A 2024 study has found that rapid handpump repair has a powerful effect on the reduction of diarrhoea amongst children. The study, conducted in Kwale County, Kenya, found that diarrhea among children was lower in households whose pumps had been repaired within 24 hours.
Handpumps are a key tool in rural water supply: millions have been installed across the world. They are relatively cheap, mostly easy to repair, and provide a form of reliable and safe community water supply. However, studies show that more than 25% of handpumps are out of order at any one time. The repair of handpumps is therefore a key element in ensuring safely managed water supplies around the world. This is all the more critical for the health of children: in fact, the risk of children under the age of five years old succumbing to fatal diseases is 11% higher among children living in households with access to unimproved water sources.
The research team from Oxford University, the University of Miami, the NHS Trust, and the London School of Hygiene wanted assess whether improved maintenance of rural handpumps also lead to improved household health outcomes. This could be tested in Kwale County in Kenya, where the introduction of a professional maintenance service had led to impressive results, with 90% of handpump faults repaired within 3 days of being reported.
The team took a sample of households using handpumps as their primary water source in Kwale County and measured the 2-week prevalence of diarrhea in children, as reported by adults int eh households in question. They compared the rates of diarrhea before and after a period during which the households' handpumps were being professionally maintained. They found that diarrhea in children was lower in households whose pumps had been repaired within 24 hours. By contrast, no reduction was seen in households whose pump repairs took more than 24 hours.
The researchers come to the conclusion that only pump repairs which are made consistently within 24 hours of failure lead to a reduction in diarrhea in children of families using the handpumps. The effect on child health is substantial, but this has strong implications for handpump management. There are very significant operational challenges of guaranteeing same-day repairs, and therefore achieving improvements in child health places high standards on village handpump maintenance.