Achieving universal and equitable water service provision by 2030 represents a key priority in the international policy agenda. However, meeting this target seems yet out of reach.
In 2015, 2.1 billion people lacked safely managed drinking water services globally and 844 million people did not have basic drinking water services (WHO/UNICEF, 2017). Around a million handpumps in rural Africa provide water to approximately 200 million rural Africans but break frequently, wasting billions of dollars of investment (Baumann, 2009; Baumann and Furey, 2013) and forcing the poor to regularly use more distant and often dirty water sources. Recent estimates show that one in four handpumps in sub-Saharan Africa is non-functional (Foster et al., 2019) and this poses serious risks to water security.
To reduce this risk novel professional maintenance models for rural water infrastructure are spreading across Africa. Intuitively, these maintenance models ``insure'' the handpump and protect communities against pump malfunctioning and the corresponding water insecurity. Practically, subscribing to these maintenance schemes entails that communities sign an annual contract and make regular monthly payments to the service provider to be guaranteed an effective and prompt repair and thus enjoy uninterrupted clean water provision.
Given that water supply in rural Africa tends to be a community affair, water users are required to cooperate and invest part of their private money to be able to pay the premium and insure the pump against its breakage. Herein lies the dilemma: the subscription to the professional maintenance service relies on voluntary contributions from water-users, which are beneficial for the group, but this comes at a cost for single individuals who could have chosen to invest elsewhere. Moreover, failing to collect the needed amount of money to subscribe to the maintenance service is likely to result in water insecurity for the entire community.
Will water-users reach a collective agreement to ``insure'' the handpump through individual contributions when everybody would suffer severe consequences from the handpump break down if the community did fail to cooperate?
We designed what we call a "the water-risk game", a one-shot public good game with threshold. Each subject in our experiment will face the same tradeoff: the more she invests into the collective good, the higher the probability that the threshold is reached and water security will be enjoyed by all members of the community, but this comes at the expenses of her private money which she is guaranteed to receive at the end of the game if the target sum has been reached. Conversely, failing to reach the target sum implies that each individual will preserve their private money but the collective faces risks. Our intervention consists in manipulating the probability with which the collective risks water security.
The main outcome variable we aim to capture is the group-wide contribution level and thus the share of groups who fail to meet the target, resulting from different risk levels of water insecurity. We expect the percentage of groups failing to meet the threshold to decrease with the probability of losing water security. Equivalently, group contributions are supposed to increase as exposure to risk increases.
We will analyse the dynamics of this outcome across treatments and between groups who have already subscribed to a pump maintenance scheme and those who have not.
We will also register individual outcomes. Specifically, by means of their individual contributions we will be able to identify in each group altruists, fair sharers and free-riders.
Our main objective is to study whether uncertainty in water security represents a key reason why communities in Africa fail to cooperate and subscribe to new maintenance service models.
Aside from a simple treatment comparison across arms, our analysis will distinguish between insured and not insured handpumps and analyse the key reasons behind the community choice. Additionally, we will be able to gain a more nuanced understanding of the observed variation in contribution patterns thanks to data that we will collect by means of a survey instrument which we will administer upon completion of the experimental procedure.