Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development

Does sense of ownership matter for rural water system sustainability? Evidence from Kenya

Sara J. Marks, Kyle Onda, Jennifer Davis


Community sense of ownership for rural water infrastructure is widely cited as a key factor in ensuring sustainable service delivery, but no empirical investigation has evaluated the relationship between sense of ownership and sustainability outcomes. This study examines the association between system sustainability and sense of ownership among households and water committees, using primary data collected throughout 50 rural communities with piped water systems in Kenya. Data sources include in-person interviews with 1,916 households, 312 water committee members and 50 system operators, as well as technical assessments of water systems. Using principal components analysis we create composite measures of system sustainability (infrastructure condition, users' confidence, and ongoing management), and of water committees' and households' sense of ownership for the system. All else held constant, infrastructure condition is positively associated with water committee members' sense of ownership, whereas users' confidence and system management are positively associated with households' sense of ownership. These findings stand in contrast with much of the published literature on rural water planning, which assumes homogeneity of ownership feelings across all members of a community and which suggests a consistent and positive association between households' sense of ownership and sustainability.

  • Kenya
  • rural water supply
  • sense of ownership
  • sustainability
  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • water committee
  • Received November 16, 2011.
  • Accepted May 11, 2012.