The second Leadership Webinar in CMF 2.0 follows on from the first, this time looking at Universal Access and Removing Entry Barriers for the Poor and Vulnerable. One of the great side-effect of the pandemic and the travelling reset is that we no longer have to wait for sponsorship for funding delegates to visit a workshop before we can share. Again we had the excellent Shri Mathi Vathanan from Odisha with the lead speaker being Ms D Thara, IAS, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India in Delhi.
My role, thanks Chary !, was to share again global experiences, based on joint research we had undertaken nearly twenty years ago which was called 'Charging to enter the Water Shop?'.
This project had asked the question why the water sector expects new customers to 'pay to enter the water shop' when, of course, a supermarket would never think of doing this. The answer of course is related to the massive capital expenditure needed to connect everyone - but it remains unreasonable (unacceptable even) to expect the poorest to pay this charge.
From the slide it is possible to see that our original research had found that across the four countries we studied it cost, on average, $295 to acquire a functioning piped water connection (including all costs, fees, charges, 'enabling' charges etc.) which, as we said then 'is not affordable for dollar a day households.'
ASCI had undertaken some recent research across India to understand present day connection fees - do watch the video of the webinar on YouTube to see more.
Part of my contribution was to emphasise the 'Right' to a 'free' connection, and to connections in unplanned/informal housing areas also, as Odisha has so impressively demonstrated but also to stress that with that Right comes the Responsibilities both at Household level - to use water wisely and pay, and keep paying, affordable tariffs, AND at Service Provider level - that is to enable and support households, particularly poor households, to manage their water usage (including wastage and leakage) and to manage, as easily as possible, the payment of their water bills.
To help in the understanding of all of this, I shared the Edwards and Martin figure from 1995 which then was looking at unmeasured consumption in the Anglian water region of England. Although the 'long tail' of consumption looks to be at very low frequency of occurrence, adding it all up suggests that without managing that long tail, the water provider could be experiencing 56% 'leakage' just from over-consumption alone.
One way of addressing this, I have suggested, is to consider the use of 'Analogue Pre-Paid meters' - electronic versions (see Heymans et al, World Bank) costing too much and, at least when the Africa research was undertaken, being too prone to early failure.
So we are proposing the use of lockable meters, of a design more common in north America, the Caribbean and the Philippines, which can be easily closed, in the India case with a trickle flow design, so as to be able to 'pause' full supply when a customer's 'security deposit' has been used up. This then prevents the customer going into debt and enables the service provider to manage water consumption, referring again to the Edwards & Martin figure above.
In Johannesburg, see the quote above, the impact on water consumption in low-income areas was dramatic - but that was with the short-life electronic versions.
So the presentation, strongly supporting 'free 'household water connections for the poorest, also supported 'no-cost' 'pause' approaches, along with easy mobile-based micro-payment facilities and consumption warnings.