Economics & Development

Examines the role of institutions, mobile technologies, markets and behavioural change in access to water and sanitation. Research projects investigate approaches to managing water scarcity, water supply and public health, including the use of economic instruments. Researchers analyse how governance regimes operate at different spatial and temporal scales to promote or inhibit improved human development outcomes.

Some current projects

Assessing the impact of rainfall variability on water, sanitation and hygiene

We provide guidance to the World Health Organization (WHO) on designing field research to provide evidence for the impact of meteorological events (heavy rainfall and low rainfall) on water, sanitation and hygiene. This forms part of the WHO project ‘Building adaptation to climate change in health in least developed countries through resilient water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)’.

Does intermittent quality of water supply due to broken handpumps influence diarrhoeal disease incident in rural Kenya?

This project seeks to determine the repair interval critical for health in the operation, maintenance and repair of handpumps for domestic water supply in rural Africa, using an innovative epidemiological design, triggered by handpump failures. This work will also inform the wider field of understanding the health impacts of unreliable water supplies and the challenges of modelling the health risks faced by rural communities.

Economics of coastal hazards

EcosHaz is a research and knowledge project developing a framework to assess the costs and benefits of prevention and response to coastal hazards such as flooding, shoreline erosion, storm surges, sea level rise and oil spill accidents.

GRo for GooD: Groundwater risk management for growth and development

How can groundwater be sustainably managed for the benefit of the economy and the rural poor? This project is developing a novel Groundwater Risk Management Tool to improve understanding of groundwater risks and help institutions better manage this critical resource. The tool will help institutions understand and make decisions based on the complex interactions and tradeoffs between economic activities, water resource demands and poverty outcomes.

New mobile citizens and rural water sustainability

This project partners with the global mobile industry to examine how information changes behaviour and institutional design for improved sustainability outcomes. Since 2012 the project has been designing and testing new models for sustainability at scale in Kenya. Users have also indicated great satisfaction with the system as the average downtimes have fallen from 43 days to four days and with 90% repaired within five days.

REACH: Improving water security for the poor

REACH is a global research programme to improve water security for over 2.5 million poor people in Africa and Asia. Oxford University is leading a global science-practitioner partnership to generate new evidence on water security and help guide investment and design policies and practices that benefit the poor. REACH is funded by the UK Government Department for International Development.

Rural water sustainability in Africa

This partnership with UNICEF builds on the Oxford team’s work in piloting a new model that ensures improved reliability and sustainability for community handpumps, providing drinking water to the poorest and most marginalised people. Researchers are designing and testing a scalar and replicable model for the sustainable delivery of rural water services, including a pre-payment system that underpins a business model for long-term, local sustainability.

Insuring against rural water risks in Africa

This project is designing a replicable, sustainable and financially-sound rural water supply model to benefit poor people across rural Africa by transforming water user payment behaviours. ‘Smart handpumps’ deliver automatic and reliable information on handpump use, providing a new model for handpump maintenance services.

Transforming water scarcity through trading

This project uses a Market Simulator approach to model the impacts of water trading in the UK and study the economic benefits, environmental consequences, opportunities for novel water resource development, and opportunities to obtain payments for ecosystem benefits.

Water security and sustainable growth

Oxford University co-chairs an Expert Task Force as part of a Global Water Partnership and OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth. The multidisciplinary team of international experts provide new evidence on the linkages between economic growth and water security – where, how, and how much water security affects growth. The Task Force analyse the dynamics of water security and growth; quantify water-related risks and opportunities and their trajectories; and assess the experience of past pathways of investment toward water security. A risk-based approach is used to identify the hazards and vulnerability of a lack of water security.


  • Alex Fischer
  • Ben Caldecott
  • Dr Atif Ansar
  • Dr Jaume Freire Gonzalez
  • Susanna Goodall
  • Farah Colchester
  • Dr Michael Gilmont
  • Julian Kirchherr
  • Thanti Octavianti
  • Jacob Katuva
  • Johanna Koehler
  • Dr Katrina Charles
  • Kevin Wheeler
  • Yin Yang
  • Dr Chris Decker
  • Julián López-Murcia
  • Tim Foster
  • Edoardo Borgomeo
  • Professor David Thomas
  • Dr Alex Money
  • Haiyan Yu
  • Professor David Bradley
  • Michael J Rouse CBE
  • Shauna Monkman
  • Dr Laura Rival
  • Professor Andrew Wilson
  • Patrick Thomson
  • Dr Robert Hope
  • Dr David Johnstone
  • Professor David Grey
  • Dr Christine McCulloch
  • Dr Harry Verhoeven
  • Huijuan Wu