Although there is abundant evidence of the efficacy of point-of-use (POU) water treatment in randomized control trials in which frequent enumerator visits ensure high end-user compliance, very little research on the predictors of end-user acceptance and adoption of POU products among the developing world poor is publicly available. We know that POU products work when used, but we do not know what inspires people to buy them or to use them, even at extremely low prices. Knowledge of factors promoting and impeding adoption of POU products is generally based on anecdotal reporting of field activities complemented by a few reports from qualitative focus groups.
The Aquaya Institute and the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley conducted quantitative research on end-user preferences with respect to three promising low-cost, highly effective point-of-use (POU) water treatment measures: dilute hypochlorite solution (branded as Waterguard in Kenya), Procter and Gambles PUR Purifier of Water flocculant-disinfectant powder, and porous ceramic filtration. This study took place in villages located in Nyanza province of Kenya among communities where turbidity of the available source waters is high, either on a seasonal or perennial basis.
The objectives of this study were to determine:
- which products end-users prefer when initially introduced to several safe water options
- how marketing messages affect consumer choices over these options
- what marketing messages and products lead to sustained use of products
- what products do consumers prefer (and for which they are willing-to-pay) after experience in several months with each
The sample consisted of 400 rural households with children under five, randomly selected from recent census data. Each household spent two months using Waterguard and safe storage vessel, two months using a two bucket system with PUR, and two months using a dual chamber porous ceramic filter unit. The order in which these products were distributed was varied, and randomly assigned to each household.
At the end of each two-month period, enumerators visited households to survey their satisfaction with the products they had been using. The researchers collected self-reported data on product usage and preferences as well as data on the turbidity (cloudiness) and E. coli concentrations of both household stored untreated water and treated water. Finally, at the end of the full six-month cycle, households were offered each of the three products for sale at varying prices to analyze willingness-to-pay for water treatment technology.
Results and Policy Implications
The survey results indicate that households were more likely to use the WaterGuard and the ceramic filtration systems than the PUR system (76 percent and 73 percent reported using the WaterGuard and the filter, respectively, while only 62 percent reported using the PUR). While all three products substantially improved water quality, households that were provided with WaterGuard had significantly lower E.Coli concentrations in their water supply (51 percent of water was safe versus 39 percent of water with the ceramic filter and 33 percent with the PUR). This suggests that WaterGuard is significantly more effective in producing safe drinking water.
However, despite the superior performance and usage rates of WaterGuard, households most frequently identified ceramic filters as their preferred product type, with less than 15 percent of households choosing WaterGuard as a parting gift. When asked about their preferences, 52 percent of households that chose the filter stated that “it will last”, while 90 percent gave the reason that it was “easiest to use”. Consumers likely recognized that while WaterGuard and PUR are consumables that would only last six months, the ceramic filter is a durable good that would likely last much longer with the proper care.
This study constitutes the first publicly available analysis of influences on end-user choice and adoption of POU water treatment products among a base-of-the-pyramid market segment. Further research is recommended to better understand household preferences for water treatment technologies and to improve the development and dissemination of safe-water products.