When Access To Improved Water Points Does Not Lead to Use: Understanding Consumption Patterns in Burkina Faso

Posted on 06/02/2015 by Julia Boulenouar

The correlation between access to drinking water, health, nutrition and other development indicators is well known. At sector level, this often translates into the requirement to allocate additional funding to new infrastructure (in the rural sector, mainly to water points), that would naturally lead to widespread use by households, attracted by convenience and quality of service.

A recent household study from IRC in the Sahel Region, shows that even in villages where access rates exceed 100%, a large proportion of households either compliment their domestic water consumption at informal water points, or rely on them for all their needs. Overall, only 56% of the households surveyed use formal, or improved, water points for their domestic use.

Understanding factors leading to these consumption patterns reveal interesting findings:

  • Convenience is key to households’ decision: distance and crowding are critical in households’ decision making and most people are only ready to wait up to 30 minutes at a formal water point before reverting to informal, unsafe sources;
  • Perception of water quality is key and most households consuming water from informal water points consider the water of better quality and taste than the water from formal sources.
  • Financial capacity is not a determinant of household choice, given that all households have similar financial capacities and households combining use of formal and informal sources are up to date in their payments.

On the basis of these findings, it is crucial for the sector to ‘nudge’ people towards using improved services after ensuring these offer good quality of service and safe water. Below are a few examples of how this may be achieved:

Focus on reducing waiting time at water points by:

  • Reducing the current crowding standards (a maximum of 300 people per water point)
  • Taking into account productive uses into the design standards of water points

Ensure adequate water quality by:

  • Regularly monitoring water quality at water points, to ensure people are encouraged to use water that is (truly) potable. This is particular of concern in a country where water source pollution is a consistent challenge and irregular water quality testing, the norm in rural areas.
  • Improve adequate water quality of informal water sources to reduce consumption risks.

Although some of these findings confirm intuitions (e.g. improved convenience obviously leads to greater use), others contradict some of the sector’s widespread beliefs, such as that water costs too much and better water quality automatically leads to increased use.

Overall the findings highlight the importance for the sector to take steps to more systematically understand the demands and consumption patterns of users, in order to adjust standards and adapt ‘the offer’ to something that will really be valued and used. 

The full blog in French is available here