Water policy is often designed and implemented without negotiation with or participation from the intended beneficiaries. This is often the case in the implementation of global water policy initiatives that aim to benefit rural households in the developing world. Evidence of water policy responding to the locally defined preferences of the rural majority without improved water services is weak. Significant efforts have made to unpack quantity, quality and source attributes of domestic water supply to the least well-served populations in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. This effort has been limited to evaluating individual attributes in relation to health, productivity and usage criteria rather than a ‘user evaluation’ of these attributes together. The advantage of the latter approach is that trade-offs between attributes can be estimated to provide parameters for each attribute and marginal rates of substitution between attributes. A choice experiment in rural South Africa examines the preferences of households to changes in domestic water sources, water quantity, water quality, stream-flow failure and productive uses of domestic water. Trade-offs in rural household domestic water preferences estimate welfare coefficients that provide a ‘user evaluation’ of water policy interventions. The findings provide defensible estimates of the magnitude and direction of the utility gain/loss from water attributes that allows a more evidenced-based understanding of rural households' preferences to water policy interventions.

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