Equity and Demand-Responsive Programming Approaches
Updated - Tuesday 29 November 2005
Demand Responsive Programming - Equity - The demand- and equity equation: a checklist
The concept of equity refers to sharing of benefits and responsibilities for water and sanitation facilities in a balanced way among different groups and different communities.
However, in the context of the water and sanitation sector, the fact that water has an economic value can come into conflict with the need to ensure everyone gets at least a minimum level of access.
This conflict lies at the heart of an important debate in the sector over the relation of the newer programme approaches? specifically demand-based approaches? to fundamental considerations of equity and the distribution of benefits in water and sanitation programmes.
Put simply, the question at issue is:
For water and sanitation programmes, what are the implications for equity of demand-driven approaches?
In the 1970s and 1980s there were repeated disappointments with the centrally planned and often supply-driven efforts in the water and sanitation sector. Projects did not result in the benefits intended. Typical problems were:
- Too many systems were not well maintained over time.
- Levels of technology were selected which could not be sustained.
- In implementing water systems, hygiene and sanitation were often overlooked.
The World Bank and many bilateral donors (Finnida, Danida, USAID...) began to adopt approaches to project design where demand responsiveness became a central feature. The point of departure for this reformulation is that water is an economic good and must be managed in that way. Furthermore, if services are to be sustained, then greater equality or balance is needed among three variables: the value of water to the consumer, the prices charged for the service and, lastly, the cost of implementing the service. Thus the focus shifted to how to create demand-responsive projects.
These projects aim for lower implementation costs, and for services that continue to be used effectively and are sustained over time.
Design and implementation considerations
Some general rules have gradually been developed that feature in the design and implementation of demand-responsive projects. These relate to eligibility, choice of technology, sharing implementation costs and, lastly, community payment and management for sustained operation.
1. Eligibility criteria
The project does not select the communities or user groups, but sets rules on how communities can become eligible for services, usually through applications and payment. Information about these rules must be disseminated broadly.
2. Technology choice and service levels
A range of technologies and service levels should be offered to each community together with clear information about their costs and the continuing financial or management implications for the community. The community selects a technology based on the amount it is willing and able to pay.
3. Cost-sharing for implementation/construction
The community pays in cash, kind, labour or a mix of these to cover a portion of the construction costs. For water schemes, one approach is for communities to pay a small percentage (usually about 5% to 20%) with the remainder being subsidised. Another approach is for the government to set a ceiling on the amount of subsidy. For example, it could set a single, fixed subsidy level for all technologies, above which the community must pay. This means that communities must make financial choices about the level of service and technology.
4. Community payment for sustained operation
Sustained operation requires local payment and management. The community may organise operation and maintenance activities directly or contract these to other groups. The issue of whether the community pays for major capital replacements still seems undecided within many projects.
Equity, like demand, is a multi-faceted issue that is, in the abstract, rather vague. Its meaning and the level or degree to which, for example, benefits and responsibilities are equitably distributed are to a great extent contextual. The fact that many supply-driven projects made large quantities of water available freely, or nearly free, often meant that subsidies benefited the bigger (and more affluent) consumer. In relation to sanitation, the issues are perhaps more complex. For example, many projects working in areas of low demand have provided (in effect) larger subsidies for certain types of latrines to more affluent families. However, to proceed much further in examining the general issue requires some attention to detail. It is essential to go beyond generalities.
The demand-and-equity equation: a checklist
Examples of pertinent issues relevant to equity in water and sanitation are listed in the following paragraphs. In order to relate them to demand-based approaches, they are clustered under the four design and implementation headings listed above.
1. Eligibility criteria:
- Do all communities have equal knowledge about the programme? Can at least one person in all households describe some requirements of the programme?
- Is it understood equally well by different groups (men and women? different ethnic groups? rich and poor?)
- Do methods of application (for example, the type of written formats, the timing and method of payments) favour one group over another, unrelated to their real demand?
Area and village selection
- Is the programme clear about the difference between eligibility criteria based on need and which arebased on demand? What does it do about this?
- Does negative political interference jeopardise fair and transparent area/village selection?
- Who is the community that is involved in water and sanitation projects and how are these community members identified? The demand-driven approach requires considerable initiative within the group of potential users. However, faced with the challenges of logistics and capacity in communities, at least some projects seem to contact and work through a few individuals who may form a barrier, rather than a bridge, to those who demand and will pay for services of their own choice.
Location and coverage
- Who selects locations of sanitary facilities and water points, and how are they selected? Does the selection process favour some groups unfairly?
- Does the current or proposed location of the facility provide fair access (taking into account technical feasibility of different locations) to women? to the poor?
Check: Why do some groups not use the service or facility?
2. Technology choice and service levels
- Is the technology selection biased in favour of richer or more powerful groups?
- Did some groups (women, for example) want less expensive technologies in terms of cash, operation and maintenance, labour? Why? What was done about this?
- When is the service available? Is this timing equally convenient to all groups (for example for richer and poorer women)?
- Who makes rules about the timing and who is consulted?
- Is the service provided to those in greatest need when they want it? What is the desired level of use for domestic purposes?
- Does the least-cost latrine technology provide a hygiene advantage over current practice?
3. Cost-sharing for implementation and construction
- Did the users of more expensive technologies receive a higher subsidy than groups with less expensive technologies?
- Is the implementation delayed a long time after the prospective users have completed their payments in cash and kind?
- Are the standposts, water points or latrines perceived to be owned by one or a very few persons? Why? Who uses the facility? For water, mapping is also a useful check for this.
4. Community payment for sustained operation
- As was noted at a meeting on Demand Responsive Approaches (Mangochi, Malawi, June 1997), "In order to ensure that disadvantaged and isolated communities are not left out in the application of the DRA, the financing and technology strategies should be appropriate for them to sustain the water services. Community participation should be committed up front and coping mechanisms should be enhanced to ensure community capacity to fully pay for O&M. A major effort should be undertaken to raise awareness of the various sources of funds and mechanisms to reach the remote and isolated areas."
- (Piped water): Are there graduated or flat water tariffs? (Point sources): Do water charges limit the amount of water taken by some families or drive them to less safe sources?
- Has the project taken a decision about replacement of equipment? Are books available and up do date? Where are the payments?
- What happens to the money that is paid by consumers? Where is it kept? How is it used in reality?
A few questions, preferably fewer than these, could serve as a basic checklist for examining the demand-and-equity equation. Answers to most of these questions can be gathered, on a small sample, with relatively little effort. In many projects, the answers to some of these questions are already known. These answers should be communicated and, where needed, acted upon?a process that may sometimes require both will and special management capacity. It should go without saying that, as part of the 'learning culture' approach, it is necessary to answer such questions and act on this information. The suggestion is that the debate begin at the policy-making level, but then go beyond it, attending to the realities of the communities in which projects and programmes are implemented. Thus, the point is to involve the practitioner?the manager, supervisor, field worker, water committee, women's group, user, politician?in investigating and acting on this important issue.
For professionals, this checklist is meant to stimulate some basic discussion. Have key issues been addressed in this checklist? Is this approach of developing and applying tools at the programming level feasible and worth the effort? Are there other strategies ‑ possibly better strategies ‑ that will address the relation of demand-sensitive approaches and needs for equity in our programming?