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Piped Water Reference Information – Questions and Answers

Why is safe drinking water so expensive?

Official and UN water affordability estimates understate the cost of drinking water because public water supplies are intermittent and mostly contaminated so safe water has to be carried.  The “value of time” for unpaid labour, a kind of opportunity cost, is the major component of the real water cost.  Read more here…

What are the health and economic consequences?

Apart from diarrhoea caused sickness and deaths, the major impact is child stunting leading to malnutrition causing physical and intellectual impairment of up to half of the population: a crippling economic burden.  Read more here…

How do we know that people are willing to pay for piped water?

Numerous research studies have demonstrated willingness to pay for piped water services, not only in developed countries but also in low and middle income countries.  These research studies have been based on community surveys investigating, for example, peoples’ awareness of arsenic contamination in Bangladesh and their attitudes to different kinds of water services.   Read more here…

How did we do the research for this project?

By living for extended periods in Pakistan implementing local water supplies for communities, and interviewing water utility and other engineers in Pakistan, India and Australia.  Read more here…

Why do conventional piped water utilities fail?

James Trevelyan and his students interviewed many engineers working for public water supply utilities in India, Pakistan and Australia.  They found that they were almost always hard-working and dedicated their lives to serving their communities.  While there was some evidence of corruption, it was not a sufficient explanation for the relatively low service quality provided by South Asian water supply utilities.  Instead there were many other explanations.  Read more here…

Why can’t governments solve this problem?

Governments fail to deliver on their promises because the engineers they rely on lack “hidden” practice knowledge which has not yet been widely understood among engineers, anywhere.  This knowledge has only recently been identified through research, and is much easier to acquire in an industrialized society.  Language barriers in developing countries also make it much harder for engineers to deliver.  Read more here…

Why can’t the World Bank solve this problem?

The World Bank works with governments and sometimes contracts international engineering firms for major infrastructure projects.  However for services such as water utilities, the World Bank faces the same barriers as government and local engineers face tough challenges in delivering on promises.

Why do cell phone enterprises succeed when other engineering enterprises fail?

Cell phone technology happened to develop in a way that enables engineers and technicians to collaborate more easily than in other engineering enterprises.  This was not an intentional decision by developers: it happened by a fortunate series of chances.  Read more here…

How did the idea for this project originate?

First hand involvement in building community water supplies in Pakistan and curiosity drove us to understand why cell phone enterprises succeed in Pakistan and other developing countries, and why water utilities fail.  Faced with the complex intersection of technical and social issues, the idea that we could transplant the key elements that make cell phone enterprises succeed seem like an obvious solution for water utilities.  Read more here…

Why has this solution not been proposed before?

The ideas have come from recent research, and others have noticed the opportunity as well: see Lumos in Africa. Implementing a reliable water utility requires a substantial budget: the 100 & Change competition has provided the first opportunity and motivated us to prepare the proposal.  Read more here…

How will women cope with the changes that come with safe drinking water?

Many earlier water projects have failed because they introduced unacceptable changes into the lives of women. Anecdotal accounts report that women use time spent away from their families carrying water as an opportunity for social interactions and have resisted alternatives.  The proposed intervention will lead to large changes in the lives of many women, and supporting this change has to be part of the project.  Safe drinking water alone will not solve all the health issues associated with childhood diarrhea and stunting.  Women’s education will be an essential complementary part of this project and so the budget includes provision for creating programs for this.  We and others have worked on women’s education programs in villages which have, so often, been impeded by the exhausting work women have to perform to obtain enough water for their families.

What about sanitation? Why is that not part of your proposal?

Sanitation has to be addressed to achieve the best health and economic outcomes.  However, it is now widely acknowledged that reliable, safe drinking water supplies have first priority.

The community-scale utilities we are proposing have to take sanitation into account at the implementation stage.  It is not feasible to supply more than a minimal quantity of drinking water without provision for drainage and human waste disposal.

Appropriate sanitation and waste disposal measures for a target community will depend enormously on infrastructure that is already in place, currently accepted community practices and physical site characteristics.  Our utility provides, perhaps for the first time, is a reliable means of collecting sufficient revenue for a community to invest in its own sanitation improvements, beyond the provision of safe drinking water.

Depending on local conditions, installation of a prototype water utility may require the achievement of ‘total sanitation status’ as a pre-requisite to qualify for a service beyond a minimal supply of safe drinking water.  Upgrading the utility would require a simultaneous development of sanitation infrastructure. Pakistan already has a policy on sanitation.

This requires that 100% of households have either twin pit latrines or latrines with a septic tank & leach pit) with fecal sludge managed in a safe & hygienic manner.

If the households are connected to sewers & treatment plants then sensors could be connected to the water supply system to monitor pump stations & treatment plants and confirm they are actually running (and not turned off or bypassed).