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Researchers from Duke University present research findings on household demand for improved water quality

“Gina Turrini presented the research findings at the Ministry of Rural Development”

On 06 August 2012, Jenny Orgill, a PhD student in Environmental Economics; and Gina Turrini, a Master student in Public Policy, from Duke University presented their research findings on household demand for improved water quality during the monthly Water & Sanitation meeting at the Cambodian Ministry of Rural Development.

The first summer’s survey focused on household demand for improved water quality in peri-urban and rural Cambodia, with particular attention paid to the influence of water quality on willingness to pay (WTP).  The first round of analysis used responses from a survey of 915 households in Kandal Province, Cambodia using multivariate logit regressions that account for subjective perceptions of water quality.

The initial analysis suggests that there is a mean household WTP for improved water quality of about $2.80 per month for households in this sample. In addition, the majority of households believe their in-house water to be safe to drink, and there is a significant, negative relationship between perceptions of water quality and WTP for improved water quality. Moreover, we find that actual water quality levels are relatively uncorrelated with water quality perceptions, and that perceptions of quality (and thus WTP) are highly related to taste preferences.  Furthermore, initial findings from this survey suggest that households do perceive distaste for water treated with chlorine products, and that taste is an important feature of their selection of water treatment alternatives.

These findings suggest that educational interventions explaining the importance of water quality alone without correcting misconceptions about the safety of existing water supplies may only have limited effect in increasing demand for improved water quality.  In addition, a better understanding of taste preferences of households in communities without access to safe water is critical to interventions seeking to promote in-house water treatment.

Round two of the survey is currently being conducted with the same households in Kandal Province.  This summer, the study aims to isolate the role of perceptions of water quality by “shocking” the perceptions of half the households.  Water quality tests are being done at every household, but only half the households are given the information about the safety of their own water.  Then, each household is given the opportunity to purchase Aquatabs. This will allow analysis of how changing the perceptions of the households about their own water changes their willingness to pay for a water treatment product.

WaterSHED is currently an active contributor/member of the WatSan Sector Group of Cambodia, a network led by the Ministry of Rural Development, that holds monthly meetings to bring together all organizations working on water and/or sanitation to share and discuss experiences and lessons learned in the sector.