A Promising New Approach to Water Coverage
Convenient access to water is a critical determinant of safe water use. For example, when a single 20-liter jerrycan of water weighs nearly 45 lbs., it is not surprising that consumers place a high value on the ability to collect water as near to their homes as possible. We sought to quantify the relationship between convenience and safe water consumption in order to strengthen the viability of our current operating systems and further satisfy community needs.
"This model represents a cost-effective approach to increasing safe water consumption and reducing per-liter production costs by up to 56%."
In Ghana, our approach has been to install “remote kiosks”. These kiosks are staffed by a single operator and are connected to a single main purification site through pipeline. We currently operate eight kiosks in four communities. This model represents a cost-effective approach to increasing safe water consumption; furthermore, installing remote kiosks also reduces per-liter production costs by up to 56%.
Safe Water Network’s Early Challenges in Ghana
Safe Water Network has been active in Ghana since 2009, when we established five water systems in the peri-urban communities of Amasaman, Obeyeyie, Oduman, and Pokuase, and the rural community of Dzemeni. Alongside implementing water systems, we collaborated with researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH), who conducted an independent impact assessment; this research provided insight to an effective working model.
Household penetration and distance from site in Pokuase.
The geographic distribution of consumers was assessed within 500m of each Station. It was determined that the average safe water consumer lived approximately 124m from a Safe Water Station. This information provides evidence for decreased water usage with households located farther from the kiosk station. The results for Pokuase are reflective of this general trend. While community-wide adoption in Pokuase was roughly 33%, this was enormously dependent on distance – from 85% of households within 100m of the station to just 10% of households located more than 200m from the station. From this analysis, we concluded that a higher level of safe water usage in the community could be achieved by providing consumers with access near their homes, which ultimately is located closer than 500m.
Dzemeni and Pokuase: Success in Two Settings
Safe Water Network established its first two remote kiosks in Dzemeni in May of 2011, followed by three remote kiosks in Pokuase five months later. Dzemeni is a rural market center and fishing village of roughly 8,000 people on the shores of Lake Volta. Of the five communities where systems were launched, Dzemeni is the poorest. The lake represents an abundant, albeit contaminated, source of water. According to the initial assessment in 2008, 80% of residents relied on surface water as their primary water source. With few alternatives available, Safe Water Network’s water station was able to quickly achieve high levels of adoption – an estimated 72% of households community-wide used the station by the time of the 2010 follow-up assessment.
Dzemini and Pokuase kiosk sales.
In contrast, Pokuase is a peri-urban community of some 16,000 people on the outskirts of Accra where 70% of residents relied on sachets as their primary source of drinking water, but also accessed public wells, bottled water, piped systems, and other sources. Due to the wide variety of available alternatives,, adoption Safe Water Station water progressed at a slower pace; At follow-up, approximately 33% of households were using water from the station.
Given these demographic and geographic differences, it is notable that the introduction of remote kiosks led to similar results. In both communities, sales of safe water roughly doubled in the first month. It is challenging to determine the proportion of the increase attributable to the remote kiosk because sales are highly seasonal (increased usage during the dry seasons). Surveys display a 74% and 500% increases in Dzemeni and Pokuase, respectively. However, it should be noted that Safe Water Network implemented a series of improvements, including expanded education programs and pricing promotions, in 2010 and 2011 which may have significantly contributed to increased usage. Regardless, there is a significant difference between pre-kiosk and post-kiosk sales.
Cost per liter of water in Dzemeni and Pokuase.
The increased water sales, combined with the low incremental operating costs of the remote kiosks, significantly improved the Safe Water Stations economics in Dzemeni and Pokuase. Total system cost per liter declined by 33% and 56% in Dzemeni and Pokuase, respectively, after the remote kiosks were installed. In Dzemeni, the kiosk installation shifted from an unprofitable operation to a profitable one.
However, details of these volume shifts differed between communities. Dzemeni, with its high initial rate of adoption of kiosks, experienced declines at the main site; this may, be due to some of the more distant households shifting their consumption to the remote kiosks. Nonetheless, volume roughly doubled overall. As adoption rates began at 72%, the increase must be largely due to increased consumption per user. Alternatively, in Pokuase, where initial adoption rates were lower, remote kiosks did not cause a decline in sales at the main site; In fact, volume increases may have been due to new customers attracted by the kiosk’s proximity.
Sales after one year in Dzemeni from kiosks.
Increased sales have sustained over time at both sites. While there is significant month-to-month fluctuation due to seasonality and other factors, total system volumes have been consistently above levels experienced before the remote kiosks were introduced. In Dzemeni, remote kiosks consistently represent the majority of overall sales since their launch.
Promising Early Results for New Remote Kiosks
Additional remote kiosks were launched in Obeyeyie and Oduman in October 2012. These sites, like Pokuase, are peri-urban communities near Accra; however, the population is significantly smaller (approximately 5,000 total). Household adoption in the month before the kiosks were launched was 73% in Obeyeyie and 34% in Oduman. The short-term impacts of the kiosks on overall sales volumes vary between villages. The introduction of remote kiosks coincided with significant unrelated challenges: there were difficulties securing required quantities of source water and Ghana was also experiencing severe electricity shortages, which interfered with pumping to the sites. In addition, remote kiosks in Obeyeyie and Oduman were initially served solely through irregular truck delivery until the completion of pipelines in January 2013. Slight impacts were achieved in the first three months after the kiosk introduction. Despite this fact, average sales volumes in the four months prior to introduction compared to sales volumes four months after introduction show a 60% increase in both communities with a cost-per-liter reduction of 22% in Obeyeyie and 27% in Oduman.
Volume sold in kiosks in Obeyeyie and Oduman.
These findings enable us to begin quantifying the value placed on convenience by Safe Water Station consumers. Overall, remote kiosks have shown themselves to represent one cost-effective approach to increasing the coverage of community-level water systems, even where household adoption rates are already high.
Many questions remain to be answered and focus on optimal location and sizes of remote kiosks, benefit analysis between remote kiosks vs. truck delivery, and determining the most effective water intervention options.
A key priority is to ensure the reliable collection of consumer data, including number of customers, demographics, and socioeconomic factors, from all points of sale, so that future purchasing behavior can be analyzed in greater detail. Now that remote kiosks are operational in four communities, we are also seeking to complete an additional round of whole-community GPS mapping to further understand the geographical patterns of safe water use over time.
Mid to long-term objectives at these sites include expanding safe water services to additional communities, and understanding points of sale within each community (e.g. remote kiosks, standpipes attached to an automatic payment system, and household connections).