Why It Is So Hard To Get Safe Water To The Poor – And So Profitable To Sell It To The Rich?
Why is it that the global market for bottled water is booming, with astounding annual growth rates, sometimes as high as 50 per cent, and why is the progress in providing safe water to the poor so sluggish ? Why do more than 300 children still die of diarrhoeal diseases every hour ?
It is not for the lack of affordable solutions. Solar disinfection, chlorination, filtration by slow-sand and ceramic filters, and ultraviolet treatment are all effective methods and have been scientifically proven to reduce child mortality considerably.
For some years the right solution seemed to be to provide piped water to all households, with ‘ Point of use water treatment and storage systems ‘ ( POUs ) considered either unnecessary or merely intermediate solutions. However, of late, two factors have put POUs much higher on the
development agenda :
1. First, many poor people will have to wait for quite some time until they get access to piped water, and they need a solution now.
2. Second, even if piped water is available, it can be contaminated or re-contaminated on the way to the user, either by leaks in the piped system or by re-contamination during transport and storage.
There is thus a huge need for POUs that treat water and make it safe just before it is consumed. Several studies have shown that diarrhoeal diseases can be reduced considerably when sanitation and hygiene standards are improved.
POUs lack good dissemination and marketing strategies.
Many POU systems are poorly marketed and have considerable deficiencies in respect of the five Ps of marketing :
1. The products are not very suitable, practical or well designed. If anything, they are practical but do not look like ‘ must-have ‘ products.
2. The pricing of POUs is not attractive for either buyer or seller. While mobile phones can be paid for in instalments while being used, water filters need to be paid for upfront in cash.
3. There is no obvious point-of-sale to buy POUs because there is no money in it for retailers.
4. Promotion leaves much to be desired, even when it is present, despite the fact that safe water may require
5. People ( the 5th P ) do not automatically put safe water high on their agenda, and there is very little continual social marketing to influence them. They claim they do not have 10 dollars to buy a filter but may spend much higher amounts on beer, cosmetics and other less-essential consumer goods.
For POUs to take hold would require a marketing campaign similar to that used with insecticide-treated mosquito nets. This means a concerted and comprehensive action programme involving the public and private sectors to bring about change and to scale-up dissemination from tens of thousands of POUs per year to tens of millions. We hope that this book provides inputs and suggestions for bringing POUs to that other, higher, level of dissemination. This will only be possible if the level of funding inputs is comparable to that used for mosquito nets.
Senior Water Advisor
SDC Swiss Agency for Development
ABOUT THIS PUBLICATION
Author : Urs Heierli is an economist ( Ph.D., University of St . Gallen ).
From 1987 to 1999 he served as country director of SDC – the Swiss
Agency for Development and Cooperation in Bangladesh and India.
During a subsequent sabbatical, he wrote the study ‘ Poverty Alleviation
as a Business ‘ and then joined the Employment and Income
Division at SDC head office in Berne. In November 2003, he launched
his own consulting company, msd consulting ( Markets, Sustainability
and Development ) in Berne, to focus further on the market creation
approach to development.
Foreword : François Muenger, Senior Water Advisor, SDC
Peer review: Armon Hartmann, former Senior Water Advisor, SDC
Editor : Paul Osborn, Médiateurs, Netherlands
Photos : Urs Heierli, Population Services International ( Waterguard ),
G . Allgood, Procter & Gamble ( PUR Photos ), Antenna Technologies
( WATA photos ), SODIS Foundation ( SODIS new designs ).
Design/layout : Claudia Derteano, Isabelle Christ
Copyright : SDC – Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation,
Employment and Income Division / Urs Heierli ( msd consulting ),
1st Edition : September 2008, printed in India
Copies : Hard copies are available from :
SDC Social Development Division ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) and
SDC Employment and Income Division ; ( email@example.com )
Electronic copies can be downloaded from :
www.deza.admin.ch/themes ; www.poverty.ch/safewater ;
Film clips : A companion CD with many film clips is in the back
cover of this book. The clips are also available for download from
This publication is supported by :
Employment and Income Division and
Social Development Division
SDC – Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation
This publication is co-published by :
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