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.
Behavioral Interventions as Policy Instruments to Manage Household Water Use
Leong Ching and Swee Kiat Tay
Customer Assistance Programs and Affordability Issues in Water Supply and Sanitation
Concerns about water affordability have centered on access to networked services in low-income countries, but have grown in high-income countries as water, sewer, and stormwater tariffs, which fund replacement of aging infrastructure and management of demand, have risen. The political context includes a UN-recognized human right to water and a set of Sustainable Development Goals that explicitly reference affordable services in water, sanitation, and other sectors. Affordability has traditionally been measured as the ratio of combined water and sewer bills divided by total income or expenditures. Subjective decisions are then made about what constitutes an “affordable” ratio, and the fraction paying more than this is calculated. This measurement approach typically omits the coping costs associated with poor supply, notably the time costs of carrying water home. Three less commonly used approaches include calculating (a) the expenditure related to procuring a “lifeline” quantity of water as a percent of income or expenditures, (b) the amount of income left for other needs after water and sewer expenditures are subtracted, and (c) the number of hours of minimum wage work needed to purchase an essential quantity of water. Lowering water rates for all customers does not necessarily help those in need in low- and middle-income countries. This includes tariff structures that subsidize the price of water in the lowest block or tier (i.e., lifeline blocks) for all customers, not just the poor. Affordability programs that do not operate through tariffs can be characterized by (a) how they are administered and funded, (b) how they target the poor, and (c) how they deliver subsidies to the poor. Common types of delivery mechanisms include subsidizing public taps for unconnected households, subsidizing or financing the fees associated with obtaining a connection to the piped network, and subsidizing monthly bills for poor households. Means-tested consumption subsidies are most common in industrialized countries, whereas subsidizing public taps and connection fees are more common in low- and middle-income countries. A final challenge is directing subsidies to renters who are more likely to be poor and who do not have a direct relationship with a water utility because they pay for water through their landlord, either included as part of their rent or as a separate water payment. Based on data from the 2013 American Housing Survey, approximately 21% of all housing units in the United States are occupied by this type of “hard to reach” customer, although not all of them would be considered poor or eligible for an assistance program. This ratio is as high as 74% of all housing units in metropolitan areas like New York City. Because of data limitations, there are no similar estimates in low-income countries. Instead of sector-by-sector affordability policies, governments might do better to think about the entire package of services a poor person has a perceived right to consume. Direct income support, calculated to cover a package of basic services, could then be delivered to the poor, preserving their autonomy to make spending decisions and preserving the appropriate signals about resource scarcity.
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.
Environmental Health in Latin American Countries
Luiz Augusto Cassanha Galvao, Volney Câmara, and Daniel Buss
The relationship between environment and health is part of the history of medicine and has always been important to any study of human health and to public-health interventions. In Latin America many health improvements are related to environmental interventions, such as the provision of better water and sanitation services. Latin America’s development, industrialization, and sweeping urbanization have brought many improvements to the well-being of its populations; they have also inaugurated new societies, with new patterns of consumption. The region’s basic environmental-health interventions have needed to be updated and upgraded to include disciplines such as toxicology, environmental epidemiology, environmental engineering, and many others. Multidisciplinary and inter-sector approaches are paramount to understanding new profiles of health and well-being, and to promoting effective public-health interventions. The new social, economic, labor, and consumption aspects of modern Latin American society have become more and more relevant to understanding the complex interactions in the region’s social, biological, and physical environment, which are essential to explaining some of the emerging and re-emerging public-health problems. Environmental health, as concept and as intervention, is simple and easily understood, but no longer sufficient to achieve the levels of health and well-being expected and required by these new realities. Many global changes such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and mass migrations has been identified as main cause of ill health and are at the center of the sustainable development challenges in general, and many are critical and specific public health. To face this development, other frameworks have emerged, such as planetary health and environmental and social determinants of health. Public health remains central to some, such as the improved environmental-health agenda, while others assign public health a relative position in a variety of overarching frameworks.
The Implications of Informal Settlement Upgrading Programs for Access to Water, Sanitation, and Public Health
David Satterthwaite and Alice Sverdlik
Most cities in low- and middle-income countries have substantial proportions of their population living in informal settlements—sometimes up to 60% or more. These also house much of the city’s low-income workforce; many informal settlements also concentrate informal economic activities. These settlements usually lack good provision for water, sanitation, and other essential services. The conventional government responses were to bulldoze them or ignore them. But from the 1960s, another approach became common—upgrading settlements to provide missing infrastructure (e.g., water pipes, sewers, drains). In the last 20 years, community-driven upgrading has become increasingly common. Upgrading initiatives are very diverse. At their best, they produce high-quality and healthy living conditions and services that would be expected to greatly reduce illness, injury or disablement, and premature death. But at their worst, upgrading schemes provide a limited range of improvements do nothing to reduce the inhabitants’ exclusion from public services. There is surprisingly little research on upgrading’s impact on health. One reason is the very large number of health determinants at play. Another is the lack of data on informal settlement populations. Much of the innovation in upgrading is in partnerships between local governments and organizations formed by informal settlement residents, including slum/shack dweller federations that are active in over 30 nations. Community-driven processes can deal with issues that are more difficult for professionals to resolve—including mapping and enumerations. Meanwhile, local government can provide the connections to all-weather roads, water mains, sewers, and storm drains into which communities can connect.
