All Water1st–funded projects are piped water projects, providing either entirely household level service or a combination of household level service and shared distribution points. Shared distribution points are designed with multiple taps to reduce queuing time to less than 10 minutes round-trip.
All Water1st-funded projects are also metered at point of use, which allows us to evaluate how much water people are using and compare it to established standards for protecting human health.
The World Health Organization recommends a service level of 50 liters per person per day to ensure users have sufficient water for consumption and hygiene purposes.
We analyzed meter readings from 4 rural Ethiopian and Mozambican communities that have a combination of household serve and shared public taps. Each project serves from 1600 to nearly 4000 people. The oldest project was completed in 2007 and the most recent was completed in 2018. No matter the age of the project, we have noticed a distinct pattern in analyzing the meter readings: households collecting water from shared distribution points use 25% or less of the volume compared to households with on-premise water services.
Households with on-premise service use an average of 75 liters per day. Assuming an average household size of 5 people, that’s 15 liters per person per day. The average water use for people without household connections is less than 4 liters per person per day, which indicates they are only collecting water from public taps for consumption. Water for hygiene purposes is only possible if practiced at the source.
None of this is really surprising, is it. After all, household level service is what all of us in this room have all opted for in our homes.
Dr. William Daniell of the University of Washington evaluated different types of water systems in Cambodia, from rainwater harvesting to large-scale piped water systems. When his research team factored in the value of transport time, the cost per liter of water over a 10-year time period was two to ten times lower for piped water systems than for other types of water systems with lower up-front construction costs. Using this model, piped water systems would likely do even better in rural African communities where, due to lower population densities, walk times to public water points are higher than Cambodia.
A 2013 study from Burkina Faso in West Africa, demonstrated that people are willing to pay 10 times more for the same volume of water when it is provided at a convenient public or household tap rather than a more distant hand pump.
Our experiences since 2006, analyzing meter readings and calculating per capital consumption in Ethiopia and Mozambique have led us to adopt a new policy: all Water1st-funded are now designed to provide water service at the household level.
We would like to encourage all our colleagues in this sector to approach water systems in low-resources settings using the same best practices as the developed world with the goal of 24/7 water service on-premise. It is critically important to develop water supply and health promotion interventions which raise per capita domestic water consumption in order to increase the proportion of domestic water used for domestic and personal hygiene.
Progress in the WASH sector has been unequal and exclusive, not been because of lack of innovation, but because we are not giving users the opportunity to have the same service level that the developed world expects. Household level water service meets our public health goals and also eliminates the burden of water collection by females.
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