Why there’s a handpump in an Oxford car park.


An introduction to Oxford University’s innovative Smart Handpump research.

A crowd gathered at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment on 17 October to find out about the peculiar looking red handpump in the car park. The so-called ‘Smart Handpump’ is part of a bold research initiative that connects novel technology, computational informatics, institutional design, sustainable finance and policy reform, to improve poor people’s access to safe, reliable water.

Lack of finance for maintenance keeps Africa behind
A staggering 270 million rural Africans still live without access to safe water. Over $1 billion per year is needed just to maintain Africa’s existing rural water supply infrastructure. Government and donors commonly finance and build new infrastructure, before handing it over to the users who are expected to manage and maintain it. But the reality is that rural Africans seldom pay regularly for water. And when finance dries up, broken infrastructure doesn’t get fixed and waterpoints are left abandoned.

‘If we’re serious about meeting the Sustainable Development Goal for water then financial sustainability must be addressed’, said Dr Rob Hope of Oxford University. It’s also essential that solutions that can be implemented at scale – a handpump by handpump approach isn’t going to deliver universal access to water by 2030.

The birth of the Smart Handpump
The Smart Handpump story started in Zambia back in 2010 when Oxford University researcher Patrick Thomson wondered: what if a handpump could tell you if it was working or not? He designed a simple and low-cost accelerometer which is fitted to the handpump handle and measures its movement and subtle vibrations. The device sends data through the mobile phone network which means it can be monitored remotely. Not only can the Smart Handpump tell you if it’s working, but the data is proving useful in a number of ways.

First, the handpump provides hourly data on water usage.

Second, researchers at the Department for Engineering Science are using machine learning techniques to detect deterioration of pump mechanics and actually predict failure before it happens. This could enable predictive maintenance and result in uninterrupted handpump services.

Lastly, it was by surprise that the researchers discovered they could model the data to estimate the depth of the groundwater below the pump.

From data to decisions
Successful implementation of Smart Handpumps in in two counties in Kenya (Kwale and Kitui) has led to the creation of a professional maintenance company Fundifix Ltd (‘Fundi’ means ‘mechanic’ in Swahili). The company receives data from over 300 community handpumps serving over 50,000 rural Kenyans and has reduced the downtime of broken pumps from over 30 days to less than 3 days.

Connecting multiple waterpoints into one network for maintenance improves services and reduces cost.

Performance-based finance
Handpumps typically don’t break down often, but when they do repairs can be expensive. To prevent water users being hit with a large bill, the Fundifix model requires them to pre-pay monthly with mobile money. In return they are guaranteed a high quality service.

But user payments alone will never be enough to cover full operation and maintenance costs, especially in poor rural areas.

A Water Services Maintenance Trust Fund has been set up to pool additional finance from government and investors. Crucially, the Trust Fund only releases finance to the maintenance company if agreed performance indicators are met, such as rapid repair, collection of user payments, water quality monitoring and sound financial management.

Mobile communications allow information about handpump functionality and payments to be monitored easily and cheaply.

This performance-based approach has been successfully trialled in parts of Kwale and Kitui counties, and the next step is scaling up county-wide, and expanding beyond handpumps to include all types of rural water infrastructure, including piped systems.

The Smart Handpump travels to Asia
While the research to date has focused on Afridev pumps in Africa, the pump outside the School of Geography and the Environment is a Samrat from Bangladesh. Researchers are analysing data from this different type of pump, to ensure their models are robust enough to work across different types of handpumps.

As part of our research on universal drinking water security in Bangladesh, we plan to install transmitters on handpumps in the rural area of Matlab Bazaar in order to understand water use and support the government’s coordination, investment and delivery of water services.

From Kenya to Bangladesh and beyond, by equipping government, communities and investors with better information and monitoring systems, they can work together to keep water flowing in communities, schools and clinics.

See the presentation from the handpump launch event

This post originally appeared on the REACH website.

Equitable access is key to meeting water, sanitation and hygiene targets

Oxford University’s Dr Katrina Charles explores the challenge of realising the Sustainable Development Goals for WASH.


A woman carries water she has collected from the Turkwel River near Lodwar in Turkana County, north-west Kenya. Rob Hope/REACH

The UN’s millennium development goal target of halving the amount of people with access to safe drinking water has been met. The same is sadly not true of the sanitation target. And the transition to the Sustainable Development Goals for water and sanitation has created even more ambitious targets. These will require real change within this sector to achieve them by the 2030 deadline.

Goal 6 of the sustainable development goals, released in 2015, involves ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The indicators which will be used to track progress were only agreed in March 2016. It’s early days, so changes and shifts might not be visible to those outside the sector.

