Using network analysis to analyse the complex interaction of factors causing the failure of small-scale water infrastructure (SWI) in the rural areas of South Africa

  • DC Sambo 1. Bioresources Engineering, School of Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, P Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; 2. University of Venda, P Bag X5050, Thohoyandou, South Africa
  • A Senzanje Bioresources Engineering, School of Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, P Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
  • K Dhavu Agricultural Research Council, Institute of Agricultural Engineering, P Bag X519, Silverton 0127, Pretoria, South Africa
Keywords: network analysis, operation and maintenance, rural communities, small-scale water infrastructure


Some parts of the rural areas of South Africa are receiving water services below the legislative standards stipulated in the Water Services Act (1997) of South Africa. This is because small-scale water infrastructures (SWI), including standpipes, handpumps and windmills, are failing to supply adequate water in rural communities for various activities that enhance their livelihoods. This is due to technical, community, institutional, and environmental factors. Literature indicates that these factors are complex in nature. However, research on their complex interactions has been limited. Therefore, the complex interactions of the factors causing SWI failure were investigated and analysed in this study. A qualitative research approach was employed to investigate the factors that cause failure of SWI. The network approach combined with graph theory and the community structure method were used to generate a theme and domain network that allowed for a systematic analysis and interpretation of the causes of SWI failure in the study area. The major causes of failure identified include: (i) the use of a top-down approach to implement water projects in rural communities without consultation, (ii) sharing of SWI in high numbers due to the limited number of SWI available/functional, resulting in overloading and increased breakdowns, and (iii) drying up of water sources due to poor siting leading to vandalism of SWI. Overall, the causes of SWI failure are as a result of the complex interactions of different categories of factors. The theme and domain network is a powerful tool that can be used represent and analyse the complex interactions. It is therefore imperative for interventions aiming to improve rural water supply to analyse the complex interactions of the causes of SWI failure to understand the underlying problems at a level of a system, in order to propose suitable solutions.


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