Repository logo

Rainwater Harvesting and Community Water Security in south-west Uganda



Change log


O'Hanlon, Francesca  ORCID logo


Less than 40% of Uganda’s population has access to safe drinking water. Municipal water systems rarely reach the poorest, most remote communities, and where they do reach populations, quality and quantity are often inadequate due to poor system operation and maintenance.

Decentralised water services, such as RWH can provide essential water where centralised supply is inadequate or does not reach. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) encourages the use of rainwater harvesting (RWH) to improve community water access in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Nonetheless, uptake of RWH across SSA is below targets that have been set by the United Nations. If these targets are to be met, further research is needed to understand the drivers and barriers of RWH adoption for water insecure populations in Uganda.

Water security has become a widely accepted term that communicates the broader social, political and environmental benefits of water-related services. Rather than focusing solely on the materiality of water access in itself, water security frameworks have been used to assess the less tangible outcomes of decentralised water access. For this thesis, a new water security framework was designed based on the perspectives of water practitioners and stakeholders involved in the delivery of water services in south-west Uganda. The framework provided structure to identify and assess the sociotechnical outcomes of RWH access.

The framework includes ten sociotechnical water security goals and is based on a new definition of water security developed for this research: ‘water services that contribute to community water security provide sufficient water of acceptable quality for good health, which is affordable and available year-round. They sustain livelihoods and can be equitably accessed across all user-groups. These water services should minimise the risk of local conflict and boost community cohesion and climate resilience. The management of these services should be supported by local and national institutions so they can be reliably sustained over the long-term’. Building on previous research, the water security goals go above and beyond solely describing the fundamental physical characteristics of water provision, instead, they reference socioeconomic, environmental and technical outcomes. The structure of the framework encourages researchers to collect a range of qualitative and quantitative data.

Using a ‘two-case’ case study strategy, the framework was applied to the assessment of ten RWH installations in a rural (Kabale) and an urban (Mbarara) community in south-West Uganda to identify the drivers, barriers and outcomes of RWH use in the region. Comparisons between the urban and rural community uncovered how localised socioeconomic, infrastructural and governance structures influence the delivery and uptake of RWH in Uganda. For the assessment, a mixed-methods approach was adopted which included water balance modelling, sanitary surveys, site inspections, key informant interviews, focus groups and physiochemical and bacteriological water quality tests.

The significant drivers of RWH use in the rural community were proximity of water in comparison to alternative water sources, the potential for improved livelihoods, protection against climate unpredictability and support from a local NGO. RWH provided good quality water that met WHO standards at 80% of sites. There was enough water to support household and micro-enterprise activities. High capital cost was found to be a significant barrier to the adoption of the technology.

The drivers for adoption among the urban community were poor municipal water quality, service interruptions and high costs associated with existing water services. This was compounded by poor sense of value for money and mistrust of the municipal service. In the urban community RWH provided good water quality for 70% of the sites assessed. A lack of awareness and financing mechanisms were highlighted as significant barriers to RWH use. In neither community could RWH provide year-round availability of water and so is most appropriate as a supplementary water source in this region of Uganda.

The identification of the drivers, barriers and outcomes of RWH use in these two communities allows policymakers and water practitioners to better understand which incentives, programmes and mechanisms can support the uptake and sustained use of RWH in Uganda. The water security framework provides structure to assess the sociotechnical outcomes of decentralised water access, emphasising the importance of the human-water relationship to global development.





Morgan, David


sustainable development, water security, rainwater harvesting, climate change adaptation


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
EPSRC (1817270)
National Geographic, EPSRC