I’m happy to report that there are shifts towards greater equity in access – which is important because, as research has previously shown, progress in the provision of water and sanitation tends to benefit wealthier populations. The poor are left out in the cold.

The Sustainable Development Goals aim to provide access to all, but to achieve this will take major changes in the sector.


Targets for access to water, sanitation and hygiene: then and now

Equality in access

The Millennium Development Goals focus of halving the number of people without access to water meant that the target could be achieved without helping the poorest. By 2012, the Joint Monitoring Programme, or JMP, analysed progress toward the targets by wealth. This highlighted how progress was often greatest for the wealthiest, while there was little change for the poorest.

Senegal is an example how different progress can be for the richest and poorest in a country which met the MDG target on water. The progress the country made was unequal. In urban areas, access to improved water sources decreased for the poorest between 1995 and 2012. In rural areas, rapid progress for the second wealthiest group still left them 17 years behind that of the wealthiest.

Across the sector there is now a focus on how to extend access to water, sanitation and hygiene services to those who are most marginalised, but also to those who are least able to afford to pay. The target is to make water affordable for all, but this is the one area not currently captured in the SDG indicators. Extending sustainable services to all will require different financing models to address both construction and maintenance, and this remains a key topic under discussion.


Senegal met the MDG target for water, but progress was unequalWHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme

A better level of access

There are three key critical areas in which the bar for what is considered access is being raised: safer water quality, integration of hygiene, and safe management of sanitation.

By the end of the MDG period it was clear that improved water sources did not equate to safe drinking water. A rapid assessment of drinking-water quality in five countries – Ethiopia, Jordan, Nicaragua, Nigeria and Tajikistan – demonstrated the gap between improved water sources and safe water. Over half of protected dug wells did not provide safe water and nor did around a third of protected springs and boreholes.

These results showed that in Nigeria the proportion of the population with access to safe water was 15%, or 22 million people lower than estimated based on the MDG indicator. Similar results were found for 4 of the 5 countries included in the study, with a 7-16% decrease in access when water quality was taken into consideration.

Going forward, the SDG indicator for safely managed drinking water services is defined as:

a basic drinking water source which is located on premises, available when needed and free of faecal and priority chemical contamination.

A basic drinking water source is an improved drinking water source with a round trip collection time of no more than 30 minutes including queuing. Where existing data is available, there will be reports against this indicator in the coming year.

But data is not widely available. This will be one of the major outcomes from the SDG for water: millions more people across the globe will have their water sources monitored, with increasing pressure on those that provide water services to ensure water isn’t just available, that it is also safe to drink. The area is already seeing progress with the implementation of water quality testing being expanded in household surveys.

How this data will be made available to water users and decision makers at a local level is not yet clear. But it is essential that this is addressed in the coming years to help deliver safe accessible drinking water for all.

The hygiene gap

There is often limited attention given to hygiene. The inclusion of hygiene in target 6.2 is the result of sustained advocacy and research work within the sector.

About 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been included in surveys demonstrating that, on average, only 13% of the population have access to a handwashing facility at home with soap and water. That is around half the population that had access to sanitation in those same countries, and about one fifth of those with access to water. The inclusion of hygiene in the sustainable development goals will ensure the sector continues to build on this important work.

Safe sanitation

The emphasis in the millennium development goals was on toilet infrastructure only. This has left what has been described as the second generation sanitation challenge: how to remove excreta building up in pit latrines and septic tanks and how to treat it?

Many toilets aren’t accessible to emptying trucks, or are at risk of collapse if they are emptied. Where equipment is available for desludging, waste is still commonly dumped into waterways as treatment works do not have the capacity. Raising awareness of these issues and communicating them through shit flow diagrams is crucial. The sector is changing how it works to address the whole faecal sludge management chain.

The sustainable development goals add new dimensions to evaluating access to drinking water and sanitation, and now hygiene. In the millennium development goals infrastructure was a focus, but with the sustainable development goals it will expand to include management and behaviour change. Progress against the SDG targets for water, sanitation and hygiene may appear slow as these are incorporated into such initiatives.The Conversation

Katrina Charles, Lecturer and course director in Water Science, Policy and Management, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Studying water processes at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Oxford DPhil student, Homero Paltan shares his experience of a summer spent at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

The Von Karman Auditorium, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California is lined with artefacts chronicling the history of space science; these include replicas of the Mars Rover, the Explorer 1 and the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. It was in this room I received an induction to the JPL back in May. Following the talk, I chanced upon a large screen listing known habitable planets: 17 at that time, drawn from few thousand already identified. In these early encounters, I was immediately struck by the transcendence and history of the place where I would spend the rest of my summer.


