Utility-led service model for Safe Water at point of use

Lessons learned from an Aqua for All pilot in Ethiopia – August 2017: Preliminary pilot results are promising 

In Ethiopia, while we observe significant effort and resources being invested to increase access to drinking water, many local governments struggle to tackle those last few meters and ensure safe water at the point of use. Government officials in the Amhara Region have shown interest in setting up an extended sales and distribution channel for several brands of household water filters through the local water utility.  Based on a tri-partite MoU between the water utility of Finote Selam, private sector suppliers of Sawyer-  and Tulip filters and Aqua for All, a pilot began in November 2016. Customers make upfront or installment payments for the household filters to the utility.

Seventy households which purchased filters were surveyed (via smartphones using Akvo FLOW) in June 2017.  Client satisfaction is very high, not only for the products but also for the sales and after sales service delivered by the utility staff.  No one surveyed wished to go back to drinking untreated water: the filtered water is clear, tastes good and is reported to have a positive impact on the health and social status of the family.  All three models on offer have received positive feedback. The Sawyer membrane filter (most expensive) and the Tulip Siphon filter (the cheapest of the three) are highly appreciated for their filtering capacity and their backwash function.  According to utility staff, the Tulip Table Top model (middle-priced, costing between USD 25-30 when bought at the Utility office) ‘sells itself’ because of the safe storage in the bucket and its ease of use.

Word is spreading about the positive results from the pilot in Finote Selam, inspiring other local authorities in Ethiopia.  Mr. Molla Fetene, head of the regional water bureau in Amhara, shared his conclusions:

‘As a Regional Water Bureau we have a structural relationship with all the utilities in the Amhara Region.  The water utility is one of the instruments we are thinking of to rapidly distribute filters to the communities as a measure to prevent Acute Watery Diarrhea which is a recurrent health problem in our region.  As a number of utilities are located between different communities, they can serve as a distribution center for household filters because they already have full capacity of human resources, the technical capacity to offer training and leading the communities and even perform maintenance if filters malfunction. The utilities are expected to be the best distributors, the best promoters of these technologies. As a Bureau we will use them for this distribution purpose’. Further, Molla Fetane wants all health centers in his region to buy a household filter for demonstration with the telephone number of the nearest sales agent’.

Learning from customer feedback: The Sawyer membrane filter has a very fast flow rate and a backwash function which shows clearly all the dirt that has been removed.  Respondents report that these features help to create interest amongst their neighbors. Some blockages are reported with this model; therefore the aftersales service of the utility has proven to be crucial to customer satisfaction.  One staff member remarked:

‘Bad experiences with filters spread quickly through the community. People call us if they have a problem with the filter they bought, and we noticed that after we have visited the household and explained how to solve the problem they experienced, they become the best promoters of the technology. We have to think of a modality to keep offering these after sales service when the sales volume increases’.

Endorsement from the Federal Ministry of Health and WHO The Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health recently (August 2017) developed the (draft) ‘National Drinking Water Quality Surveillance and Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage Guideline’: http://aquaforall.org/national-drinking-water-quality-surveillance-household-water-treatment-and-safe-storage-guideline/

This document specifically endorses the Utility filter distribution approach as a potential channel to create access (page 42, 6.4.2.) to safe drinking water at the point of use. The World Health Organisation (WHO) supports the development of the Guideline and has called upon Aqua for All to disseminate the results of the pilot in Finote Selam at national level.

Opportunities to scale Currently we are scaling up the approach to other Utilities in Amhara and Oromia Regionand other countries. Aqua for All and Vitens Evides International (VEI) are discussing a joint program to determine to what extent the promotion and sales of physical filters can be adopted by other utilities as additional service they can offer to their clients, starting with four towns in the Oromia Region. In August 2017 Aqua for All started a feasibility study in this region starting with Ambo town where the Utility head already expressed his interest in the utility-led filter sales and distribution model.

This pilot is part of the joint Safe Water 2 Program (Antenna Foundation of Switzerland, Aqua for All, IRC and SDC) which aims to generate evidence on horizontal and vertical scaling mechanisms of different Safe Water business models in 6 countries.