Safe drinking water: Who is willing to pay the price?

August 31, 2012 · 0 comments

Evidence Matters, Aug 2012

Safe drinking water: Who is willing to pay the price?

This issue is based on a recent systematic review of people’s willingness to pay for cleaner water.

Over 700 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Piping water to all households is too expensive and not sustainable in rural areas where families live far apart and maintenance would be difficult. Where piped water is not available, a variety of point-of-use technologies have been developed, including locally-produced ceramic filters, chlorination, solar disinfection, or simply boiling the water.

Used in combination with safe storage containers that allow users to access water without actually touching it with dirty fingers, thus preventing recontamination, these methods are inexpensive and can substantially improve the quality of the water. Evidence shows the health benefits of drinking clean water. Treating water can reduce the prevalence of diarrhoea by up to 70 percent. So why does a child die every 15 seconds from waterborne diseases when inexpensive technologies are available?

A recent systematic review asks: are people willing to pay for clean water and is pricing the only factor influencing how people view its benefits? The review summarises research from Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya and Zambia.

Policy messages

  • Many people are not willing to pay for safe drinking water. Even paying a small fee puts people off using water treatment technologies.
  • Understanding why people are not keen to pay and how much they might pay if they had the right information could help overcome these barriers.
  • Subsidising the costs of water treatment technologies can improve their uptake, but large subsidies are required.
  • Cheaper and innovative technologies and distribution models may encourage people to change their behaviour and start using water treatment technologies which would improve their health.
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