Induction day at the JPL – jet-lagged.

I arrived at the JPL on the invitation of Dr Duane Waliser, Chief Scientist of the JPL’s Earth Science and Technology Directorate. The aim of my visit was to expand our understanding of the physical drivers of global hydrological extremes. In particular, we were keen to identify catchments where atmospheric rivers make landfall and become relevant to water resource managers. Yes, there are also rivers in the atmosphere! These are channels where moisture moves between the tropics and mid to high latitudes. A convergence of moisture in these atmospheric rivers can lead intense precipitation and flooding on the ground. Conversely, improving the understanding of the low flows maintained by atmopsheric rivers could be vital for managing drought.

While at Oxford, I’d worked with my supervisor, Prof Simon Dadson, to test and implement a hydrological framework connecting atmosphere, land surface interactions, hydrological variables and rivers dynamics. At the JPL, we would make use of NASA’s computing power, and most importantly the atmospheric rivers database developed by Dr Waliser and Dr Bin Guan, to run series of sensitivity experiments.

I met some brilliant minds at the JPL, and came across a number of interesting projects; these included an evaluation of the future SWOT (Surface Water & Ocean Topography) mission that will detect the change of water bodies over time at finer scales; the ongoing GRACE (Gravity, Recovery and Climate Experiment) mission that measures the change in water masses; and projects that improve cloud detection in order to make better climate projection models. I also had the opportunity to receive technical support from the group led by former Oxford post-doc, Dr Josh Fisher. This group uses satellite and modelling techniques to study global ecosystems.


Where satellites and spacecraft are assembled.

As a traditional ‘water person’ this was the first time I’d met actual rocket scientists. When engaging in conversation with those outside my division, I learnt how important it was to emphasize where I was doing my study. I’d often introduce myself with a short explanation of my topic – “I study water sources and water extremes”. This was invariably met with the following response: – ‘Oh, cool! On what planet?!’.

Other highlights included a series of interesting talks about missions to Mars, and how JPL technology is improving the understanding of the California drought. However these were eclipsed by a visit to the JPLs laboratories and its Space Flight Operation Facility. It was impressive witnessing engineers making the satellites that I will use in future to understand the water cycle. The Space Flight Operation Facility is one of the most iconic rooms at JPL, and yes it is as impressive as it looks (see picture below).


Space Flight Operation Facility

After 3 months of data crunching, my time at the JPL came to an end. By this point we’d got some exciting findings, some of which we presented at a conference at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, San Diego. It was great meeting and working with such interesting people, experiencing the JPL’s facilities and developing a collaboration that has made a tangible contribution to the exploration of the complexities of water. We believe our work marks a significant step towards managing water resources in areas highly exposed to hydrological extremes.

Introducing the REACH Junior Global Advisory Panel


REACH announces a new advisory group of young water professionals that will provide critical input to the programme.

The Oxford-led REACH programme recently welcomed 15 outstanding young professionals to its inaugural Junior Global Advisory Panel (JGAP). The panel is a two-way exchange whereby REACH benefits from the panel’s experience and networks, while JGAP members broaden their knowledge of water security and work alongside our (senior) Global Advisory Panel of globally recognised experts.

The panel will bring fresh eyes to the programme, providing critical review of activities and strategic advice. Members have an impressive range of expertise and experience, in terms of geography (working in Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and USA), professional area (research, civil society, government and practitioner) and academic background (engineering, social and natural sciences). As ambassadors for the programme, they’ll be working creatively to promote our science outputs and support our goal of improving water security for the poor

abbas-shabana2Shabana Abbas
Junior Programme Manager, Aqua for
Shabana Abbas is Junior Programme Manager for the VIA Water programme at Aqua for All, a non-profit organisation based in the Hague, Netherlands. The programme is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and aims to support innovative ideas and solutions to pressing water-related needs in cities of seven African countries.  Shabana has an MSc in Environmental Planning and Management.

brown-colin2Colin Brown
Advisor to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation
Colin has experience working on research projects related to water supply and sanitation services in rural Brazilian communities. He has a Master’s degree in Social and Human Sciences with a specialisation in Environmental Policies and Social Practices.

carole-bonguen-onouck-rolandeBonguen Onouck Rolane Carole
Assistant, Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development, Cameroon
Bonguen is interested in sustainable water availability in developing countries and transboundary water resources management. She has an academic background in law, strategic studies and political science.

