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Research by geographers at University of Oxford has investigated the inadequate servicing of local water pumps in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to changes to practice, technology and policy in the provision of water services in rural Kenya. Research findings initiated a social enterprise, FundiFix, which deploys ‘smart’ water handpumps and generates real-time data on their use and performance.



Following the UN’s designation of the 1980s as the ‘International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade’, many rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa were provided with new boreholes and handpumps to access groundwater for their daily water needs. Communities were given responsibility for their new water system, but little support to maintain them.

Hundreds of millions of people rely on these pumps but up to a third are out of action at any one time. Communities face the choice of using water from an unsafe source or spending long hours walking to the nearest functioning handpump.



The research in rural Kenya began by investigating communities' preferences and willingness-to-pay for water services. Data was collected through water point mapping, a survey of 3,500 households, examination of community and government records, social choice experiments and focus group discussions at local level, and interviews at policy level.

Findings were used to design a new service delivery model: the social enterprise FundiFix, set up in 2013.



Since 2013, FundiFix has evolved into a Kenyan-owned and registered social enterprise. FundiFix provides local employment and training for 17 technicians, engineers and plumbers, and offers opportunities in accounting, business management and marketing. 

The enterprise has improved water services by accelerating the repair of existing ‘smart handpumps’, and by upgrading existing water infrastructure and offering new water services for up to 20,000 users. Fundifix ensure the reliable delivery of around 73,000,000l of drinking water annually.

Local and national government in Kenya has recognised and promoted FundiFix’s combination of improved service provision and innovative funding methods.

At national level, team member Koehler has influenced the Government of Kenya in the development of the Kenyan Water Act. The Act passed in 2016, now recognises novel approaches to rural water provision, including private sector with investment and financial plans for rural water services.

The FundiFix model is now enabled by national-scale legislation, which institutionally embeds its capability to provide access to clean, safe, locally available water in Kenya.


More information

Institution: University of Oxford

Researchers: Professor Rob Hope, Dr Patrick Thomson, Dr Johanna Koehler


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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Smart handpumps: improving drinking water services in rural Africa. Available at   Last accessed on: <date>