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  • Richard

'Utilitisation' IRC Symposium

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

Had a fascinating challenge trying to make a coherent story out of what I now think I understand about rural water supply, limited effective demand, the way the sector has 'cheated' through bypassing the demand responsive approach, the resulting failure of the necessary 'co-evolution of social, economic AND institutional capital .... so why are we surprised at the failure of handpumps? ... and now the welcome challenge to begin the process of extending 'piped on premises' to rural areas, such that the 'only' (? ... part of the) solution is 'utilitisation' ... that is using external institutions and funding to enable the system to work .... that is until co-evolution has a chance to catch up.

More formally, my paper abstract: The long-standing weaknesses of rural water supply are examined from the perspective of limited effective demand related to concepts of the co-evolution of social (cultural), economic and institutional capital. The analysis suggests that, by donor and government’s short-cutting of the demand responsive approach, we have failed to recognise that there is no shortcut to institutional co-evolution. If we want imported technology to function, in advance of effective demand, the only way forward is to recognise the need for ongoing external inputs to rural water institutions over and above any enabling environment.

It is suggested that the mechanism to achieve these necessary inputs is by promoting the ‘utilitisation’ of rural water. This means supporting existing supply agents to become customer and commercially-oriented organisations, professionalising community water providers and for urban utilities, at all scales, to begin absorbing rural areas into their service area. This as a means of institutionalising the long-term support that ‘piped on premises’ rural water supply requires. However imperfect, urban utilities have been co-evolving into something approaching a customer and commercially-oriented service provider. Not only are they closer in cultural terms to rural communities there is the added potential of eventually being able to cross-subsidise rural as well as low-income urban consumers from the urban revenue base. However, supporting services so far in advance of effective demand will require capital subsidies to continue.

Am allowed ‘6 slides’ and 8 minutes to present this … fun! So having to omit, amongst other details, a couple of slides illustrating the time it took to deliver sustainable piped on premises services in one city in my country (200 years? GDP per person rising from $1,000 to $30,000 ??) and, following slide, the 'steep curve' we are expecting this generation's lower-income countries to follow .....

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