Learning to Dislike Safe Water Products

Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial of the Effects of Direct and Peer Experience on Willingness to Pay

Published in: Environmental Sciences and Technology, v. 46, no. 11, June 2012, p. 6244–6251

Posted on RAND.org on June 01, 2012

by Jill E. Luoto, Minhaj Mahmud, Jeff Albert, Stephen Luby, Nusrat Najnin, Leanne Unicomb, David I. Levine

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Low-cost point-of-use (POU) safe water products have the potential to reduce waterborne illness, but adoption by the global poor remains low. We performed an eight-month randomized trial of four low-cost household water treatment products in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Intervention households (n = 600) received repeated educational messages about the importance of drinking safe water along with consecutive two-month free trials with each of four POU products in random order. Households randomly assigned to the control group (n = 200) did not receive free products or repeated educational messages. Households' willingness to pay for these products was quite low on average (as measured by bids in an incentive-compatible real-money auction), although a modest share was willing to pay the actual or expected retail price for low-cost chlorine-based products. Furthermore, contrary to our hypotheses that both one's own personal experience and the influence of one's peers would increase consumers' willingness to pay, direct experience significantly decreased mean bids by 18–55% for three of the four products and had no discernible effect on the fourth. Neighbor experience also did not increase bids. Widespread dissemination of safe water products is unlikely until we better understand the preferences and aspirations of these at-risk populations.

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