The multi‐disciplinary methods of investigation used were highly practical and appropriate to the information sought, and based on detailed observational science.

Item Type: Publication - Report
Funders/Sponsors: NERC
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: This item has been internally reviewed but not externally peer-reviewed
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, International development
Date made live: 18 Jun 2015 14:49 +0 (UTC)

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