This article presents the results of a study of water service performance in four small towns in the Sahel Region in Burkina Faso. It shows that water supplied via small piped water systems to tap stands is cheaper per user than water supplied via hand pumps as well as providing better quality service. The comparison of life-cycle costs highlights that the cost of supporting the organisation and management of hand pump services disqualifies this type of access on an economic level. Furthermore, comparison of the levels of service actually delivered to the people shows that piped water systems meet the demand and can have a positive impact on development, whereas hand pumps are part of a survival-oriented approach that is dependent on international assistance.

## Introduction

The past decade has been marked by rapid urbanisation. This historical phenomenon takes various forms. In areas usually considered to be rural, small towns are springing up and the technology usually associated with urban areas is seeping in. This is also happening in the water sector with the construction of thousands of small piped water systems in semi-urban centres of a few thousand inhabitants which supply public tap stands or even households, with private connections on the premises. The past decade has also been marked by the increasing decentralisation of responsibility for water and sanitation services to the local authorities. In West Africa, public service delegation is usually the favoured management choice for these systems, and this has spurred both market development and the emergence of private operators.

Despite being landlocked and predominantly rural, Burkina Faso (population 16.5 million) is no stranger to this trend. Today, 77% of Burkinabe people live in rural areas and half the urban population lives in the capital, Ouagadougou. But the rural environment has changed. Since 1985, the number of villages with fewer than 200 inhabitants has halved. In 1985, two out of three villages had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants whereas by 2006, half boasted populations of more than 1,000. In 2006, 60% of rural dwellers lived in ‘villages’ of more than 2,000 inhabitants, half of which were small towns of 5,000–10,000 people. By 2050, the urban population is predicted to be either equal to the rural population (22–24 million), or to be double their number (33 million in urban areas as against 16 million in rural areas) (Ministère de l'Economie et des Finances; MEF, 2009).

For the past 10 years, the type of water access available to villagers and the inhabitants of small towns in Burkina Faso has changed. Villages with populations of more than 3,500 are now equipped with small pressurised piped water systems which supply water through tap stands and a few on-the-premises connections for private households. These systems supplement the service hitherto provided by hand pumps. Hand pumps remain the only improved water source in villages of fewer than 3,500 inhabitants and are managed by community structures (Water User Associations (WUA)). In small towns, hand pumps will remain managed by a WUA, while town water will be managed by an operator (privately owned or an association). In the Sahel Region of Burkina Faso, all the piped water systems are managed by the same operator, FasoHydro.

In theory, pressurised water supply should offer a better quality service than hand pumps. Tap stands should bring water closer to the people or even to the home (on-the-premises connections) and supply a smaller number of users (120–170 users per tap) than hand pumps (300 users) (Table 1). As the price is linked to the expected level of service, water at a tap stand is much more expensive than at a hand pump. A user must pay the equivalent of 500 FCFA per m3 (1 US$/m3) when collecting water at a tap stand whereas an annual contribution of 250 FCFA per person per year (0.5 US$/p/y) is required to access a hand pump.

Table 1.

Water access indicators for hand pumps and tap stands.

QuantityQualityDistanceCrowding
Access to service > 20 l/c/d In compliance with WHO standards TS ≤ 500 m HP ≤ 1 km PC ≤ 10 c/d HP ≤ 300 c/d TS ≤ 500 c/d
QuantityQualityDistanceCrowding
Access to service > 20 l/c/d In compliance with WHO standards TS ≤ 500 m HP ≤ 1 km PC ≤ 10 c/d HP ≤ 300 c/d TS ≤ 500 c/d

TS: tap stand (three or four taps per stand); HP: hand pump; PC: private connection; c: capita; d: day; l: litres.

#### Higher operating and capital maintenance costs for piped systems but these decrease as the number of users increases

In terms of operation and capital maintenance, supply through piped systems is more costly than via hand pumps (Figure 6).
Fig. 6.

Recurrent cost per capita per year for providing water through hand pump or small piped scheme.

Fig. 6.

Recurrent cost per capita per year for providing water through hand pump or small piped scheme.

The operation of hand pumps costs from $0.40–1.10 per user per year as against$1.70–3.60 for piped systems6. The capital maintenance expenditure for hand pumps varies from 0 to $1.80 per user and per year as against$0.10 or $0.20 for piped systems which, we must recall, date back only to 2009. A provision of between$1 and $1.60 per person is set aside to fund future capital maintenance of the piped systems. At this stage, it is important to recall that the costs are calculated on the basis of past financial expenditure: these are not the ideal costs but observed costs. For a hand pump to be replaced after 30 years – the estimated lifespan of a hand pump in Burkina Faso – the equivalent of$2.60 should be set aside per person per year (excluding inflation). However, no provision is made by either hand pump managers or the local authorities to renew this infrastructure.