farrow-tylerTyler Farrow
International Programme Officer, Water Witness International
Tyler is a specialist in novel water security interventions including social accountability monitoring and private sector water stewardship, and sits on the Technical Committee of the Alliance for the Water Stewardship. He has an MSc in Water Security and International Development.

gain-animesh-kumarDr Animesh Kumar Gain
Research Fellow, GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
Animesh has expertise in the interdisciplinary field of water resources management including water security, the water-energy-food (WEF) security nexus and climate change adaptation. He has an MSc in Water Resources Development and a PhD on ‘science and management of climate change’.

guta-eyassuEyassu Guta
Technical and Program Support Officer, Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, Ethiopia
Eyassu is a Soil and Water Conservation Engineer providing technical support to the Water Sector Working Group Secretariat in Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity. In his current role he has supported the development of an integrated water resource management framework, the national urban sanitation strategy, the water sector disaster risk management strategy, and a manual for accelerating self supply.

jones-stephenDr Stephen Jones (Co-Chair)
Director of DRC WASH Consortium, Concern Worldwide
Stephen is a WASH specialist with experience across programme management, technical advice, policy analysis and applied research. He currently directs the DRC WASH Consortium, a £30m DFID-funded rural WASH programme of five INGOs in DRC. He has a PhD on the sustainability and financing of rural water supplies in Mali.

luseka-euphresiaEuphresia Luseka
WASH Governance Specialist, USAID – KIWASH Project, contracted by DAI
Euphresia is a social entrepreneur in the WASH sector specialising in the institutional strengthening of water utilities in both urban and rural areas. She currently works for the Kenya—Integrated Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Project (KIWASH). She has an MSc in Education for Sustainability and a BSc in Environmental Studies and Community Development.

moore-scottDr Scott Moore
Young Professional, World Bank Group
Scott is a political scientist whose research focuses on environmental politics and policy reform, especially related to climate change and water scarcity. He currently works at the World Bank’s Water Global Practice, primarily on transboundary water security and climate change in East and South Asia. Scott holds a PhD in Politics and an MSc in Environmental Change and Management.

ojomo-edemaDr Edema Ojomo (Co-Chair)
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of North Carolina and Chapel Hill
Edema’s expertise is in evaluating and shaping the enabling environment for WASH programmes. She works on public health projects and conducts research related to WASH with a focus on low-income countries. Edema has degrees in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Environmental Sciences and Engineering.

ortigara-angelaDr Angela Renata Cordeiro Ortigara
Programme Officer, UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme
Angela contributes to the production of UNESCO’s World Water Development Reports and has recently coordinated the Capacity Building Programme on Water and Sustainable Development. She holds a PhD in Environmental Engineering and has expertise in wastewater management and the linkages between water use and sustainable development.

saiyasith-ounheuanOunheuan Saiyasith
Senior Program Officer for Water Resources, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia
Ounheuan has a Master’s degree in International Development focusing on livelihoods adaptation, rural development and resettlement in Laos. Currently, he is based in Laos working on water resources management in river basins of mainland south-east Asia.

shemie-danielDaniel Shemie
Strategy Director for Water Funds, The Nature Conservancy
Daniel serves as Strategy Director for Water Funds at The Nature Conservancy. In this role, he manages efforts to accelerate the adoption and financing of natural infrastructure in water supply. Before joining the Conservancy, Daniel was a partner at mWater, a non-profit that develops mobile water monitoring technology. He has an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management.

umupfasoni-lylioseLyliose Umupfasoni
Independent consultant, Experts D’afrique
Lyliose holds a bachelor’s degree in Soil and Environment Management, and is currently pursuing a Master’s programme (MBA) in Leadership and Sustainability. She has experience in environment, and water and sanitation development activities, mainly focusing on policy development, law formulation, planning, and monitoring and evaluation. Lyliose recently worked as a Program Officer for the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW).

wultetawu-abera-workuDr Wultetawu Abera Worku
Postdoctoral Researcher, Trento University
Wuletawu has a PhD in Environmental Engineering and expertise in water budget modelling, hydrological modelling, eco-hydrology, hydro-geomorphology, remote sensing and GIS for hydrological applications. His research aims to improve estimations of all the water budget components (precipitation, evapotranspiration, runoff and discharge) and error quantification of the estimation procedures.

A version of this post first appeared on the REACH website.

Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals to improve water security for the poor

A cheat sheet on key themes for incoming water students by Rosanna Bartlett, REACH Partnership Funding Manager, Oxford University.

