Unravelling past failures for future success in Rural Water Supply
Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro), is an international research programme funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It focuses on improving the evidence base around groundwater availability and management in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to enable developing countries and partners in SSA to use groundwater in a sustainable way in order to benefit the poor.
There are 5 ‘consortium’ projects as part of UpGRO, one of which is Hidden Crisis, led by researchers at the British Geological Survey (BGS). This project aims to unravel the immediate and underlying causes of poor functionality of rural groundwater supplies in SSA – what available data exists suggests up to a third of these supplies fail within just a few years of construction, and thereafter enter repeated cycles of failure and repair, or are abandoned altogether.
Hidden Crisis project aims to develop a robust evidence base across 3 countries (Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda) of the large-scale status of rural groundwater supply functionality. This work will be focused to boreholes fitted with handpumps (HPB’s) – these being most prevalent form of rural groundwater supply in SSA. The second phase of the project will then undertake much more detailed inter-disciplinary research to try to understand what are the key underlying conditions (physical and institutional) which leads to the poor functionality of HPB’s. The evidence base and understanding developed from the research should help inform future policy and practices.
The research is taking place in 3 countries (Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda) in sub-Saharan Africa that have struggled for decades with service sustainability.
Within each of the three countries the project will undertake both extensive research (mapping functionality status across populations and large areas) and intensive research (addressing ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions in context specific locations).
Critically there is no data or analysis on why sources are non-functional and therefore little opportunity to learn from past mistakes.
UPGro with its focus on interdisciplinary pro-poor research, provides a unique opportunity to undertake this fundamental research required to address this ‘hidden crisis’, and provide the knowledge and tools to help build the resilient services needed to ensure water security for rural people.
Our underlying hypothesis for the research is:
“The underlying causes of the rapid failure of approximately a third of African rural groundwater sources are complex and multifaceted, but with interdisciplinary approaches can be understood, diagnosed, and ultimately anticipated and mitigated.”