New Paper on RWSS Sustainability

Over a decade ago, while I was a postdoc at Stanford University, I co-led a multiple-use water services (MUS) study in Colombia. A key part of this study was finding and working with in-country experts who could help us design effective and culturally appropriate surveying instruments. During one of my pre-fieldwork trips to Colombia, I had the pleasure of meeting Isabel Domínguez, who was working as a researcher at CINARA (Research and Development Institute for Water Supply, Environmental Sanitation, and Water Resource Conservation) at the Universidad del Valle in Cali. The pictures below were taken during this trip.


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At the time of my visit, Isabel had led several research projects in Colombia connected with MUS, but was looking to build on her expertise by returning to graduate school. Several years after our first encounter, she started a MSc program at Loughborough University in connection with the Water Engineering and Development Centre, and then went to Newcastle University for a PhD. After successfully obtaining her PhD, Isabel returned to Colombia, where she is now a lecturer at the Industrial University of Santander.

Just over a year ago, I reconnected with Isabel via a study she was hoping to publish with several colleagues. The challenge facing the research team was to develop a paper that described the process of creating a new rural water supply system (RWSS) assessment tool. Given Isabel’s help in shaping our MUS research in Colombia back in 2008, I was happy to join the team and help craft a paper that described their new tool.

In contrast to most studies that assess RWSS sustainability using a low number of indicators, typically due to pragmatism or the costs associated with data collection, the larger number of attributes and indicators selected for the proposed assessment tool were found to be critical to the measurement of sustainability. The end result was a tool composed of 17 attributes with 95 quantifiable indicators. The tool enables the assessment of the sustainability of RWSS, using data collected through semi-structured interviews, social cartography, technical inspection, household surveys, and water monitoring.

Having studied the sustainability of rural water systems for well over a decade, I believe a unique aspect of the new assessment tool is the role it can play in helping communities better understand their systems, which in turn can help them prioritize their actions and investments, look for support for aspects beyond their immediate capabilities, and self‐mobilize for improvements that can be performed without external support.

A key takeaway from this story behind the paper is the joy of reconnecting with someone who helped me early in my career and be able to return the favor.

The paper and its extensive supplementary material can be accessed by selecting the images below.

New Paper in Water

In 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Raj GC at a Multiple-Use Water Services (MUS) retreat at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy. Raj is located on the top right of the picture below that was taken during the retreat. Four years later, Raj left his home in Nepal to join our PhD program in Planning, Governance, and Globalization (PGG) at Virginia Tech, to study the impacts of MUS in Nepal. On Monday, the first paper of his dissertation was published that explores whether the design of rural water systems in the mid-hills of Nepal impacts how households use water. The paper is open access (thanks to Virginia Tech’s Open Access Subvention Fund) and can be accessed by selecting the title of the paper below.


In Nepal, rural water systems (RWS) are classified by practitioners as single-use domestic water systems (SUS) or multiple-use water systems (MUS). In the rural hills of Nepal, subsistence farming communities typically use RWS to support income-generating productive activities that can enhance rural livelihoods. However, there is limited research on the extent of existing productive activity and the factors enabling these activities. This paper examines the extent of water-related productive activities and the factors driving these activities based on a study, undertaken between October 2017 to June 2018, of 202 households served from five single-use domestic water systems and five multiple use water systems in the mid-hills of Nepal. The research found that a majority (94%) of these households engaged in two or more productive activities including growing vegetables and horticulture crops, raising livestock, and producing biogas and Rakshi (locally-produced alcohol), regardless of the system design, i.e., SUS vs. MUS. Around 90% of the households were engaged in productive activities that contributed to over 10% of their mean annual household income ($4,375). Since the SUS vs. MUS classification was not found to be a significant determinant of the extent of productive activity, the households were reclassified as having high or low levels of productive activity based on the quantity of water used for these activities and the associated earned income. A multinomial logistic regression model was developed to measure the relative significance of various predictors of high productive activity households. Five dominant predictors were identified: households that farm as a primary occupation, use productive technologies, are motivated to pursue productive activities, have received water-related productive activity training, and have received external support related to productive activities. Whereas MUS are designed for productive activity, nearly every household in SUS communities was involved in productive activities making them ‘de-facto’ MUS. These results challenge the current approach to rural water provision that views SUS and MUS as functionally different services.

