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The death of the communal handpump? Rural water and sanitation household costs in lower-income count

Catarina Pimenta de Castro Fonseca, April 2014 Thesis Abstract:

Rural water supply and sanitation in low and middle income countries face the same challenges now as in the 1970s. Despite massive efforts in providing communal “borehole with handpump” and “improved latrines” to improve the lives of millions of people, this traditional approach to development is failing to deliver long lasting improved services - even if for the last 40 years many attempts have been made to solve problems in the approach.

The main research question is “Can low-income rural families pay for rural water supply and sanitation?” This thesis has analysed household poverty and costs on water and sanitation services in Mozambique and Ghana based on 3,049 surveys collected between 2009-2010 by the IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre WASHCost project.

Evidence shows that even extreme poor households can and do pay for improved water and sanitation services. However, households prefer to pay for more expensive services to reduce the distance required to collect water instead of paying for the cheaper maintenance of communal (further away) sources. For sanitation, without targeted support towards the poorest, improved latrines might be unaffordable. Also, without follow up support, behaviour change and health impact will not be sustained. Small increases in the wealth of the poorest have a large impact on the services demanded in terms of quantity, distance and time spend as well as an increase in the level of capital and maintenance expenditure.

Ultimately, the world now is not the same as in the 1970s and for achieving universal sustainable coverage for water and sanitation we need to rethink the failed traditional approach to development in low income countries with a deeper understanding of the market segmentation in the lowest quintile of the population and their real aspirations and demand.

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