For the two sites where data on hand pump capital maintenance expenditure was available (Gasséliki and Mansila), the gap between the unit costs of the two types of equipment (excluding the provision) is very small: the piped water systems of Gasséliki and Mansila cost respectively $0.40 and$0.70 more per user per year than hand pumps.

However, the unit cost of operating the piped systems decreases as the amount of water distributed increases. It drops from $0.66/m3 per year for 5,000 m3 distributed to$0.43/m3 for 12,000 m3 distributed. In contrast, the unit cost of operating a hand pump increases as the volume distributed increases: it rises from $0.11/m3 for a hand pump supplying 7,800 m3 per year to$0.25/m3 for a hand pump supplying an annual volume of 14,500 m3. Its capital maintenance unit cost increases by 50% under the same circumstances. In Mansila, where there is the largest piped system (4,500 theoretical users), each m3 distributed by the system costs $0.44 per year in operating and capital maintenance costs, as against$0.68 per year for hand pumps.

#### Support costs that blow the life-cycle costs of hand-pump service delivery out of the water

Services provided by hand pumps are considerably more expensive in terms of support than piped systems. Less than $1 per user per year for a piped system, support expenditure varies between$4.5 and $9.5 per hand pump user per year. The support received by hand pump managers (WUA) and local authorities to organise water services using hand pumps is much greater than the support that the piped water system manager and the local authorities receive specifically to organise their piped services. Finally, a piped water system costs less per year per user, including provision for capital maintenance, than the per-user cost of hand pump support alone, excluding pump operation and rehabilitation costs. Overall, in terms of capital investment the cost of piped water supply is comparable to the supply via hand pumps, even in the case of the small system in Titabé whose capacity is limited to 1,500 people. In terms of recurrent expenditure, water supply via a piped system is clearly cheaper per actual user than supply by hand pump (Table 4). Table 4. Life-cycle cost of water supplied by piped scheme or hand pump (US$ 2011).

Gasséliki
Mansila
Seytenga
Titabé
Piped schemeHand pumpPiped schemeHand pumpPiped schemeHand pumpPiped schemeHand pump
Investment cost/user 84 63 131 104 111 154 111 120
Recurrent cost/user/year 11
Gasséliki
Mansila
Seytenga
Titabé
Piped schemeHand pumpPiped schemeHand pumpPiped schemeHand pumpPiped schemeHand pump
Investment cost/user 84 63 131 104 111 154 111 120
Recurrent cost/user/year 11

This observation confirms the economic theory that over a certain size it is cheaper to distribute water via a piped system than in a decentralised manner. Networks (whether for water supply, electricity, communication, or transport, etc.) benefit from increasing returns: within the limits of the installed capacity, each additional m3 produced or each additional user supplied costs less than the previous one. Therefore, it is economically justified to adopt a piped system rather than decentralised distribution (via hand pumps) once the average or unit cost of piped distribution is less than the average or unit cost of decentralised distribution. This is the case on all four sites studied.

## Discussion and conclusion

### Piped water supply services perform better

It is less costly to supply users via tap stands than by hand pumps, while at the same time they deliver a better level of service. This is the case in Gasséliki, Mansila, Seytenga and even in Titabé, where the piped system's capacity is only 1,500 people or 10,000 m3.

This type of service is affordable for a large enough demand and the extension of these piped systems should be encouraged rather than rehabilitating hand pumps or working to support WUA. Not only is the overall performance of the 200 WAUs in the eight communes after 6 years of continuous support fairly unsatisfactory, none of those in the four small towns is operational at all. In Gasséliki, Mansila, Seytenga and Titabé an increase in demand (number of users or volume) at the tap stands would lower the unit cost of piped water supply without harming the quality of the service delivered to the end user. An increase in demand at hand pumps would lower the level of service (already very mediocre in the dry season) and would increase its unit cost.

This study shows that the threshold of 3,500 inhabitants that currently determines which type of equipment will be funded by the Ministry of Water, should be reconsidered. Up to 3,500 inhabitants, a ‘village’ cannot hope for better than hand pumps within the national framework. However, our data indicate that it is economically more advantageous to construct small solar-powered piped water systems starting from 1,800 inhabitants (Figure 7).
Fig. 7.

Investment cost per capita to supply water through hand pumps or piped scheme from 1,500 to 3,500 inhabitants.

Fig. 7.

Investment cost per capita to supply water through hand pumps or piped scheme from 1,500 to 3,500 inhabitants.

