UPGro Science: Links between groundwater access and poverty are complex and sensitive to context [S2]

The links between groundwater access and poverty are generally indirect, complex and context specific. There areas where groundwater is available in sufficient quality and quantity to improve health, water security, food security and attract investment that could create employment and opportunities. Many areas of Sub-Saharan Africa have groundwater resources that could be used more intensively. However, the sustainability and benefits to the poorest requires good governance, fair and accessible rule of law and empowerment of women [1]. UPGro has produced body of evidence on the risks and opportunities, and tested citizen engagement methods and tools that can facilitate the political processes needed to unlock the potential of groundwater for the poor.

Longitudinal surveys in Malawi, Uganda and Ethiopia show that communities are routinely due to social pressures (e.g. funerals, cultural events) and environmental pressures (e.g. dry periods). These pressures cascade with routine sharing of water points.

Large scale panel data (3,500 ) collected in three rounds in Kwale County, Kenya (2013-16)  show that handpumps lifting shallow groundwater for domestic and productive uses is  a low but significant priority for improving household welfare, it ranks as of one of four significant factors to improve multidimensional welfare along with secondary education, energy access, and no open defecation. [2,3]

Dr Jacob Katuva explains findings of research into links between (ground)water access and welfare

Dry periods lead to large and measured increases in handpump usage as other water sources are not available. Analysis from 50,000 payment records over 226 years of data in Kenya identify user payment for groundwater decreases in wetter periods. User payment are higher in the dry season, when groundwater quality is better (here, EC and pH), households are closer to the handpump, and there are small-scale productive uses, including livestock watering.  These four factors improve revenue collection and the ability to keep water supplies working. [2,3]

Women (particularly female-headed households) in rural Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya were found due to gender roles and gender task allocation. They also have a different perception of risk due to these gendered roles and activities. When water is scarce, the differences in water use between men and women can cause conflict between the two negatively affecting social harmony. By making use of and supporting improved access to groundwater resources, social conflict caused by water tensions is reduced, and those who are more vulnerable have better chances of accessing water thereby improving their resilience.

Across UPGro studies, water users were found to be enthusiastic and competent participants in groundwater management.


References and further information
  1. Groundwater and Poverty Groundwater and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa – a short investigation highlighting outstanding knowledge gap (June 2017)
  2. Katuva et al (2020) Groundwater and welfare: A conceptual framework applied to coastal Kenya. Groundwater Sus. Dev.
  3. Policy Brief: Poverty Transitions in Kwale County (2018)
  4. Komakech  et al (2018) Differentiated access: Challenges of equitable and sustainable groundwater exploitation in Tanzania, Water Alternatives
  5. Furey (2018) Groundwater Governance for poverty eradication, social equity and health, Chapter 14 in Advances in Groundwater Governance,
  6. Zeitoun et al., (2016). “Reductionist and integrative research approaches to complex water security policy challenges”. Global Environmental Change, .
  7. Demenge, et al (2015) Multifunctional Roads: The Potential Effects of Combined Roads and Water Harvesting Infrastructure on Livelihoods and Poverty in Ethiopia, J. of Infrastructure Development
  8. MacDonald, et al. (2019) Groundwater and resilience to drought in the Ethiopian Highlands, Environmental Research Letters https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab282f
  9. Katuva, Jet al (2020). Modelling Welfare Transitions to Prioritise Sustainable Development Interventions in Coastal KenyaSustainability, 12(17), p.6943.

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