Professor Katrina Charles

Professor of Environmental Health Risks

Sloane Robinson Official Fellow in Environmental Change and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champion, Reuben College, Oxford

Chair of the Oxford Water Network

Academic Director, MSc and MPhil in Water Science, Policy and Management

Member of the Environment Research Doctoral Training Partnership

Academic Profile

Professor Charles' research focuses on environmental health risks, using interdisciplinary approaches to analyse how we construct our understanding of environmental health risks, and how to communicate those risks to affect change. With her research team, which includes expertise in water quality, health and social sciences, and through partnerships with UNICEF and governments, she is leading work on drinking water quality and climate resilience that will help progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal for safe drinking water quality for all (SDG 6.1). Her work has been funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), World Health Organization, UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and includes work in Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Rwanda, and Uganda. Professor Charles undertook her PhD on a risk-based approach to management of decentralised wastewater treatment systems in Sydney's drinking water catchments in Australia. She joined the University of Oxford in 2013 having previously been a lecturer at the University of Surrey.

Current Research

Professor Charles leads research across two international, interdisciplinary research programmes on water security. As co-director of the REACH: Improving water security for the poor programme, she is leading research on water security challenges in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya. On the GCRF Hub for Water security and sustainable development, she is leading research on water security and health. Across these programmes her research addresses two key areas:

Methodological development on how we conceptualise and measure risk. Water safety risks commonly focus on individual hazards, most frequently E. coli, overlooking the multiple risks to health. Professor Charles' team addresses how monitoring data shapes our understanding of health risks through advancing analysis of multiple risks, sampling biases and inherent variability, as well as how climatic events affect risk. In healthcare facilities, this includes research on environmental risks via water related to poor management of water systems and waste disposal, including antimicrobial resistance.

Pathways to integrate water safety into water supply. Where financial resources or capacity is low, water safety is often assumed to be provided by infrastructure design rather than being actively managed. As a result, water quality is often a limiting factor in achieving safely managed drinking water. Professor Charles' team has been working across different contexts on the opportunities and barriers to uptake of water safety into water supply delivery and management. With Fundifix, in Kenya, work has focused on embedding water safety in professional services management, including use of fit-for-purpose laboratories to support rural water safety, and is addressing water safety in schools. In Bangladesh, the SafePani model is demonstrating delivery of climate-resilient, safe water services for rural communities and schools with government and UNICEF.

Selected Research Projects

Teaching and Supervision

Professor Charles is the Academic Director for the MSc and MPhil in Water Science, Policy and Management, and leads the Water and Health module. She co-leads an elective on Health, Environment and Development, with Dr Proochista Ariana in the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health. She contributes to the MSc in International Health and Tropical Medicine.

Current Graduate Research Students

Rob Ferritto

Using a feminist ethic of care to evaluate women's engagement with digital economy in Ethiopia

Nameerah Khan

Bangladesh's arsenic crisis: Navigating the complexities of the science-policy interface of water quality and health

Recent Graduate Research Students (since 2006)

Saskia Nowicki
Completed DPhil in 2022

Health Risk in Complex Adaptive Rural Water Systems

Thanti Octavianti
Completed DPhil in 2019

Achieving water security in a developing-country delta city: Challenges from a waterfront development project in Jakarta Bay

Julian Kirchherr
Completed DPhil in 2017

The Anti-Dam Protest Cycle: Evidence from Asia

Recent Graduate Research Students

Kenan Okurut
Completed DPhil in 2015
Demand-driven sustainable sanitation improvements in low-income informal settlements: a collective approach for East African cities (University of Surrey)

Selected Publications

Zinabu, E., Alamirew, T., Gebrehiwot, S., Whitehead, P., Charles, K. and Zeleke, G. (2024) Scientific African, 23, p. e02063.
1615825 - Information synthesis to identify water quality is...
Zinabu, E., Alamirew, T., Whitehead, P., Charles, K., Abebe, Y. and Zeleke, G. (2024) World Water Policy [Preprint].
1615826 - Evaluating the structures and arrangements of wate...
Esteves Mills, J., Thomas, A., Abdalla, N., El-Alam, R., Al-Shabi, K., Ashinyo, M., Bangoura, F., Charles, K., Chipungu, J., Cole, A., Engebretson, B., Goyol, K., Grasham, C., Grossi, V., Hickling, S., Kalandarov, S., Ababu, A., Kholmuhammad, K., Klaesener-Metzner, N., Kugedera, Z., Kwakye, A., Lee-Llacer, A., Maani, P., Makhafola, B., Mohamed, A., Monirul Alam, M., Monse, B., Northover, H., Palomares, A., Patabendi, N., Paynter, N., Prasad-Gautam, O., Panthi, S., Rudge, L., Saha, S., Salaru, I., Saltiel, G., Sax, L., Shahid, M., Gafur, M., Shrestha, S., Szeberényi, K., Tidwell, J., Trinies, V., Yiha, O., Ziganshin, R., Gordon, B. and Cumming, O. (2023) BMJ Global Health, 8(10).
1553268 - How can global guidelines support sustainable hygi...
Nowicki, S., Birhanu, B., Tanui, F., Sule, M., Charles, K., Olago, D. and Kebede, S. (2023) Science of The Total Environment, 904.
1537188 - Water chemistry poses health risks as reliance on ...
Charles, K. and Shaylor, E. (2023) PLOS Water, 2(6).
1456876 - Rapid water quality field tests: data revolution o...
Abebe, Y., Alamirew, T., Whitehead, P., Charles, K. and Alemayehu, E. (2023) Heliyon, 9(5).
1341653 - Spatio-temporal variability and potential health r...
Abebe, Y., Alamirew, T., Whitehead, P., Charles, K. and Alemayehu, E. (2023) Heliyon, 9(5), p. e15832.
1308860 - Spatio-temporal variability and potential health r...
Narayanaswamy, L., Ferritto, R., Hillesland, M., Anker, V., Singhal, S., Maysels, R., Bantider, A., Charles, K., Doss, C., Kumar, A., Mdee, A., Neo, S.-M., Pinzón, F. and Mengistu, B. (2023) Frontiers in Human Dynamics, 5, p. 1212188.
1588723 - Why a feminist ethics of care and socio-ecological...
Grasham, C., Hoque, S., Korzenevica, M., Fuente, D., Goyol, K., Verstraete, L., Mueze, K., Tsadik, M., Zeleke, G. and Charles, K. (2022) Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability [Preprint].
1287542 - Equitable urban water security: beyond connections...
Khan, N. and Charles, K. (2022) Exposure and Health, 15(3), pp. 519–537.
1281828 - When water quality crises drive change: a comparat...