Water for the Urban Poor and COVID-19

4th May 2020
Author: Rachel Cooper

This report examines the provision of water for the urban poor in light of Covid-19 and proposes practical measures that can be taken to improve the availability of water. Water, sanitation and hygiene are vital for the suppression and treatment of Covid-19. Water utility companies may be unable to recover costs through user tariffs during Covid-19, which could have implications for their financial sustainability. Poor service provision before and during a crisis can impact customers’ willingness to pay for water, further reducing utilities revenues and creating a vicious cycle. Appropriate tariff structures can support both poor people’s access to water, through pro-poor policies and a focus on affordability, and the financial viability of utilities. Covid-19 may increase domestic water demand in contexts where cities are already suffering from water insecurity. Free water, or waiving payment of social tariff amounts may not necessarily benefit the poorest. Utilities are vital for urban water service provision, but they do not necessarily reach the poorest. Direct provision of water to informal settlements and the poorest, as well as measures to extend access through the utility are likely to include a range of measures. Practical measures that could support water availability for the urban poor in light of Covid-19 could include: opening up additional pre-pay sources, subsidising the price of utility water from communal access points, working with private sector providers, digitise payments and fixing leaks to increase water supply.

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Suggested Citation

Cooper, R. (2020). Water for the Urban Poor and Covid-19 . K4D Helpdesk Report 826. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.


4th May 2020


Continent: Africa, Global