Fully Baked! The completion of a successful Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship

Cliff Nyaga is a beneficiary of The Coca-Cola Company funded Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship, which sponsors his place on the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, class of 2012/2013. He reflects on his year at Oxford and reports findings from his dissertation research on customer payment behaviours in urban African water utilities.

Finally my Masters at Oxford has come to an end. Looking back, it has been a speedy race against time and it is hard to believe it is over! Having gained access to a unique dataset of the Dar es Salaam city piped water utility in June this year, I immediately embarked on a three-month period of dissertation research.

While my intention was clear – to make strides towards the finishing line while fighting off tempting distractions from an approaching British summer – I lost this battle somewhere along the way. Barbeques, river swims, berry picking, garden parties and picnics somehow found their way into my diary. Striking a fair balance between thesis research and outdoor festivities was sometimes challenging. Nonetheless I got my head down and submitted my dissertation by the set deadline. Amidst the celebrations, the summer period is almost over which makes this the opportune time for me to pack and run back to Kenya before the cold autumn breeze sets in.

My dissertation research investigated the predictors of customer payment behaviours in piped water utilities in urban Africa. This is an important area of study because the sustainability of piped water services depends upon how well utilities can recover costs through revenue collection from water users.

It is perhaps surprising that factors that determine payment behaviours in piped African utilities are largely misunderstood and so often are assumed. Most utilities lack information on their service such as customers’ demographics, preferences and perceptions of service quality which in turn leads to poor policy decisions and poor implementation. However, understanding and promoting water stewardship in Africa fundamentally depends on access to good data to evaluate what works, why and for whom. Major investments without this data may have no lasting impact.

The Dar es Salaam water utility dataset used in my analysis suggests that it is possible to obtain fairly low-cost evidence to inform policy and investment decisions in African utilities. Ultimately, investing in good information could lead to improved piped water access for the unserved urban poor and water insecure consumers.

Reflecting on the last year, my time in Oxford can be summed up in one word – awesome! Each day has brought a new learning experience and for this I am greatly indebted to The Coca-Cola Company Africa Water Stewardship Scholarship. Indeed, this Scholarship has facilitated my transformation from the water novice I was a year ago to the expert I am today.

The Masters course in Water Science, Policy and Management has empowered me with knowledge and skills to engage with the water access challenges facing Africa head on. Furthermore, I have made resourceful professional and social networks while in Oxford comprising of lead organisations, researchers and students working in the water profession all over the world. This will be a great asset as I start my career and will help me achieve my goal of improving water access in Africa.

This is the third and final post in a three-part blog series. Read Cliff’s first and second blogs.

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