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Hidden Crisis: Unravelling Past Failures for Hidden Success in Rural Water Supply.

Groundwater is a vital resource for many rural people in sub-Saharan Africa but evidence suggests that 30-40% of boreholes fitted with handpumps are not functioning at any one time. This research aims to understand the reasons for this functionality failure and to find ways of addressing it.


Duration: From 2015 – 2019.


The inter-disciplinary project team project team brings together experts working on water governance, hydrogeology, systems engineering and groundwater recharge. Universities in the UK (Sheffield, Cambridge) and Australia (Flinders) team up with those in Africa (Addis Ababa, Makerere and Malawi) to design and deliver the research. WaterAId in the UK and in each country is the partner with decades of experience of developing rural water supplies and helps to ensure that the research has practical application.

This project is part of a larger international research programme Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor (UPGro), which is funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It focuses on developing knowledge to enable developing countries and partners in SSA to use groundwater in a sustainable way in order to benefit the poor. Reliable water supplies are essential to achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

The project aims to develop robust evidence from three countries to help explain why so many waterpoints fail.

The evidence and understandings developed through the project should help inform future policies and practices in rural water supply provision. Impact will be achieved through the close working partnership with WaterAid and by engaging with the rural water supply community globally through participating in channels such as the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN) via webinars and blogposts.


Researchers involved in this project include: Frances Cleaver, Luke Whaley, Naomi Oates.