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Governance and functionality of community water schemes in rural Ethiopia

International Journal of Public Health

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A key challenge for achieving universal water access in Sub-Saharan Africa is poor sustainability of water schemes. Previous studies have posited factors that may lead to failed schemes; however, empirical data are lacking.


We conducted direct observations of water sources and interviewed water committee members about governance in two regions of Ethiopia. Based on direct observation at each water point, and harmonizing previous research in the sector, we developed an ordinal measure of functionality. Among functional systems, linear regression models were used to assess changes in score or level of functionality against governance characteristics.


Of 89 water schemes over 5 years old, 82 had sufficient data to receive a score. Higher functionality scores were associated with having good records, meeting regularly, financial audits, higher monthly fees, a paid caretaker and water committees with capacity to perform minor repairs.


Our continuous measure of functionality was simple to derive, objective and may be widely applicable for further studies assessing key indicators of sustainability.

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We are grateful to Girma Aboma of WaterAid, Ethiopia and Carlos Sanchez of Catholic Relief Services, Ethiopia for their contributions to this research. Roza Abesha Feyisa supported the fieldwork in SNNPR. The project was conducted in collaboration with the Millennium Water Alliance with the financial support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Susan Dundon of The Millennium Water Alliance provided comments to earlier versions of this manuscript. Thanks especially to Rachel P. Chase who lent us her statistical expertise.

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Correspondence to Kelly T. Alexander.

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Alexander, K.T., Tesfaye, Y., Dreibelbis, R. et al. Governance and functionality of community water schemes in rural Ethiopia. Int J Public Health 60, 977–986 (2015).

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