Public Health and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Claire E. Brolan
The COVID-19 crisis—the most catastrophic international public health emergency since the Spanish influenza 100 years ago—provides impetus to review the significance of public and global health in the context of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) achievement. When countries unanimously adopted the 17 SDGs in September 2015, stakeholders had mixed views on global health goal SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being). Concern arose over the feasibility of achieving SDG 3 by 2030 when countries pursued its nine targets and four means of implementation with sixteen other ambitious global goals. Nonetheless, health surely cuts across the SDG framework: for instance, the underlying health determinants are expressed in many goals as is urban and planetary health. Although health (and its different constructions) is central to overall SDG achievement, SDG success depends on a paradigm shift toward whole-of-government policy and planning. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda echoes calls for a Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach to public health programming. This depends on another paradigm shift in public health tertiary education, practitioner training, and policy skills development within and beyond ministries of health. Added to this are the underlying problematics around SDG health financing, human resources for health, health target and indicator localization for equitable country responses that leave no one behind, strengthening civil registration and vital statistics systems for inclusive and accountable health implementation, and the sidelining of human rights from SDG metrics. While COVID-19 has derailed SDG efforts, it could also be the ultimate game changer for intergenerational human and environmental health transformation. Yet strong global health governance and rights-based approaches remain key.
Street Science: Community Knowledge for Global Health Equity
Street science is the processes used by community residents to understand, document, and take action to address the environmental health issues they are experiencing. Street science is an increasingly essential process in global urban health, as more and more people live in complex environments where physical and social inequalities create cumulative disease burdens. Street science builds on a long tradition of critical public health that values local knowledge, participatory action research, and community-driven science, sometimes referred to as “citizen science.” Street scientists often partner with professional scientists, but science from the street does not necessarily fit into professional models, variables or other standards of positivist data. Street science is not one method, but rather an approach where residents are equally expert as professional scientists, and together they co-produce evidence for action. In this way, street science challenges conventional notions in global health and urban planning, which tend to divorce technical issues from their social setting and discourage a plurality of participants from engaging in everything from problem setting to decision-making. Street science does not romanticize local or community knowledge as always more accurate or superior to other ways of knowing and doing, but it also recognizes that local knowledge acts as an oppositional discourse that gives voice to the often silent suffering of disadvantaged people. At its best, street science can offer a framework for a new urban health science that incorporates community knowledge and expertise to ensure our cities and communities promote what is already working, confront the inequities experienced by the poor and vulnerable, and use this evidence to transform the physical and social conditions where people live, learn, work, and play.
Water Safety Plans
Karen Setty and Giuliana Ferrero
Water safety plans (WSPs) represent a holistic risk assessment and management approach covering all steps in the water supply process from the catchment to the consumer. Since 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) has formally recommended WSPs as a public health intervention to consistently ensure the safety of drinking water. These risk management programs apply to all water supplies in all countries, including small community supplies and large urban systems in both developed and developing settings. As of 2017, more than 90 countries had adopted various permutations of WSPs at different scales, ranging from limited-scale voluntary pilot programs to nationwide implementation mandated by legislative requirements. Tools to support WSP implementation include primary and supplemental manuals in multiple languages, training resources, assessment tools, and some country-specific guidelines and case studies. Systems employing the WSP approach seek to incrementally improve water quality and security by reducing risks and increasing resilience over time. To maintain WSP effectiveness, water supply managers periodically update WSPs to integrate knowledge about prior, existing, and potential future risks. Effectively implemented WSPs may translate to positive health and other impacts. Impact evaluation has centered on a logic model developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as WHO-refined indicators that compare water system performance to pre-WSP baseline conditions. Potential benefits of WSPs include improved cost efficiency, water quality, water conservation, regulatory compliance, operational performance, and disease reduction. Available research shows outcomes vary depending on site-specific context, and challenges remain in using WSPs to achieve lasting improvements in water safety. Future directions for WSP development include strengthening and sustaining capacity-building to achieve consistent application and quality, refining evaluation indicators to better reveal linked outcomes (including economic impacts), and incorporating social equity and climate change readiness.
Paul Dalziel and Trudi Cameron
A strong social gradient in the experience of health means that a person’s health tends to reflect social position. There is strong evidence that average health outcomes in a country tend to be poorer when income inequality is greater. Consequently, public health policy is influenced by a country’s economic situation. Adopting principles in the Helsinki Statement on Health in All Policies, this means governments should pay attention to the public health implications of its economic policies, moving beyond simple analyses of how policy might support growth in gross domestic product. Since 2009, a global movement has aimed to shift the emphasis of economic policy evaluation from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being. This approach is known as well-being economics. Many countries have engaged with citizens to create their own national well-being framework of statistical indicators. Some countries have passed legislation or designed new institutions to focus specific policy areas on promoting the well-being of current and future generations. A small number of countries are attempting to embed well-being in their core economic policies. Further policy work and research are required for the vision of a well-being economy to be realized.