Dale Whittington, John Briscoe, Xinming Mu and William Barron
For most households, access to a high quality, reliable source of water is one of the most important components of the bundle of goods which constitute improved housing. However, progress in improving the quality and quantity of water used by people in rural areas of the developing world has been unsatisfactory in two respects: (1) supplies which have been built are frequently neither used correctly nor properly maintained and (2) extension of improved service to unserved populations has been slow. Though this poor record is not the result of a single factor, a major impediment to improved performance is inadequate information on the response of consumers to new service options. The behavioural assumptions that typically underlie most rural water supply planning efforts are simple. It is commonly assumed that so long as financial requirements do not exceed 5 per cent of income, rural consumers will choose to abandon their existing water supply in favour of the ‘improved’ system. Several reviews by the World Bank, bilateral donors, and water supply agencies in developing countries have shown, however, that this simple model of behavioural response to improved water supplies has usually proved incorrect (Saunders and Warford, 1977; Churchill et al., 1987). In rural areas many of those ‘served’ by new systems have chosen to continue with their traditional water use practices.
If rural water projects are to be both sustainable and replicable, an improved planning methodology is required which includes a procedure for eliciting information on the value placed on different levels of service; and tariffs must be designed so that at least operation and maintenance costs (and preferably capital costs) can be recovered. A key concept in such an improved planning methodology is that of ‘willingness to pay’. If people are willing to pay the full costs of a particular