Risk factors associated with rural water supply failure: A 30-year retrospective study of handpumps on the south coast of Kenya

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Journal Article
Science of the Total Environment, 2018, 626 pp. 156 - 164
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© 2018 Elsevier B.V. An improved understanding of failure risks for water supplies in rural sub-Saharan Africa will be critical to achieving the global goal of safe water for all by 2030. In the absence of longitudinal biophysical and operational data, investigations into water point failure risk factors have to date been limited to cross-sectional research designs. This retrospective cohort study applies survival analysis to identify factors that predict failure risks for handpumps installed on boreholes along the south coast of Kenya from the 1980s. The analysis is based on a unique dataset linking attributes of > 300 water points at the time of installation with their operational lifespan over the following decades. Cox proportional hazards and accelerated failure time models suggest infrastructure failure risks are higher and lifespans are shorter when water supplied is more saline, static water level is deeper, and groundwater is pumped from an unconsolidated sand aquifer. Water point failure risks also appear to grow as distance to spare part suppliers increases. To bolster the sustainability of rural water services and ensure no community is left behind, post-construction support mechanisms will need to mitigate heterogeneous environmental and geographical challenges. Further studies are needed to better understand the causal pathways that underlie these risk factors in order to inform policies and practices that ensure water services are sustained even where unfavourable conditions prevail.
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