Water prepayment associated with poor hygiene practices


Cape Town, South Africa — (METERING.COM) — May 16, 2007 –A new study conducted in Johannesburg, South Africa points to hygiene behaviors being generally worse in low income households with prepaid water than in those with regular billing.

The study, conducted for the Municipal Services Project by medical researchers Farhaad Haffejee, Mickey Chopra and David Sanders, set out to investigate the impact of the global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All (WASH) campaign – and in particular hand washing practices – in a largely low income community in Johannesburg. The supply of water and associated services in the city has been contracted to the privately managed parastatal company, Johannesburg Water, which as part of its water service delivery, has implemented a large prepaid water meter pilot project in the township of Soweto.

A total of 107 households were surveyed – 51 with prepaid meters and 56 operating on deemed water consumption, i.e. credit billing based on broad volume bands and paid at the month end. All of the deemed consumption households had water available on the day of the observation, while in the prepaid households water was available in 48 (95%) of the households.

In the case of those who washed their hands using water flowing from a tap, i.e. the most desirable practice, there was a small but negligible difference between the two types of supply. However, there was a significant difference in the proportions of those who never washed their hands with flowing tap water, at 43% with deemed consumption versus 77% with prepaid meters.

The researchers suggest that the prepaid meters have created a greater awareness of the cost of water, with the payment for the water having to be made in advance and a tighter link between the volume of water consumed and the price paid.

Hand washing practices at appropriate times, such as before handling food and after using the toilet, have been shown to reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal diseases. Globally an estimated 19 percent of all infectious diseases are related to water, sanitation and hygiene risk factors and nearly two million children – the majority in developing countries – die annually from diarrhoeal diseases, making them one of the top three killers of children in the world today.

The researchers also found that the WASH campaign had not had any impact in the community under study, and in fact seems to have been completely ineffective in that in general, hands were not being washed at all, let alone being washed at “the right times”.