Gravity Flow Systems vs. Boreholes

One water system stands out as remarkably sustainable above the rest: Gravity Flow Systems (GFS).

GFS is defined as “a water supply, sourced from a small upland river, stream, or spring, that uses the force of gravity to transport water by pipework to tap stands near homes, reducing the amount of human labour involved in carrying water” making it an economical, more efficient, and community-engaged approach (Getts, 2018). Other methods of water distribution such as boreholes – “well[s] dug deep into the ground to tap into aquifers or water caught between rocks” (ibid) have been found to be management intensive, and costly considering the impoverished nature of the rural villages needing water – significant factors in vulnerable locations.

Workers are actively engaged in excavation for a water project

The overall cost-effectiveness of GFS ensures that the water distribution system in rural Ugandan villages is not just a “quick fix” but a low-maintenance, reliable, long-term solution. This system proves itself as sustainable thanks to its low energy requirements, durability, and accessibility factor. Swamee and Sharma (2000) note in their research that GFS are “reliable and cost-effective over pumping systems as no external power is required to maintain the flow.” This is significant for areas with unreliable electricity supply or fuel sources.

Assuming there is a satisfactory elevation for water movement to occur, over time, the GFS is far more durable and has lower maintenance costs as compared to boreholes or other water pump systems. With fewer moving parts and mechanical components to maintain, the potential for wear, tear, and breakdown is decreased, as is the need for regular maintenance, a supply chain of parts, and emergency repair parts – all of which are factors that contribute to premature breakdown and failure of water wells and boreholes (Lifewater International, 2018).

A 2012 case study in Burkina Faso by the Global Water Initiative discovered that the maintenance costs of a borehole with a submersible pump average $2,000 to $3,000 USD annually (approximately $5,500 CAD). In addition, the GFS also proves itself as the more economical approach due to the ability to plot multiple water points over a large area, compared to each borehole representing one access point. Thus, research and the aforementioned case study suggest that GFS offers a cost-effective and reliable solution for water distribution in rural Uganda.

Typically the beginning stages of hydrological studies and projects are time and resource-intensive projects, requiring experts to properly examine, survey, and test surface water and groundwater quality and supply. While GFS are initially capital intensive, a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) puts it well, stating that “once constructed, gravity-fed systems could be operated and maintained at the community level,” whereas boreholes require trained, highly-skilled operators, rather than villagers.

Unfortunately, this is not only an expensive undertaking but also discourages community engagement and leadership, which adds pivotal significance in ensuring successful development initiatives, especially in the context of water distribution systems (Tsekleves et. al, 2022). A study by Tsekleves et al. (2022) discovered that community participation “helped solve problems related to water management and agricultural development in the catchment.” (idib).

Acts for Water is dedicated to delivering safe and clean water to Ugandan villages in a sustainable manner. Through the adoption of innovative, eco-friendly, and low-maintenance solutions for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) challenges, exemplified by Gravity Flow Systems (GFS), we not only address WASH issues but also commit ourselves to responsible stewardship of our shared planet. While there are certainly advantages to other water distribution systems, research has proven that GFS stands as the most effective method, reinforcing our commitment to sustainable, reliable, and clean water solutions.

A mother and her child express happiness and relief after obtaining clean


Getts, M. (2018). Lack of access to water in rural malawi.

Kahn, C. (2019, May 28). 3 reasons water wells fail and why sustainable development is possible.

Lifewater International.

Nyam, Y. S., Kotir, J. H., Jordaan, A. J., & Ogundeji, A. A. (2021). Developing a conceptual model for sustainable water resource management and agricultural development: The case of the breede river catchment area, south africa. Environmental Management, 67(4), 632–647.

Sustainability ethics. (n.d.). Gravity Water.

Swamee, P. K., & Sharma, A. K. (2000). Gravity flow water distribution system design. Journal of

Water Supply: Research and Technology-Aqua, 49(4), 169–179.

The Global Water Initiative. (2012). Making the right choice: Comparing your rural water technology options (Ref.: 2012-07-E; GWI Technical Series: Hardware Quality ).