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Evidence, ideology, and the policy of community management in Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

  • Luke Whaley
  • Donald John Mac Allister
  • Helen Bonsor
  • Evance Mwathunga
  • Sembewayo Banda
  • Felece Katusiime
  • Yehualaeshet Tadesse
  • Frances Cleaver
  • Alan MacDonald
Article number085013
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>14/08/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Envirionmental Research Letters
Issue number8
Number of pages11
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This study examines the performance of the policy of community management for rural groundwater supply in Africa. Across the continent, policies that promote community management have dominated the rural water supply sector for decades. As a result, hundreds of thousands of village-level committees have been formed to manage community boreholes equipped with handpumps. With a significant proportion of these handpumps non-functional at any one time, increasing effort is targeted toward understanding the interacting social and physical determinants of this 'hidden crisis'. We conducted a survey of community management arrangements across six hundred sites in rural Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda, examining the extent to which management capacity is related to borehole functionality whilst accounting for a range of contextual variables. The capacity of water management arrangements (WMAs) was assessed according to four dimensions: finance system; affordable maintenance and repair; decision making, rules, and leadership; and external support. The survey reveals that 73.3% of WMAs have medium or high capacity. However, we found no strong relationship between the capacity of the WMA and the functionality of the borehole. Of the four management dimensions, affordable maintenance and repair was the best predictor of borehole functionality. However, the capacity of this dimension was seen to be the lowest overall, with 61.9% of sites weak or non-existent. Our results provide very limited support for the policy of community management, and we suggest that evidence alone has not accounted for its persistence over decades. After a short historical analysis, we conclude that explanation for the endurance of this model can be found in the nexus between evidence, ideology, and policy. We argue that it is this same nexus that will likely ensure the popularity of community management for some time to come, despite new ideas and evidence to the contrary.