Posters for “Experience VT” Event

This weekend I will be taking part in the “Experience Virginia Tech: Learn, Explore, Engage” event that was commission by President Sand’s to showcase the university’s impact on the world around us. From 9am to noon tomorrow at the VT Inn, I will be presenting the three posters below that document the research and main findings from an impact evaluation I led of an MCC-funded rural water supply project in Nampula, Mozambique. I plan to capture key moments from the event using Google Glass and will post some images and video to this blog and to my Google+ account during the day.

Poster_1 Poster_2 Poster_3

RWSA Impact Evaluation Presentation

IMG_1257On February 7, I was joined by colleagues from Virginia Tech and Stanford University to present the results from our impact evaluation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation-funded Rural Water Supply Activity (RWSA) in Mozambique at the MCC’s 2014 Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) and Economic Analysis (EA) College. The M&E/AE College was attended by monitoring and evaluation and economic analysis experts from many of the countries with which the MCC has an active Compact.

The presentation was recorded using Adobe Connect and can be accessed by clicking on the image below. The final impact evaluation report will be available in the coming weeks via the MCC’s Independent Evaluations Catalog.


The Fieldwork Begins!

After two weeks of intensive training and a successful pilot study, the fieldwork for the follow-up study of the MCA’s rural water program in Nampula, Mozambique, began on Monday (June 10). As the fieldwork progresses over the next seven weeks, the surveying teams will undertake household surveys, water committee interviews, water point observations, technical assessments, and water source/storage testing, among other activities.

SAM_3627As usual, the pilot study proved to be an invaluable way to learn where the surveyors and team leaders required additional training and where our support team (consisting of researchers and staff from Virginia Tech, Stanford, and WE Consult) needed to provide additional support or rethink existing standard operating procedures (SOPs). The logistics associated with this project are complex and not only involve the careful programing of when and where the field teams will be over time, but also managing tasks such as how the 1,800 water samples will be transported for processing and where this processing will occur – i.e., in the field or back in our base camp. We also plan to collect water source samples in four communities at four different times during the day on three different occasions to check for variability in the quality of water over time. This type of water source testing will add a new dimension to our study and help identify whether the quality of water in these communities changes over a period of around six weeks. Another new dimension in the follow-up study is that the surveyors will use GPS devices to find the households we interviewed back in 2011. I will report back later on how successful they were at finding these households.

Data upload in the field - powered via the car battery
Data upload in the field – powered via the car battery

From a data quality perspective, we continue to advance and refine our data review and cleaning processes with our on-the-ground statistician (Marcos Carzolio). This year we are leveraging secure data transfer technology to enable the research team to view the data from any location in the world as soon as it is available. This platform also enables the lead researchers to communicate with the fieldwork team leaders as they upload the data in remote rural areas.

While the household survey is administered using PDAs, making the data easily accessible, the remaining surveying instruments are paper-based and require a different data entry and review process. This task will be managed by our in-country partner (WE Consult) given the need to have native Portuguese speakers managing the process.

In the next week, a fourth surveying team will leave Nampula and travel to Cabo Delgado to begin a study of eight small piped solar systems that have been constructed by the MCA. This more qualitative study will attempt to identify those factors supporting or limiting the successful delivery of water services via these systems. The Cabo Delgado team will be led by Emily Van Houweling (Virginia Tech) who spent a year in Mozambique as a Fullbright scholar last year while completing her doctoral research.

The above description should provide some insight into the many moving parts of this large-scale study, which is providing our team with plenty of challenges, but is also proving to be a highly rewarding experience for all involved. While our primary objective is to undertake an impact evaluation for the MCC, we hope our data will be of real value to the provincial and national governments of Mozambique and to the international community when making decisions about how to invest in sustainable rural water and sanitation services in the country.

The images below were taken during our final week of training and the pilot study.

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