Resilience In Groundwater Supply Systems: integrating resource-based approaches with agency, behaviour and choice in West Africa (RIGSS)

Access to safe and reliable water supplies is a key goal for households and governments across most of Africa.

Groundwater reserves can play a critical role in achieving this, yet risks of contamination and over-abstraction threaten to undermine the resilience of this supply. A rapidly rising trend for privately-developed wells and boreholes raises additional concerns about the vulnerability of water supplies to natural or man-made environmental shocks. The potential scale of the situation is particularly marked in Nigeria where the use of boreholes has increased exponentially since 1999 (from 10% of the population to 38% in 2015), with most other forms of water supply, notably piped tap water, falling.

Developing effective groundwater management approaches that build the resilience of communities is challenging, not least given the range of different actors involved, their competing interests and demands, and variations in the hydrogeological environment.

Insights from resilience studies in social science emphasise how the resilience of ecological resources to shocks and change is critically linked to the adaptive capacity of social systems and their agents. Choices made now have long-lasting effects, yet these choices are little understood.

Understanding the choices made by consumers, drillers and policy actors requires a strong interdisciplinary dimension and argues for new perspectives as to how the resilience of communities and societies might be built.

The project brings together a unique interdisciplinary collaboration between academics from the UK and Nigeria working in the fields of economic geography, psychology, hydrogeology and journalism studies.


The project will develop and test an innovative framework for understanding the interplay between environmental resources, social systems and behavioural choices affecting the resilience of groundwater supplies.

It will do this through developing a mixed-methods approach that will be trialled in three pilot study areas in Nigeria. This will enable the study team to consider:

  • the role groundwater resources can play in building the resilience of communities to future potential environmental shocks
  • the risks posed by private abstraction trends to the resilience of communities to sudden or slow-onset environmental hazards
  • the role of different media in framing communities’ understanding of groundwater resources
  • individuals’ and organisations’ perceptions, choices and behaviour
  • how perceptions, choice, behaviour and agency can influence (policy) actions to reduce vulnerabilities and enhance resilience.

The project team

Adrian Healy

Dr Adrian Healy

Research Associate

Gill Bristow

Professor Gillian Bristow

Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor in Economic Geography


This research is supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (Grant number NE/P01545X/1)