2 User financing of rural handpump water services
Updated - Thursday 11 November 2010
Authors: Richard Carter, Erik Harvey and Vincent Casey
It is probable that at least one billion people rely on water supplied by handpumps. Over the last 20 years it may be that double that number of handpumps has been installed in Africa and Asia. Hundreds of thousands have fallen into disrepair. Many provide unreliable services. At any one time about one third of all handpumps which are supposed to be in service are not. Numerous issues contribute to this failure of handpumps to provide sustainable services, but the adequacy of financial flows to cover recurrent costs is fundamental.
This paper focuses on the financial viability of handpump water supply services, while placing this topic within the wider picture of water supply service sustainability. We take Len Abrams’ definition of sustainability (“... continues to work over time”) as the starting point, with all that this apparently simple phrase implies. Functionality data and estimates provide a snapshot of the state of services at a particular moment in time, but they cannot on their own tell us about the underlying reasons for the sustainability or otherwise of a service. We briefly present a conceptual framework for sustainable water supply services, which is fully consistent with the “community management plus” model of Baumann (2006). We highlight two key requirements for sustainability, namely financial viability (the main subject of this paper) and external support (including recurrent cost-sharing with water users by Government). We show that the typical revenues raised in rural communities served by handpumps (in the order of USD30-40 per year) may be sufficient for minor repairs and preventive maintenance, but that these sums are insufficient to cover the full life cycle costs, which Baumann estimates as about 7 times this figure. There is a mismatch between the aspirations of the water supply professions and user communities, on one hand, and on the other the ability or willingness of those same players to pay for the full costs of the service. Until this gap is bridged, sustainable handpump services may remain a dream.
We conclude by calling on all players to recognise the importance of financial viability, and to design appropriate cost-sharing arrangements to enable sustainable service provision. We recommend more in-depth research into the true life cycle costs of handpumps, including the variability of those costs across countries, across technologies and within the same country and technology. We need to understand much more about the experiences of communities with handpump maintenance. And finally we recommend programmes of action research around innovative mechanisms for revenue generation, and alternative approaches to O&M supportwhich are not simply based on individual communities’ responsibilities for their own handpumps.