On willingness to pay for water

Published on Thursday, 18 July 2013

Published by on Thursday, 18 July 2013

Written by Lu Shen, Senior Urban Development Specialist

The interesting thing about water is that the average person never thinks about it the same way as they do about electricity, or mobile phones. Even here in Manila, I am diligent about paying my electricity bills or cable bills, grumbling but paying nevertheless because heaven forbid if I should have to go without my wifi or Fashion Police.  But in the case of water, I am surprised if the bill is more than a thousand pesos (about $23) every quarter, and outraged for my neighbors in an adjacent building where they are billed a few thousand pesos more every three months because their central cooling system requires additional use of water. 

If that is my behavior, despite knowing a bit more about the water sector than your average joe, then it isn’t at all surprising that your average joe in the developing countries would behave exactly the same way.

Willingness to pay for water has been and will continue to be a challenge.  The average consumer would prioritize their expenditures, and like it or not, water isn’t on the top of that priority list. Despite the capital-intensive nature of the water supply business, the value of piped water and the perceived value of piped water simply do not match.  

What does this mean for the work that we do in our region? Simply put, it is about educating both the government and consumers alike on the value of water.  In practical terms, this would mean two things: first is providing information: information about the difference between raw water and treated water, information on the process of water treatment, information about the macro changes in the environment that attribute more and more towards the scarcity of water. Second is creating incentives: if one does not pay for water, then one does not get water. If the system is more efficient in shutting off water supply upon non-payment, one would quickly realize the inconvenience of not having water.

The difficulty, though, with this education is how to do it effectively so that the culture of paying for water becomes a norm. That, readers, would be something to think further on.