Resilience of drinking water supplies in low income countries

Millions of people in low income countries are exposed to poor drinking water. Rural communities in particular face challenges, such as the lack of capacity for essential management of the water supplies, operation and maintenance, implementation of technical improvements and adaptation to deliver resilience as per the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 6, 8, 9, 11 & 13. The exposure of drinking-water infrastructure to natural and human-induced hazards can have severe consequences on human health. Infrastructure designers and operators must deliver resilient water infrastructure, which can withstand, absorb and rebound their functionality quickly after single and multiple hazard stressors, which can be natural, aggravated by climate change, and human-induced.

Start date
16 September 2021
3 years
Application deadline
Funding source
Funding information

£15,285 per year in 2020-21 plus a Research Training and Support budget to cover costs such as conferences, workshops and equipment


Owners and operators of small drinking-water supplies need to enhance safety, leading to cost savings and efficient allocation of resources toward resilient infrastructure. This study will adapt, apply and extend an existing methodology which has been developed and used in the transport sector (Argyroudis et al., 2020), but never applied to drinking-water infrastructure, to water supply infrastructures such as standpipes, wells and piped supplies exposed to selected hazards (e.g. floods but also general deterioration, corrosion and ageing caused by heavy use of the technology) in low income countries.

Uganda will be used as a case study, and subject to travel restrictions being lifted will be a fieldwork location. Climate change predictions may also be used to forecast future exacerbation of the deteriorating stressors and their impact on the safety and resilience under different scenarios.

Project aims

This project aims to:

  1. Map and assess the hazards and implications of those hazards affecting drinking-water infrastructure assets and networks in low income countries
  2. Evaluate and identify efficient existing approaches and techniques for dealing with the effect of hazards on drinking-water infrastructure in low income countries
  3. Adapt and apply the resilience assessment framework for critical infrastructure assets exposed to a sequence of individual and/or multiple natural, environmental and human-induced hazard events in order to:
    1. Quantify the robustness of drinking-water infrastructure against a variety of single and multiple human-induced and natural hazards;
    2. Quantify the rapidity of recovery after damage using empirical and expert-elicited reinstatement and recovery models.
    3. Validate the restoration models, based on recorded data, evidence and input from testimonies, expert judgement and the literature, with participation by owners, stakeholders and engineers.


The project is challenging, especially with regards to verification, but this will be addressed through qualitative research – interviews will be conducted with stakeholders, engineers and communities using the technologies, both in Uganda and elsewhere.

Other challenges relate to the assessment of the capacity loss based on empirical, semi-empirical approaches for hazard stressors. This will be addressed by delivering new fragility models. Restoration models depend on resources, availability of labour, accessibility, materials, equipment etc. thus building these models is not only an engineering task, but involves a number of other parameters and this makes it challenging. This will be addressed by elicitation questionnaires to a variety of stakeholders, making this truly multidisciplinary.

Related links
infrastructuResilience Centre for Infrastructure Systems Engineering Centre for Environmental Health and Engineering

Familiarise yourself with the topic by looking at the following references by the supervisors:

Pond Katherine, King Richard, Herschan Jo, Malcolm Rosalind, McKeown Rory Moses, Schmoll Oliver (2020) Improving Risk Assessments by Sanitary Inspection for Small Drinking-Water Supplies ? Qualitative Evidence, Resources9(6)71 MDPI. DOI: 10.3390/resources9060071

Fawell John, Pond Katherine, Pedley Stephen, Hyllestad Susanne, Drazdova Alena, Shinee Enkhtsetseg, Schmoll Oliver (2019) STRENGTHENING DRINKING-WATER SURVEILLANCE USING RISK-BASED APPROACHES, UNICEF

Notes (e.g. facilities, references or other information the applicant should familiarise themselves with).

Argyroudis SA, Mitoulis SA et al. (2020). Climate-Resilient Infrastructure. Nature Climate Change. (under preparation, 15 world-experts from academia and global organisations participate).

J.33) Achillopoulou D, Mitoulis SA, Argyroudis S, Wang Y (2020). Monitoring of transport infrastructure exposed to multiple hazards: a road map toward resilience. Science of the total Environment

J.32) Mitoulis SA (2020) Challenges and opportunities for the application of Integral Abutment Bridges in earthquake-prone areas: a review, Soil Dynamics & Earthquake Engineering. 135 106183.

J.31) Argyroudis SA, Mitoulis SA, Zanini MA, Hofer L, Tubaldi E, Frangopol DM (2020). Resilience assessment framework for critical infrastructure in a multi-hazard environment: Case study on transport assets. Science of the Total Environment 714;136854.

Eligibility criteria

Essential skills will be an ability for creativity and critical thinking, strong interpersonal skills, adaptability and good communication skills. The candidate should:

  • Have completed a master’s degree in physical sciences, engineering or earth sciences; with a major focus on water supply
  • Have some strengths in fieldwork and data collection skill with English as first language
  • Have strong analytical and writing skills (any peer-reviewed publications or previous research experience will be an advantage)
  • Be ready to spend some time doing fieldwork in a low income country. The applicant should also have some understanding of modelling and risk and resilience.

The studentship is available to UK, EU and overseas students.

IELTS requirements: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.

How to apply

All applications to SCENARIO are made via the University of Reading, whether the projects you are interested in are based at Reading, Surrey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, British Geological Survey or Institute of Zoology.

Choose the PhD projects that interest you most (maximum of 4) and rank your choices in order of interest. Your application is only sent to supervisors for projects where you express an interest, so listing more increases your chances of success. If in doubt, choose four. There will be limited possibilities to express interest for other projects later in the admissions process.

Each project description indicates the name and institution of the lead supervisor and has a reference number. You are welcome and encouraged to email the lead supervisors of projects to ask them any questions you may have or to discuss the project.

Main interview day: 10 February 2021

It is likely that our interview day will be an online event but that decision will be made nearer the time based on governmental Coronavirus guidelines.

Application deadline

Contact details

Katherine Pond
1D AA 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689935

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