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Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: Sustaining groundwater safety in peri-urban areas - Dormant

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This project examined the widespread phenomenon of low-income communities in Sub-Saharan Africa’s cities obtaining domestic water from shallow wells. By resurveying sites in Kisumu, Kenya visited nearly 15 years previously, we found that such wells remained as widely used as ever, despite more widespread contamination hazards from increasing urbanisation.

Start Date: 1/9/2013

End Date: 16/10/2014

In the absence of reliable piped water access, many low-income urban communities in Sub-Saharan African cities obtain domestic water from shallow wells, which are frequently faecally contaminated and thus a public health risk. This NERC/DfiD-funded project brought together researchers at Southampton, University of Surrey, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (Kenya) and VIRED International (Kenya). The project resurveyed wells and interviewed households in neighbourhoods lacking piped water in Kisumu, Kenya, which were previously surveyed nearly 15 years earlier by VIRED.

As part of this survey, we used observation checklists for identifying and managing contamination hazards around wells, such as cracked concrete allowing entry of faecal matter. We found that such wells remained as widely used as ever, despite contamination hazards such as pit latrines becoming more widespread. Microbiological contamination of well water remained very high. However, most households were aware of the poor quality of well water, often avoiding drinking or cooking with such water.

Since the observation checklists we used had been developed for rural wells, we found they omitted urban hazards such as leaking sewerage pipes, suggesting that they required adaptation to the urban environment. We also convened expert groups to forecast likely future water and sanitation patterns across Kisumu by the year 2030. These groups’ predictions were similar for high income neighbourhoods, but varied for low income neighbourhoods, suggesting an uncertain future for the poor. With shallow urban groundwaters thus likely to remain an important resource for poor urban households lacking piped water in future, there remains a need to protect households from this contamination, for example through water treatment in the home or avoiding drinking and cooking with such water.

Related research groups

Population, Health and Wellbeing (PHeW)
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