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Water point failure in sub-Saharan Africa: The value of a systems thinking approach

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Liddle, ES 
Fenner, RA 


Thousands of water points have been installed across sub-Saharan Africa over the past four decades, however, a number have been found to be dry/low yielding, unsafe for human consumption, and in some cases marked with appearance, taste, and odour problems. Subsequently, many users have been unable or unwilling to use these water points and have had to revert to the use of unimproved water sources. A number of factors could be causing each of these problems, either directly or indirectly. Furthermore, these factors may be interdependent and these relationships may be marked by non-linearities, feedbacks, and time delays. Deciphering which factors need to be prioritised becomes a confusing and complex task. To help understand the impact of different interventions, this paper proposes the adoption of systems-based analysis for looking at water point failure and introduces some of the more common qualitative and quantitative analytical tools that could be used to reveal how these complexities might be managed more effectively. While the use of these tools within the WASH sector has been limited to date, they hold potential for helping to identify the most suitable remedies for water point failure. Examples of where such tools have been used in relation to water point failure are reviewed and the extent to which each approach could be applied is examined from a practitioner perspective, recognising the limitations arising from the differing data needs and time consuming nature that each type of analysis requires.



Sub-Saharan Africa, rural water supply, systems thinking, systems-based analysis

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ITDG Publishing
This work is part of the NERC-funded UPGro project, ‘Hidden Crisis: unravelling current failures for future success in rural groundwater supply’ (NE/M008606/1).