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Behavioral Interventions as Policy Instruments to Manage Household Water Use  

Leong Ching and Swee Kiat Tay

Water planners and policy analysts need to pay closer attention to the behavioral aspects of water use, including the use of nonprice measures such as norms, public communications, and intrinsic motivations. Empirical research has shown that people are motivated by normative as well as economic incentives when it comes to water. In fact, this research finds that after exposure to feedback about water use, adding an economic incentive (rebate) for reducing water use holds no additional power. In other cases, nonprice measures can be a way to increase the salience, and subsequently, effectiveness of any adopted pricing mechanisms. We review these empirical findings and locate them within more general literature on normative incentives for behavioral change. Given increasing water scarcity and decreasing water security in cities, policy planners need to make more room for normative incentives when designing rules for proenvironmental behavior.


Burn-Related Injuries  

Ashley van Niekerk

A burn occurs when cells in the skin or other tissues are destroyed by hot liquids (scalds), hot solids (contact burns), or flames (flame burns). Injuries to the skin or other organic tissue due to radiation, radioactivity, electricity, friction or contact with chemicals are also identified as burns. Globally, burns have been in decline, but are still a major cause of injury, disability, death and disruption in some regions, with about 120,000 deaths and 9 million injuries estimated in 2017. Low-to-middle-income countries carry the bulk of this burden with the majority of all burn injuries occurring in the African and Southeast Asia regions. Thermal injuries are physically painful and may leave disabling scars not only to the skin or the body, but also impair psychological wellbeing. Severe injuries often impose significant psychological, but also educational consequences and social stigmatization, with the consequent adjustments exacerbated by a range of factors, including the circumstances of the burn incident, the severity and site of the injury, the qualities of the affected individual’s personality, and the access to supportive interpersonal and social relationships. The contributions of: economic progress, enhanced environmental and home structures, energy technology, and safety education interventions have been reported as significant for burn prevention. Similarly, legislative and policy frameworks that support access to modern energies such as electricity, govern domestic appliances and heating technology, and control storage and decanting of fossil fuels are important in energy impoverished settings. The recovery of burn survivors is affected by the availability of specialized treatment, physical rehabilitation and psychosocial support to burn victims and families, but which is still limited especially in resource constrained settings.


Changing Open Defecation Behavior  

Mark Radin

Open defecation (OD) remains a persistent problem in many low-income countries. The international community, through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has committed itself to eliminating OD by 2030. While access to and use of latrines has steadily increased, much is unknown on how to eliminate OD. The history of the elimination of OD in high-income countries offers potential lessons for achieving the sanitation targets of the SDGs. A desk review of sanitation literature revealed a well-documented effort to eliminate OD in the United States, which faced many of the same obstacles as those encountered in low-income countries in the 21st century. One of the important lessons is that eliminating OD takes sustained efforts over decades and substantial resources. The international efforts to eliminate OD have evolved through numerous phases within the global development agenda. To eliminate OD will require continued investment in new and ongoing programs, which are often led by national governments in partnership with international organizations, civil society, and the private sector. Many successful programs have utilized numerous approaches for eliminating OD as the barriers to sanitation use are different across societies and for each individual. Access to sanitation in institutions such as schools and health care facilities as well as public facilities remains a problem in both high- and low-income countries. Finally, the international community will need to deploy more resources and develop effective approaches for ensuring that latrine adoption and use is sustainable.


Do Households Respond to the Marginal or Average Price of Piped Water Services?  

Joseph Cook and Daniel Brent

Water utilities commonly use complex, nonlinear tariff structures to balance multiple tariff objectives. When these tariffs change, how will customers respond? Do customers respond to the marginal volumetric prices embedded in each block, or do they respond to an average price? Because empirical demand estimation relies heavily on the answer to this question, it has been discussed in the water, electricity, and tax literatures for over 50 years. To optimize water consumption in an economically rational way, consumers must have knowledge of the tariff structure and their consumption. The former is challenging because of nonlinear tariffs and inadequate tariff information provided on bills; the latter is challenging because consumption is observed only once and with a lag (at the end of the period of consumption). A large number of empirical studies show that, when asked, consumers have poor knowledge about tariff structures, marginal prices, and (often) their water consumption. Several studies since 2010 have used methods with cleaner causal identification, namely regression discontinuity approaches that exploit natural experiments across changes in kinks in the tariff structure, changes in utility service area borders, changes in billing periods, or a combination. Three studies found clear evidence that consumers respond to average volumetric price. Two studies found evidence that consumers react to marginal prices, although in both studies the change in price may have been especially salient. One study did not explicitly rule out an average price response. Only one study examined responsiveness to average total price, which includes the fixed, nonvolumetric component of the bill. There are five messages for water professionals. First, inattention to complex tariff schedules and marginal prices should not be confused with inattention to all prices: customers do react to changes in prices, and prices should remain an important tool for managing scarcity and increasing economic efficiency. Second, there is substantial evidence that most customers do not understand complex tariffs and likely do not respond to changes in marginal price. Third, most studies have failed to clearly distinguish between average total price and average volumetric price, highlighting the importance of fixed charges in consumer perception. Fourth, evidence as of late 2020 pointed toward consumers’ responding to average volumetric price, but it may be that this simply better approximates average total price than marginal or expected marginal prices; no studies have explicitly tested this. Finally, although information treatments can likely increase customers’ understanding of complex tariffs (and hence marginal price), it is likely a better use of resources to simplify tariffs and pair increased volumetric charges with enhanced customer assistance programs to help poor customers, rather than relying on increasing block tariffs.


Urban Guerrilla Gardening and Health  

Alec Thornton

The benefits of gardening for mental and physical health are well known. Gardening is also recognized as a local-level or grassroots response to the negative effects of climate change and global warming. In urban areas, dense neighborhoods, limited green spaces, contaminated brownfield sites, and, at times, restrictive council regulations on the public use of parks and verges can act as barriers to gardening. In the 1970s, guerrilla gardening emerged as a clandestine, environmentally conscious, grassroots activity to reclaim and transform neglected or derelict urban spaces into healthy green spaces. Although not as subversive since its inception, guerrilla gardening in cities is as much a recreational activity as it is an ecological statement of urban activism, which effectively provides urban dwellers an entry point to engage with the outdoors for the planting of edible and nonedible plants in artificial places and spaces where natural life struggles to exist. Guerilla gardening has been impactful to city life through its contributions and controversies in improving urban ecosystems, educating neighbors on nutrition and food production where gardens crop up, and broadly to the health of humans (and other creatures) who live there.