How tough is WASH?

Water storage tank in Haramaya, Ethiopia. It is used to store water from a natural spring and supplies water to two villages (about 200 people.
Drinking water storage tank in Haramaya, Ethiopia. Image credit: Adrian Flint

The How Tough is Wash? project focuses on the climate resilience of water and sanitation services in Nepal and Ethiopia. Millions of people do not have access to safe water and sanitation. Achieving universal access in these countries is made more difficult because of major threats from climate change.

The importance of Resilience

More frequent precipitation extremes and climate variability is occurring as a result of climate change. Floods and droughts have a significant impact on already fragile water and sanitation services leading to often devastating consequences for people living in the affected area. At the moment we don’t have simple ways to measure the resilience of these services, making it difficult to identify solutions for vulnerable communities.

Developing resilience indicators and tools to help

The How Tough is WASH? project is addressing the lack of simple indicators of resilience.

We are combining climate, engineering, mathematical and social science to identify the key factors that affect the resilience of water and sanitation.

We are developing and testing indicators that measure whether drinking water supplies and sanitation in rural areas and small towns in Nepal and Ethiopia are resilient to the future impacts of climate change.

The indicators and tools we are developing are useful because:

  • They consider multiple domains of resilience
  • They contain a small and manageable number of indicators
  • They have been developed using a storylines approach based on projections from the World Climate Research Programme climate change models. This allows users (water and sanitation service operators) to focus on conditions that they are most likely to encounter.
  • They include guidance for users on how to score the indicators and easy to use resources will be available
  • They can be used in resource-limited settings
  • Users will be able to identify the least resilient domain(s) in their system. This means they can decide which aspects of their systems require immediate attention and how to prioritise funding‌

More information on indicators

Research Outcomes and Impacts

An underground reservoir in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal. Image: Water storage tank in Ghandruk, Nepal, courtesy of Moti Poudel. 

The resilience indicators can be used by governments, civil society and development partners to develop and maintain more resilient water and sanitation services.

To support wider uptake, we are linking to the governments and their partners in both countries to support water and sanitation policies and projects.

We are also working with the World Health Organization, Gates Foundation, UNICEF and the UK Government to support other countries to use our findings.

Project team

The interdisciplinary project team includes:

University of Bristol

  • PI: Professor Guy Howard, Dept of Civil Engineering
  • CoI: Dr Adrian Flint
  • CoI: Dr Maria Pregnolato
  • CoI: Dr Eunice Lo
  • CoI: Dr Hermes Gadelha
  • CoI: Dr Dann Mitchell
  • Dr Anisha Nijhawan

Kathmandu University, Nepal

  • CoI: Professor Subodh Sharma, School of Science
  • Dr Anish Ghimire
  • Mr Moti Poudel
  • Mr Ojash Giri
  • Mr Hirendra Bista

Haramaya University, Ethiopia

  • CoI: Dr Abraham Gemerew, College of Health and Medical Sciences
  • Dr Bezaru Mengistie Alemu
  • Mr Dinku Mekbib

How Tough Is Wash? is a two year project funded by University of Bristol QR GCRF

Resilience Indicators

Measuring resilience is challenging and encompasses an assessment of 

  • Infrastructure
  • Environment
  • Institutions
  • Finance
  • Behaviours

Existing work on resilience indicators specific to WASH are high-level and of limited use as operational tools. The resilience indicators we are developing are simple. They cover the range of factors that may influence the resilience of WASH services. In this way we are investigating different domains of resilience, which are linked, with failure in one aspect affecting the others.

We have developed a conceptual framework for resilience of water and sanitation that considers six domains

  • Infrastructure
  • Catchment
  • Supply chains
  • Local government support
  • Water and sanitation management
  • Community engagement and cohesion

We have developed a set of indicators, one for each domain. Each indicator can be scored from 1 to 5, 1 being the least resilient and 5 being the most resilient. Each ‘score’ is defined by a set of conditions.

The resilience indicators we have designed allow water and sanitation service providers (users) to examine how their systems and services respond to existing climate variability and extremes.

Users of the indicators can carry out a variety of assessments of their systems to identify the level of resilience that best represents their system.

Users will be able to prioritise funding and resources to areas of their water and sanitation systems in most urgent need of attention.

Two people collecting water from a tap which is fed by a traditional spring source in Nepal.
Traditional spring source in Ghandruk, Nepal. Image credit: Adrian Flint
Infographic illustrating the resilience indicators (previously listed) drawn to circle around the word "Climate Resilience"
Resilience indicators Image credit: Anisha Nijhawan
Edit this page