Rainfall and groundwater use in rural Kenya

Patrick Thomson, David Bradley, Adamson Katilu, Jacob Katuva, Michelle Lanzoni, Johanna Koehler, Rob Hope

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study examines the relationship between rainfall and groundwater use in rural Kenya, using automatically-transmitted hourly data from handpumps (n = 266), daily rainfall records (n = 19), and household survey data (n = 2508). We demonstrate a 34% reduction in groundwater use during the wet season compared to the dry season, suggesting a large shift from improved to unimproved sources in the wet season. By cross-correlating handpump and rainfall time series, we also reveal substantial short-term changes in groundwater pumping observed immediately following heavy rainfall. Further investigation and modelling of this response reveals a 68% reduction in pump use on the day immediately following heavy rain. We then investigate reasons for this behavioural response to rainfall, using survey data to examine the characteristics, concerns and behaviours of households in the area where the reduction in pump use was most marked. In this area rainwater harvesting was widespread and only 6% of households reported handpumps as their sole source of drinking water in the wet season, compared to 86% in the dry season. These findings shed light on the impact increasing rainfall variability may have on the Sustainable Development Goal of “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all”. Specifically, we suggest a flaw in the water policy assumption that the provision of improved sources of drinking water—in this case community handpumps—translates to consistent use and the associated health benefits. We note that failure to understand and account for actual water use behaviour may results in adverse public health outcomes and maladapted WASH policy and interventions.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)722
Number of pages730
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

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