The performance of piped water systems versus handpumps in rural growth centres

By  Dr. Christelle Pezon, IRC

Piped water systems provide a better service than handpumps, at a lower cost. This conclusion is derived from the in-depth study of the water provision in four rural growth centres (2500 to 7500 people), in Sahel, the poorest region of Burkina Faso (Pezon, 2013).

It is not surprising that standpipes and household taps provide a better service than handpumps: they are closer, offset the effort of pumping, and provide safe water. What may be more surprising is the level of demand for this type of service, whose tariff is 10 times higher than a hand pump for a user consuming 10 to 20 litres per day.

More surprising is the fact that this higher level of service comes at a lower cost (see table).

Table 1: Unit costs for supplying piped and hand pumped water in four rural growth centres (USD, 2011)

Gasseliki Mansilla Syetenga Titabé
Investment/ user 84 63 131 104 111 154 111 120
Recurrent cost/user/year 4 6 6 8 5 11 5 8

In the WASH sector, piped water is commonly regarded as an unaffordable water supply modality for rural areas. The population density is too low to establish and run sustainable networks. Our study shows that this is not necessarily the case, and that investment in piped systems is cost-effective starting at 1800 inhabitants.

Investment per capita

Figure 1: Investment per capita to supply hand pumped or piped water to 1500 to 3500 inhabitants

The minimum population size can be even lower  if all uses are considered, that is where the production capacity is adjusted to meet rural water needs. We all know that rural dwellers have needs beyond the purely domestic ( drinking, cooking, washing) – ,especially in arid and semi-arid locations like the Sahel. Most of their water requirement is actually for productive use (activities that generate food and/or income).

A quantity of 60 litres per capita per day is acknowledged as a basic level to meet domestic and productive use in rural areas. This means 10,000 m3 per year to cover the domestic and productive use (60 l/c/d) of a village of 500 people. This is roughly the capacity of the Titabé network.

The figure below shows the largest cost component by far for hand-pumped water provision is the support directed to community based organisations (CBOs) that manage the hand pumps and water authorities to plan and oversee CBOs.

cost components

Figure 2: Cost components for piped water and handpumps (USD 2011)

In the case of hand pumps, all recurrent costs except operating costs are primarily aid-funded in the villages we studied. Only operating costs are covered by users through the tariff. If hand pumps look more affordable than piped water, it is because we usually cannot see that 10 to 20 times the contribution of users is being spent to coordinate and manage the water point sources.

This raises serious concern about aid-effectiveness. What is the logic of subsidising a service delivery model that provides lower service quality at higher unit costs, offers no assurance on the quality of the water provided and keeps the poor in the water poverty trap?




About Carmen da Silva Wells

Working on sanitation and hygiene behavior change, knowledge sharing and storytelling. Learner, lover of life, colour & people who make me laugh.

6 comments on “The performance of piped water systems versus handpumps in rural growth centres

  1. Great blog Christelle! This post is very revealing and shows exactly why we should be looking at expenditure across the full life-cycle of services and ALL expenditure, not only the ones required during implementation. Support costs are a critical component to take into account. But we need more data from different countries as well and an easy way to share it. I expect that the WASHCost Calculator should be able to address some of that need in the short term, although we will continue to need this kind of high quality research and analysis specific to one context in order to update sector benchmarks. Thanks.

  2. Great article. Do you have any information regarding the differences in costs (CAPEX and OPEX) for standpipes vs. house service connections in urban areas? That would also be very interesting. Thanks!

    • Dear Greg, Christelle sent this reply and requested I post on her behalf

      Dear Greg,
      No I don’t have the CapEx and OpEx for stand pipe and private connection in urban areas.
      We have done some work in peri-urban Ouaga but only on SP not on private connection.
      Most private connections in Ouaga are heavily subsidised by the operator (ONEA) so tariff differs considerably to investment cost.
      Similarly, the water sold at SP is highly subsidised as it is priced at the social tariff that connected users enjoy for the first 6 m3 they consume every year. Hence OpEx at SP is also difficult to determine.

      But if you have data to analyse, let me know if I can help.

      Best regards

      Christelle Pezon

  3. […] A 2013 study from Burkina Faso in west Africa, demonstrated that people are willing to pay 10 times more for the same volume of water when it is provided at a convenient public or household tap rather than a more distant hand pump. […]

  4. […] found that in Burkina Faso, it also makes lots of financial sense to shift from handpumps to small piped supplies. In many parts of Africa the start of a groundwater boom is foreseen, as farmers buy small pumps […]

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