Communities in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, face obstacles in supplying continuous water to household consumers. Authorities often cite water scarcity as the cause, but this paper demonstrates that environmental constraints constitute only one aspect of a multi-dimensional problem.

Based on a review of 129 articles in the literature, asking what causes intermittent domestic water supply, the analysis identifies 47 conditions of intermittent systems and the causal-consequential pathways between them that can reinforce intermittency. Analysis of these pathways spans several disciplines, including engineering, government administration and anthropology.

When viewed together, the pathways

  1.  emphasize the human drivers of intermittency;
  2. suggest generalized interventions; and
  3. reveal a gap in the literature in terms of meaningful categorizations of the reliability of intermittent supplies. Based on the reliability of consumers’ water access, the authors propose three categories of intermittency — predictable, irregular, and unreliable — to facilitate comparisons between case studies and transfers of solutions.


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