Sharing it out: Introducing water Demand Management Strategies for Small Towns (2001)

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A WELL Study produced under Task 513 by Paul Deverill

Executive Summary

The purpose of this report is to describe a number of practical measures that may facilitate the development of an effective water demand management strategy in small towns in developing countries. The report has been prepared primarily as a briefing document for the organisations responsible for service provision. First and foremost this includes water supply departments and municipal authorities. The document may also be useful for their project partners in the private, NGO and donor communities.

Water demand management has been defined as a practical strategy that improves the equitable,efficient and sustainable use of water. It achieves this by:

  • stressing equitable access to water, reflected in a strategy that is specifically designed to improve service delivery to the poor;
  • treating water as both an economic as well as a social good, and managing and pricing it accordingly;• balancing the management of losses and consumption with new or augmented supplies; and

• managing the change from a supply driven to a demand responsive culture.

The special situation of small towns has been reflected in both the content and presentation of this report. Small towns have several potential advantages compared to larger towns and cities, as well as a number of constraints. Both are reflected in the measures described.

The report focuses on residential and institutional consumers. The use of water by industries and farmers has not been considered. Many of the measures described, however, are both relevant and transferable.

Problem definition is a key part of an effective demand management strategy. The report describes how a combination of quantitative and qualitative techniques can be used to establish water use patterns. Critically, if service providers are expected to improve the equity of water distribution, they must be able to measure water consumption within the town boundary, and not just the consumption of consumers with direct access to piped water.

The report demonstrates the use of a water-use table (see below) to establish and monitor consumption. The percentages in the table refer to the proportion of the town’s population using each source as its principal supply.

Equity can be improved by investing directly in improving the service provision for the poor. The resources committed can be used very efficiently if a demand responsive approach is used. Alternatively, by improving the efficiency of existing services, the financial and water resources saved can be used to improve equity. This report illustrates this ‘belt and braces’ approach, focusing on five practical measures:

  • introducing a demand responsive approach to service provision;
  • improving the service provided by communal standpipes;
  • reducing revenue losses;
  • reducing physical losses; and
  • building public support for demand management.Although the first and second of these would not usually be considered as part of a water demand management strategy, they have been included because both can improve the equity and efficiency of service provision. In practice, it is neither feasible nor desirable to separate issues of supply and demand. Both must go together, with demand management providing an appropriate logic to all investments.The measures are described individually. In practice they cannot be used in isolation but would form part of a cohesive, mutually reinforcing programme. This may also include the efficient development of new water supplies or expanding the capacity of those in use.Water demand management cannot be implemented on an ad hoc basis but requires formal arrangements for project management. In practice, this can be achieved by combining measures into a number of discrete sub-projects, each with its own aim, objectives, indicators, activities, resources, budget and manager.Reflected throughout this report is the suggestion that water demand management should be introduced incrementally. This approach has a number of significant advantages.
  • it allows water service providers to learn the ‘art’ of demand management by monitoring progress, evaluating performance and refining their strategy;
  • it allows time to build public and political awareness and confidence;
  • it provides funders the opportunity to invest in pilot projects; and
  • it allows time for service providers to move from a supply driven to a demand responsive and poverty sensitive culture.The points discussed are brought together in the conclusion. This section highlights a number of important gaps in knowledge and practice that may prevent or delay the uptake of an effective demand management strategy.