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An in-depth study of water provision in Burkina Faso has found that piped water systems provide a better service than handpumps, at a lower cost.
This conclusion is derived from the in-depth study of the water provision in four rural growth centres (2500 to 7500 people), in Sahel, the poorest region of Burkina Faso (Pezon, 2013).
What is the logic of subsidising a service delivery model that keeps the poor in the water poverty trap?
It is not surprising that standpipes and household taps provide a better service than handpumps: they are closer, offset the effort of pumping, and provide safe water. What may be more surprising is the level of demand for this type of service, whose tariff is 10 times higher than a handpump, for a user consuming 10 to 20 litres per day.
More surprising is the fact that this higher level of service comes at a lower cost (see table).
Table 1: Unit costs for supplying piped and hand-pumped water in four rural growth centres (USD, 2011)
In the WASH sector, piped water is commonly regarded as an unaffordable water supply modality for rural areas. The population density is too low to establish and run sustainable networks. Our study shows that this is not necessarily the case, and that investment in piped systems is cost-effective starting at 1,800 inhabitants.
Figure: Investment per capita to supply hand-pumped or piped water to 1,500 to 3,500 inhabitants
The minimum population size can be even lower if all uses are considered, that is where the production capacity is adjusted to meet rural water needs. We all know that rural dwellers have needs beyond the purely domestic (drinking, cooking, washing) – ,especially in arid and semi-arid locations like the Sahel. Most of their water requirement is actually for productive use (activities that generate food and/or income).
A quantity of 60 litres per capita per day is acknowledged as a basic level to meet domestic and productive use in rural areas. This means 10,000 m3 per year to cover the domestic and productive use (60 l/c/d) of a village of 500 people. This is roughly the capacity of the Titabé network.
The figure below shows the largest cost component by far for hand-pumped water provision is the support directed to community based organisations (CBOs) that manage the handpumps and water authorities to plan and oversee CBOs.
In the case of handpumps, all recurrent costs except operating costs are primarily aid-funded in the villages we studied. Only operating costs are covered by users through the tariff. If hand pumps look more affordable than piped water, it is because we usually cannot see that 10 to 20 times the contribution of users is being spent to coordinate and manage the water point sources.
This raises serious concern about aid-effectiveness. What is the logic of subsidising a service delivery model that provides lower service quality at higher unit costs, offers no assurance on the quality of the water provided and keeps the poor in the water poverty trap?
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