With a new cohort of students about to commence the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management at Oxford, now is an opportune time for us in the REACH programme to reflect broadly on global developments in water security over the past year. The recent World Water Week conference in Stockholm provided high-level insights into global trends with dialogue between scientific, business, policy and civic communities. Here are five takeaways to get the new students up to speed:

  • The agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year was a major milestone for global development. All eyes in the global water community are on SDG 6 which aims to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. Water is intrinsically connected to realising many, if not all, of the SDGs. Last month, UN-Water released the brief Water and Sanitation Interlinkages across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which considers the main synergies and conflicts between SDG 6 and other SDGs. For example, ‘sustaining economic growth [SDG 8.1] needs to be achieved in such a way as to not jeopardise water quality [SDG 6.3] or the sustainable supply of freshwater [SDG 6.4]’. When competition for scarce water resources is rife, understanding the trade-offs and economic outcomes of different water allocation scenarios can help make optimal policy decisions. Understanding the linkages between different aspects of the SDGs is an important element of the REACH programme, which aims to understand the relationships between water services, water resources and sustainable growth.
  • Ensuring access to water and sanitation is essential to achieving the principal objective of the SDGs, which is to end poverty [SDG 1]. Both of these issues relate closely to principles of equity and distribution. At World Water Week, Léo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said that we must end inequality within cities in order to achieve universal access to drinking water and sanitation. This means reaching everyone, not just the easy to reach.
  • Any efforts to improve water security and achieve SDG 6 will be hampered without placing gender at the forefront. To do this, the relationship between gender and water needs to be better understood. Currently, gender-disaggregated water data are among the least available of national-level indicators, and 45% of countries do not produce any gender statistics related to water.
  • Although data collection is the foundation of the monitoring of the SDGs, global water monitoring systems are in decline, with the biggest gaps found in developing countries. Currently, an important task of the United Nations Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDGs is the review and refinement of SDG indicators.
  • On the theme of sustainable growth, the need for better water financing is increasingly gaining traction. While capital is abundant, investors are reluctant to invest in the water sector as it is seen as a risk. ‘Get the price for water right’ was a message heard often at World Water Week. But Dr Alex Money from the University of Oxford suggests that what matters in finance is the return on capital compared to its cost. Although returns on capital would be more attractive if water was priced at its full local economic cost, ‘what gets missed is how much the cost of capital has fallen in the last decade. All things being equal, this is equivalent to a 30-50% real-term rise in water prices,’ he said. According to Dr Money our best hope for achieving the water SDG is to mobilise capital to reflect changes in the relative attractions of the sector.

Overall, it seems the global water community is increasingly recognising the complexity of the water security challenge. However, while the three themes of universal water services, water resources, and sustainable growth were covered at World Water Week, these were often addressed as separate issues, led and attended by distinct groups of people and organisations. Linkages between the three were few and far between.

For example, the discussions around water services and the SDGs focused on monitoring, finance and equity; but there was little consideration of resource sustainability issues, such as how climate change is impacting already water-scarce regions and what that means for service delivery. There were plenty of examples of how water resources underpin sustainable growth, but limited understanding of the linkages with water services or poverty.

Silos are starting to fall, but slowly. Joining the dots in this messy field of water security is where REACH hopes to add value. The challenge for water professionals and students alike lies in drawing connections between these many facets of water security.

This post first appeared on the REACH website.

Where will you get your water today?

Dr Katrina Charles, REACH Co-Director, reflects on her recent trip to Ethiopia.

On a trip back to Wukro town in the Tigray region of Ethiopia this month, I am amazed at the transformation. Our last visit took place in the middle of a drought. The landscape was brown, with many fields tilled, waiting for the rain. But this time the fields are a patchwork of lush greens of healthy tef, wheat and millet crops. Reservoirs are full, where previously there was only bare, dusty ground. The river, which was bone dry, is not only flowing now, but is a hive of activity as people bring themselves, their clothes and bedding, their vehicles and livestock, down for a wash.

This amazing change is also notable for the absence of queues for drinking water.

When we visited in February the water utility was operating a ‘shifting system’, opening a very limited number of valves at different times of the day and week, so that everyone received a share of the very meagre amounts of water available. This meant that households would get water for one hour a week, sometimes in the middle of the night; and this water arrived in a trickle allowing them to only fill one jerican. People had to resort to other water sources, walking farther and paying more.

Fast forward to September, the water from the piped system is back to the usual standard of water for two to three days per week. Not a perfect system, but better.

In the surrounding rural areas, the queues of jericans at each handpump and rural water point are nowhere to be seen, as are the teams of children who carried them and pumped the water. Water points are deserted; everyone seems to be at the river.

