Rural Water Supply and Sanitation

For most people in developing countries, water is used for more than drinking, cooking, and washing, whether or not systems are designed and developed for such uses. Water systems designed for multiple uses, called productive use systems, allow people to diversify their activities and save money, particularly in difficult periods, such as drought. Productive use of water has been linked to poverty reduction, improved health through improved nutrition, and increased sustainability of water systems, with direct economic benefits to communities and governments.

The Symposium on Productive uses of Water at Household Level held in South Africa in 2003 concluded that the sustainability of domestic water supply systems can be increased by explicitly including productive uses that provide the means for people to engage in the management of their own systems.

The Work Ahead

Despite the benefits of productive use systems, there continues to be a lack of significant interest in their development, and most resources continue to go to domestic water uses and basic needs services. More work is needed to assess the economic benefits of productive use systems, a task WSP is leading, particularly through our partnerships with leaders in education, health, agriculture, and other sectors. Critical to this new understanding is the role of gender in rural WSS services. Having access to reliable water in the household allows women to engage in decision-making as investors, farmers, and income earners.

Aware that we are a new player in the arena, a literature review of productive use systems was conducted in which key knowledge gaps were identified. These gaps guide WSP’s work as we draw on our thirty-year sector experience, global knowledge base, and partnerships to find ways to raise the profile of the sector, scale up sustainable rural water supply that contributes to poverty reduction, and build stronger linkages with other sectors to maximize their benefit to rural areas.