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.