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From Rationed to Rational? Improving Households’ Water Usage through Education in South Africa
Expanded Title:EXECUTIVE SUMMARY BACKGROUND The project described here implements and evaluates a water education programme among households in a group of South African township. The programme draws on education materials of the Water Research Commission to provide ordinary households with information on the water consumption process, including how to read their water meter and their bill, and how much water typical everyday activities use. RATIONALE In our study area, like in many parts of South Africa and other countries, the water market exhibits several anomalies, especially on the consumer side. Many households apparently waste water while accumulating large bills that they have difficulty paying. Responses by the water provider, such as installing restriction devices, are socially costly. In this study, we ask whether an information campaign can lead to improved water management and reduced non-payment by the households. OBJECTIVES AND AIMS The project was designed to answer the following questions: AIM 1 Can providing information change households’ water consumption (e.g., induce conservation)? How large is the change in consumption that can be achieved? AIM 2 Does providing information affect payment behaviour (e.g., the incidence of nonpayment)? AIM 3 Are the specific education materials used effective at transmitting information to households? METHODOLOGY A unique feature of the project is an emphasis on a methodologically sound implementation that allows measuring the causal effects of the education programme. The education programme is implemented as a Randomised Controlled Trial, with a “treatment” and a “control” group of 500 households each. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Aim 1 Our education campaign caused an increase in households’ self-reported conservation practices. As expected, we find no change in households’ average consumption, but see a decrease of about 10% for the largest consumers. These patterns are consistent with a positive effect on conservation, with some households substituting more water-intensive activities with less-water-intensive ones. Aim 2 Our education campaign caused a substantial increase in payments. In response to our programme, households increased their payments by 25-30% over a three-month period, and the incidence of non-payment declined by 4-5%. Aim 3 Our education campaign caused very little change in households’ knowledge. As one example, even after the campaign over 88% of households could not tell their water consumption from their water bill. Thus, the large effects of our campaign on consumption and payment were not caused by improvements in household information. After ruling out several possible explanations, we conclude that the education likely elicited psychological responses from the households. Consumers may have felt like they ‘’should’’ conserve more and pay their bills, perhaps as an expression of reciprocity for the provider’s efforts in reaching out to households through the campaign. CONCLUSIONS Water education campaigns like the one analysed here may be an effective policy to increase conservation and reduce non-payment even if they are not effective at improving households’ knowledge. In the long-run, however, providing consumers information – and ensuring that the information they already receive on their billing statement is understandable to them – is likely to be important to improve households’ water management. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH More research is needed to understand how information may be transmitted in a more effective way. Future research should also compare the effectiveness of information provision and “social pressure” campaigns (such as comparing households’ consumption to their neighbours’ or giving them explicitly prescriptive messages about what is right or wrong to do). Randomised controlled trials provide a powerful way to evaluate the causal effects of such programmes.
Date Published:01/06/2014
Document Type:Research Report
Document Subjects:Drinking water - Water supply
Document Keywords:Education, Guidelines, Society, Water Quality
Document Format:Report
Document File Type:pdf
Research Report Type:Consultant
WRC Report No:KV 332/14
ISBN No:978-1-4312-0553-0
Authors:Chiroro P; Szabo A; Ujhelyi G
Project No:K8/1013
Organizations:Impact Research International; University of Houston
Document Size:2 263 KB
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