But the earlier drought didn’t just impact on drinking water. Food was also less available as many of the local crops failed. We saw people bringing their livestock down to the dam for a drink. Women working in the market were spending longer and travelling further to buy produce to sell.

These changes in the way people access and use water, how they experience water security, were especially of interest to us. Improving water security is about reducing water-related risks, but these risks don’t just come from the water, which can be measured in terms of quantity and quality. These risks are influenced by the choices people make, choices made on the basis of economics, time, convenience and tradition. And they affect all aspects of people’s lives.

Home to 42,000 people, Wukro is the location for REACH’s observatory on ‘Small town pathways to water security’ where we’re studying the changes in water security as UNICEF implement a Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme, to provide lessons for other small towns in Africa.

When the impact of WASH programmes is measured, the focus is often on changes to the main source of water used, and the quantity and quality of water obtained. In contrast, our water security approach aims to understand how people make their decisions about which water source to use, and how this changes with water availability and with the evolving water services.


During the wet season the fields outside the town are verdant, and the water storages full.
The river that was dry previously is now a hive of activity for work and play as people make use of the availability of water.
This reservoir was almost empty, but is now full again following the return of the rains.

This post was first published on the REACH website.

Oxford welcomes back Dustin Garrick

Water expert, Dr Dustin Garrick, returns to Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment to establish a programme on the commons and enterprise.

dustin-garrickDr Dustin Evan Garrick returned to Oxford in July 2016 to start a new post as Departmental Research Lecturer of Environmental Management based in the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

Dr Garrick will establish a programme to develop the next wave of research on collective action and the commons, assessing how and why the private sector engages in water allocation reform to mitigate the risks of resource competition and shocks.

His research examines property rights and incentives to allocate freshwater across uses, users and political borders, building on longstanding programmes and partnerships in Australia and Western North America, as well as growing international work, on water allocation reform, water markets, fiscal decentralisation and drought resilience.

Dr Garrick will work closely with the Oxford Water Network, the MSc programmes in SoGE and the Water Security Initiative to chart pathways to water security, bridging natural and social science expertise and methods and strengthening international networks of science, policy and enterprise.

Prior to his return to Oxford this summer, Dr. Garrick was Philomathia Chair of Water Policy at McMaster University, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Water Security at Oxford and founding member of the Oxford Water Network (2011-13) and a Fulbright Scholar in Australia, where he remains an associate of the Centre of Water Economics, Environment and Policy at the Australian National University.

He maintains  www.waterwonk.org, a website that tackles the political economy of water allocation reform, building on his 2015 book, Water Allocation in Rivers under Pressure, which will be released in paperback in January 2017

Quenching thirst for data in rural Kenya

Susanna Goodall, Research Associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, presents a recent audit of water infrastructure in rural Kenya, undertaken by the REACH programme.

Kitui County in Kenya has a population of more than one million. In the rural and semi-arid northern region of the county, people traditionally find water for drinking, cooking, washing and watering animals from a variety of unsafe sources such as hand-dug shallow wells, temporary scoop holes in dry river beds, and stored surface water in earth dams and rock catchments.

For several decades the government and NGOs have been investing in infrastructure across this rural area to improve access to clean drinking water. Numerous handpumps have been installed, as well as small piped schemes with deep boreholes powered by diesel generators, mains electricity and more recently solar panels. However, there is no unified record of the assets that exist, where they are, who manages them and their current state of use and repair.

Since devolution, county governments are tasked with ensuring water services for the population, bringing budget decisions closer to the ground and highlighting the need for data in planning and decision making.
As a first step towards tackling this information deficit, we carried out a Water Audit in one sub-county in order to put together a comprehensive database of piped water schemes. Assisted by county government staff, a team of four enumerators visited every water scheme, met with the management committee, and collected information on the infrastructure, functionality, management, finances and water quality.

The results were presented at a WASH Forum on 25 August which was supported by UNICEF and included all stakeholders involved in water services provision in the county. Data is important for decision-makers as it can be used for evidence-based budgeting and work planning. For example, knowing that 22 schemes (45%) are not fully operational, affecting 62,000 people, can justify the necessary budget for rehabilitation. Most breakdowns are due to pump or generator failure, demonstrating the importance of preventive maintenance. The average downtime due to failure is a shocking 3-10 months, flagging the need for a call to action on behalf of water users. Mapping the data is also a powerful tool and can highlight areas with little investment to date, clusters with a lot of infrastructure or water quality concerns (eg high salinity).

