Research projects

ESR 15: Financing drinking water services in rural Eastern Africa

Early Stage Researcher: Johannes Wagner 
Host institution: University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Principal supervisor: Prof. Rob Hope
Co-supervisor: Prof. Nicholas Oguge
Non-academic co-supervisor: Mr. Cliff Nyaga 

“My research examines potential pathways and necessary conditions to sustainably finance the costs for reliable and affordable rural water services.”


Performance-based models for rural water services are emerging in Africa in response to unsatisfactory progress in delivering reliable and safe water to rural people. Pioneer social enterprises are making progress, but at the margin of the challenge, as there are still 300 million rural Africans without basic drinking water. Sustainable finance and institutional design are key elements to blending government, donor and consumer funds for universal delivery of safe drinking water to communities, schools, and healthcare facilities. A critical gap is understanding ways to create value to influence the payment behaviours of rural consumers and facilities in order to attract non-traditional funding. This study will examine policy and governance issues informing how rural consumers pay for water across service delivery models, payment methods, and political spaces, using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

This research project will:

  1. Develop a theoretical approach to examine the relative positionality of (poor) user water payments in the context of ‘blended finance’
  2. Conduct a systematic review of ‘blended finance’ literature that explore pluralist institutional arrangements with a focus on rural Africa and Asia
  3. Administer qualitative research in a sample of communities in coastal Kenya to examine how and why water payments emerge, sustain or collapse over time
  4. Evaluate the relative importance and impact of shifting institutional arrangements between communities, the market and state in shaping water payment behaviours
  5. Propose a revised theoretical and empirical understanding of water payment behaviours to influence policy design on ‘blended finance’ which prioritises rural preferences to promote more sustainable and socially-acceptable interventions.

Expected results:

  1. A theoretical contribution to rural water payment behaviours and blended finance
  2. Analytical contribution to understand the processes and practices which shape water payment behaviours across social and cultural norms, with specific emphasis on gendered inequalities and environmental variability
  3. Methodological contribution through historical, quantitative analysis from payment ledgers to complement contemporary, diary analysis of how individuals, households and communities make water choices and payments on a daily basis under social, political and climatic change.

About Johannes Wagner

Johannes Wagner's research examines the sustainability of rural water services in Sub-Saharan Africa to attract non-traditional funding. His field-based study focuses on understanding how rural consumers pay for water across service delivery models, payment methods, and political spaces using both qualitative and quantitative methods. His work will contribute to global knowledge on performance-based models for reliable rural water services. 

Prior to joining the NEWAVE-network, Johannes worked for four years as a policy advisor on behalf of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) for the sustainable development of the water and sanitation sector in Mali. His work focused mainly on sector steering, pro-poor regulation and performance monitoring mechanisms as well as drinking water quality by ensuring capacity development of public, private sector and civil society actors. He holds a binational MA and BA in Empirical Political and Social Sciences from the University of Stuttgart and Sciences Po Bordeaux. 

LinkedIn profile: Johannes Wagner


Johannes Wagner
NEWAVE Early Stage Researcher, Ph.D. Candidate
University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Dr. Rob Hope
Director of the Water Security Initiative
School of Geography and the Environment
University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Prof. Nicholas Oguge
Professor of Environmental Policy
Centre for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy (CASELAP)
University of Nairobi, Kenya

Mr. Cliff Nyaga
Research manager at Reachwater in the Kitui County Government
FundiFix Ltd