### Price distortions

Local inhabitants are not encouraged to fetch their water at the tap stands, rather the opposite. The prices recommended by the Ministry of Water clearly position the piped water systems as a luxury service whereas the water at the hand pumps must be financially accessible to all. The regulations stipulate that each household must pay a minimal charge of 2,500 FCFA per year ($5 per year for an average family of 10 people) to have access to the hand pumps and take the equivalent of 20 l per person per day. At the tap stands users pay according to volume the equivalent of 500 FCFA ($1) per m3.

This explains why the service at the tap stand is more costly for users than that at the hand pumps. The user of a hand pump does not see that support worth from 10 to 20 times his annual contribution is provided to offer him this service.

The price does not play the same role in financing the two types of service. The price of water at the hand pump must be able to cover the upkeep costs (care and maintenance) of this infrastructure. The price of water at tap stands must be able to cover the upkeep costs, operating costs, part of the capital maintenance costs, the support and the profits of the operator.

### Development assistance: assisting who and why

The fact that every year, expenditure on supporting the organisation and management of hand pump services costs double the actual management of a piped water service is perplexing to say the least. Indeed, there is no logical justification for subsidising a lower quality and more costly service to such an extent. The inclusion of support expenditure in calculating the cost of access to water and being able to document it would help to better understand this phenomenon.

More radical critics of development aid range from those who, like J. Sachs (Sachs, 2005) call for a massive increase in development aid, to those who, like Easterly and Moyo call (Easterly, 2001; Moyo, 2009), on the contrary, for this regime to cease because it is counterproductive to its main objective: the development of countries and populations. Increased aid for hand pump water services would mean water quality could be tested and broken-down hand pumps rehabilitated. Stopping aid could plausibly lead to more frequent interruptions of the hand pump service and to a higher rate of breakdowns. In the Sahel Region, hand pumps could no longer fulfil their current role of replacing the non-improved sources that dry up at the height of the dry season.

Our objective here is not to decide one way or the other, but rather to reiterate that development assistance is meant to enable development and not to perpetuate development assistance and support the associated stakeholders. The financing allocated to hand pump services is not part of a development strategy but one of assistance. It is responding to an immediate situation. But hand pumps are no more accessible than non-improved sources and their water costs. More worrying still, the water may be polluted. It is not rare to find boreholes in Burkina Faso that the villagers call arsenic boreholes. What type of impact in terms of public health can we expect from a so-called improved source where the water quality is not regularly tested and that is a 2 km walk away? What type of impact in terms of income or well-being can we expect from water carried up to 1 km and which requires such investment in time and effort?

We expect better access to water to spur development arising from improved health and more spare time available to take up other activities, whether income generating or not. At best hand pumps enable people to stay in their villages and survive. The aim of development assistance is thus to uphold the right to water providing the water quality is regularly tested. Is it possible to control the quality of the water distributed by 40,000 hand pumps when we know that in France the regular control of 8,000 water catchments is problematic? Should household water treatment at the point of consumption be promoted and supported too?

Piped water distribution promotes development on several levels. Firstly because the water supplied is drinkable and a piped system can be extended and the scale of the service can be gradually expanded, with an increasing impact on development. We know that drinking water may be safe when it is drawn but may not be by the time it is consumed. Studies have even shown that a household connection alone may have a significant impact on health (Howard & Bartram, 2003; Günther & Günther, 2010). Piped water distribution brings the point of supply closer to the point of consumption. Doing this reduces the risk of contamination as well as reducing the time spent on water chores. Furthermore, its average cost diminishes with the increase in quantity of water distributed. Over a certain number of users, the marginal cost of supply is so low that the poorest could be supplied under acceptable economic conditions.

The problem is not so much the abrupt increase or interruption of development assistance than its effectiveness. What are the obstacles to redeploying aid to types of access that bring development and therefore will be sustainable in the long-term?

The key is not to subsidise water but its access. Sound studies have shown that, as much in the field of water as in that of energy, equity requires not that water (or electricity) be subsidised, which only favours those already supplied, but its access (Komives et al., 2005). It is therefore not a matter of subsidising operation (to lower the price) but of extending the service by building new tap stands and connecting village households.

1

Population estimated in 2011, on the basis of the 2006 INSD census and an annual demographic growth rate of 3% (regional average).

2

Unit costs could alternatively be calculated per m3. Here, we consider unit costs per capita as capita is the unit being used for planning purposes in Burkina Faso.

3

For a detailed presentation of the methodology and the service scale tool, see Pezon (2012) and Pezon & Bassono (2013).

4

For a consumption of 15 l per day, a user would pay about 2,700 FCFA per year at a tap stand (500 FCFA per m3) whereas the annual contribution to access a hand pump is 250 FCFA per capita.

5

For a detailed analysis of life-cycle costs of hand pumps and piped water systems, see Pezon (2013).

6

The same magnitude is observed when unit costs are calculated per m3.

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