This low-cost, collaborative Water Audit methodology can be scaled up to cover the whole of Kitui County. While a one-off survey gives a snapshot of the situation, a mechanism for updating and analysing the data and a good information management system will be next steps for ensuring that up-to-date information is available for decision-makers and for holding service providers and management committees accountable.

Read the policy brief ‘Maintaining Africa’s water infrastructure: findings from a Water Audit in Kitui County, Kenya’

This post was first published on the REACH website.

How to avoid anti-dam protests

Dam developments often face opposition. Oxford DPhil candidate, Julian Kirchher, presents research exploring what drives dam protests.

The Bakun Dam under construction in Malaysia. The Bakun Dam faced particularly fierce resistance. Source: pHotosHo0x. Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

The Bakun Dam under construction in Malaysia. The Bakun Dam faced particularly fierce resistance. Source: pHotosHo0x. Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

A major boom in dam development is under way globally with at least 3,700 dams1 either planned or already under construction. These are expected to increase global hydropower production by 73% to 1,700 GW1 in the coming years. 34 GW of capacity was added in 2015 alone2, equivalent to 2.5 times of Africa’s current total installed capacity.3 Asia is a particular hotspot of dam construction with capacity additions of almost 28 GW in 20152, more than in any other region of the world.

Fifty years ago, engineers constructing large-scale infrastructure such as dams struggled most with the technical challenges of these mega-projects. However, the greatest obstacles faced by such projects today are almost always socio-political4. Indeed, public protests delay large dam projects all around the world. Examples of current contested large dam projects are Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam5 or Myanmar’s Mong Ton Dam6, Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam7 and Mozambique’s Mphanda Nkuwa Dam8.

Scholars have mostly explained the emergence of significant anti-dam-protests with the political system of a country.9 According to these scholars, significant anti-dam-protests emerge only if the country in which the dam is constructed is reasonably democratic; if a country is autocratic, no protests emerge10. Protests such as those against Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam, which started when Myanmar was still under military rule, could therefore not be explained by these academicians11.

This work seeks to address this by examining the root causes of protests. For this purpose, we have carried out a study that features 12 cases (available here) to analyse protests against recent dam projects in Asia – some occurring in rather authoritarian, some in democratic countries. Our overall analysis is based on field research conducted in Asia (mostly in Myanmar and Thailand) over the course of several months, complemented by online surveying and document analysis.

Our study reveals that the political system indeed impacts the emergence of anti-dam-protests. We thus corroborated the scholarly consensus on this topic. However, we also found a set of additional root causes that determine the likelihood of significant anti-dam-protests. These are project-specific root causes which can be altered relatively unproblematically (unlike the political system) by those responsible for a project, e.g. the dam developer or the funder pursuing it.

These are the three key findings from our study that are likely of most interest to dam developers and funders that hope to prevent significant protests against a dam project:

First, we found that the non-adherence to international social safeguards such as those by the International Finance Corporation (IFC)12 or the World Commission on Dams (WCD)13 to be the most significant determinant of massive anti-dam-protests. Indeed, projects lacking international social safeguards (such as Malaysia’s Bakun Dam14 or Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam15) faced particularly fierce resistance since project-affected people were felt to bear all of the project’s costs, while gaining none of its benefits. Implementing social safeguards such as those recommended by the WCD – the gold standard for dam building16 – is the choice of the dam developer and funder.

Second, we found that projects in countries with high levels of perceived corruption faced a lot of resistance. A particular case in point is again Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam. 90% of its electricity is supposed to be exported to China in exchange of USD 500 million annually17. Our field research revealed that revenues generated via the electricity exports were expected to only benefit the country’s elites, not the people of Myanmar and their development. While the overall level of corruption in a country is unlikely to be influenced by those responsible for a dam project, various transparency policies and additional non-corruption measures can be implemented for a specific project.

Third, we found that a project’s environmental risk significantly determined if massive anti-dam-protests would occur. Every large dam project entails major environmental risks18, yet the magnitude of risk still varies from project to project. For instance, not every project is prone to earthquake risks. We learnt that projects reported to be close to a major fault line – such as Myanmar’s Myitsone Dam19 or India’s Sardar Sarovar Dam20 – faced greater resistance because those downstream feared an earthquake-induced dam breach21. Because such environmental risk is impacted by the dam site chosen it can be controlled by the dam developer and funder.

The interviews carried out for our study indicate that dam developers increasingly choose dam sites that will only require limited resettlement – assuming that dam projects with such limited resettlement would not face major resistance. Our study rebuts this assumption. Indeed, we found several projects with limited resettlement (e.g. Thailand’s Kaeng Suea Ten Dam requiring the resettlement of 5,000 people or Laos’ Xayaburi Dam requiring the resettlement of 2,100 people22) that still faced massive protests. A combination of the political system, lacking social safeguards, corruption, and environmental risk can largely explain these protests.

