Beyond the informal water paradox project awarded New Frontiers in Research funding

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

New Frontiers in Research Fund Results.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes | Photos courtesy of Gina Gilson

Dustin Garrick

Dr. Dustin Garrick, professor in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, leads an international team that was recently awarded $500,000 in funding through a New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) special call for research for post-pandemic recovery. Working alongside partners in Kenya, the team’s Beyond the Informal Water Paradox project will focus on harnessing solutions to water insecurity in the informal sector, particularly the role of mobile water vendors (hand carts, tanker trucks) that fill gaps in water provision but also come with risks, creating a paradox for water utilities who often struggle to keep pace with growing needs.

The project develops a three-phased approach to map water vending networks, understand the role of women as consumers and potential entrepreneurs, and craft and evaluate social enterprise models for empowering a new generation of women entrepreneurs in the inclusive development of informal water vending networks across East Africa. The project was selected for an additional award of $200,000 by International Development Research Centre to support the incubation of a women’s entrepreneurship network and the development of a new social enterprise, True Water, focused on building trust and transparency in vended water from source to tap.

Water supply and sanitization station.

Water supply and sanitation station managed by Laurine.

“We hope our project will bring vital data and new insight on women and water vending, creating new tools that make informal solutions both more visible and viable” said Garrick. “Working together with COHESU and partners across Kenya and East Africa will ensure we co-create participatory interventions that fit the needs of the communities affected by water insecurity and served by vendors.”

The project was co-created with Dr. Diana Karanja of COHESU as co-principal investigator and Dr. Susan Elliott, professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management. The project also involves leadership roles for Dr. Graham Epstein, research manager for the project and head of evidence synthesis for Blue Range Labs focused on water and development policy.

“This project and its participatory intervention approach, including a women-led social enterprise, will greatly benefit the community by addressing the long-neglected gap of not only providing access to safe, reliable and price-friendly water, but will also lead the way in the promotion of gender equity, inclusively, and empowerment," said Karanja.

Because informal water solutions are likely to remain prevalent in reaching the 400 million Africans lacking safe drinking water, progress toward water security depends on addressing the risks posed by informal water sources and broadening the economic opportunities they provide.

The objectives of the project are three-fold. First, the team will use spatial data to map and assess existing water vending networks and identify the often hidden roles of women throughout the supply chain. The second objective will involve the co-creation of a participatory intervention to identify pathways to water security by including women and girls in key roles within water vending networks or partnerships with utilities. This is particularly important for women and girls who have been excluded from key entrepreneurial roles in water vending networks and subjected to gender-based violence when seeking safe water and adequate sanitation. Finally, the project will evaluate the early impacts of these interventions and their contributions to water security, women’s empowerment, and capacity building.

Water supply hand cart.

Water supply hand cart. 

Water supply tanker truck.

Water supply tanker truck. 

The researchers hope that innovation in diagnostic assessment, participatory interventions and the inclusion and empowerment of women in these informal water vending networks will build trust and transparency in hybrid public-private water systems, contributing to resilience and broader well-being across the East African network.

The NFRF Special Call aims to mobilize Canadian-led research efforts in support of a more equitable, sustainable and resilient post-pandemic reality and is part of  a diverse portfolio of projects that directly address one or more of the research priorities outlined in the UN Research Roadmap for COVID-19 Recovery.

By funding research that directly responds to the UN Roadmap, NFRF will be part of a cohesive international research effort to address global socio-economic inequities that have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congratulations to Dr. Garrick and the team on this new funding!

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