skip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Factors Influencing the Functionality of Handpump Boreholes in Sub-Saharan Africa

Globally, three out of ten people do not have access to safe drinking water, and sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) houses close to half of them. Groundwater is the primary source of safe drinking water in rural SSA, with handpump borehole (HPB) being the most widely used groundwater extraction method.  One of the issues regarding the use of HPB in SSA is that, at any time, only about 70% of them are functional. This study analyses the physical factors affecting the functionality of HPB in rural areas in 3 countries in the SSA region, namely Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi, using the data collected by the Hidden Crisis Research Project team. While numerous studies have been done in this field, this paper assesses the problem from systems perspective using Bayesian Network (BN). Analyses were done by testing different scenarios on the BN to observe the relationship between the factors and HPB functionality. Subsequently, the BN model was used to assess the effectiveness of existing policies, guidelines and practices on HPB design and operations. Analyses were also done on an enhanced BN model, which included other factors and relationships. The analysis shows that only around 20% of the HPBs in rural SSA are ‘Fully Functional’, and even in the best case, the probability of the HPBs being ‘Fully Functional’ is only 64.8%. Additionally, ‘broken/cracked/damaged handpump parts’, ‘insufficient cylinder depth’ and ‘borehole design’ are the top three underlying factors affecting HPB functionality. Moreover, the analysis validates the effectiveness of a few policies, like focusing resources for the maintenance of HPBs, and challenges other requirements, like the minimum distance from latrines. Additional assessment that includes other factors like reliability shows that only around 13% of the HPBs in the region may be ‘Fully Functional and Reliable’, and in the best case around 30%. In summary, analysis using Bayesian Network provides an opportunity to understand the HPB functionality issue holistically and can be used as a tool to assess the effectiveness of certain policies, guidelines and practices, by establishing the extent of the influence of physical factors. 



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.