Root causes such as poor social safeguards, corruption, or environmental risk are widely seen as the inversion of good governance principles23. While our study indicates that the application of good governance principles may be able to prevent massive anti-dam-protests, more research will be needed. After all, our sample size of 12 is limited which thus mandates caution regarding the study’s generalizability. Furthermore, our quantifications of root causes such as lacking social safeguards – necessary for the modeling of protest emergence likelihoods – are at least partly subjective. We thus provided all raw data used for our paper in its appendix to ensure that our quantifications can be scrutinized.

Massive anti-dam-protests are a major concern of dam developers and funders today. We hope that our research helps to illuminate why such protest occur and what can be done do to prevent them. Implementing international social safeguards is the most promising starting point we identified. There is a moral imperative to implement such safeguards and our research suggests there may also be a business one.


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  21. https://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/xayaburi-dam
  22. de Graaf, G, Paanakker, H (2014) Good governance: performance values and procedural values in conflict. The American Review of Public Administration.

About the author

Julian Kirchherr is a doctoral scholar at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford. The final version of the University of Oxford study on the root causes of massive anti-dam-protests can be accessed here. A free-of-charge pre-print version of the study is available here.

This article originally appeared on the Global Water Forum website.

Innovative I-Drop Water bringing safe and affordable drinking water to Sub-Saharan Africa

Oxford alumni start-up is working to disrupt the bottled water market via its innovative decentralised water purification and vending system.

Sales of bottled water continue to rise, with researchers estimating the industry will reach $280 billion globally by 2020. Despite the industry’s profitability, it remains an exemplar of unsustainability – hugely wasteful both in environmental and financial terms. Bottled water costs many time more than tap water, yet in many countries it is often the only reliable source of potable water. It is the poorest who bear the brunt of this expense, spending a disproportionately large chunk of their income on what should be a low-cost commodity.

This paradox caught the attention of Saïd Business School MBA alumni, James Steere and Kate Thiers-Steere, founders of an innovative water start-up, I-Drop Water. While traveling around Africa for business, James was struck by the widespread consumption of bottled water despite its high cost. Ironically, at the time he was distributing water purification products using a new filtration media. Despite the huge potential for his products, the mass-market that needed them most was ultimately unable to afford them: the technology was sound but the African business model was not.

This question caused much debate between James and Kate, who eventually concluded that this was ultimately an example of a failure of business and not, as is more popularly described, a failure of governance. Using knowledge gained through their MBA, the pair set about developing a business to overcome these barriers: this was to become I-Drop Water.

Established in 2015, I-Drop water supplies decentralised purification systems to shop owners, which provide safe drinking water to consumers using refillable containers at around 80% less than the price of bottled water. I-Drop can install purification units at no capital cost to a retailer, with whom they share a percentage of sales revenue. The system is designed to serve both formal and informal grocery outlets, and can operate wherever there is a non-saline water source.

James built a proof of concept in 2014 and tested it in a grocery store with an accommodating shop-owner. Sales were encouraging, but the complexity of oversight prompted the idea of incorporating a GSM-based remote monitoring and control system. The following year, I-Drop Water built and tested its unit with integrated GSM controls. Since launching the first commercial prototype, the company has never looked back, and is now deploying one unit almost every day and has expanded into four countries.

I-Drop Water’s achievements were recently recognised by the Skoll Centre, who presented the founders with a Skoll Venture Award: a prize open to Saïd students and alumni pursuing social enterprise.

“We are incredibly proud to win a Skoll Venture Award,” said Kate. “The Skoll Centre is in many ways responsible for us meeting and for I-Drop Water existing. It is one of the most important centres for social entrepreneurship, and the validation for this business we started only 12 short months ago is fantastic. It’s also helped us raise awareness amongst like-minded businesses and people who are interested in the opportunity that business provides to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges.”

I-Drop Water now has commercial pilots running in Ghana, Zimbabwe and Botswana and its already established South African business is growing fast. The company sees real growth opportunities in cities and towns across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Asia and Latin America. This first phase of growth has been aided by initial seed funding, but now the firm is looking to launch a Series-A round of fundraising to support further expansion.

Ultimately, its founders believe I-Drop Water’s unique combination of technology and innovative business model holds the potential to transform the supply of drinking water in low income countries, and in doing so, disrupt the unsustainable bottled water market, reduce plastic waste, and provide safe affordable drinking water to the poor.