Climate change exerts an increasing toll on water supplies around the world, yet collective action problems prevent communities from adopting water conservation behaviors. This is especially relevant in low- and middle-income countries, where low-capacity governments are unwilling or unable to tax water to moderate the rate at which reserves decline. Although the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the world’s water scarcest region, several areas puzzlingly present some of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world. While existing work in economics suggests credit constraints and imperfect information as explanations, social and cultural norms are receiving increasing attention as another factor that might affect decisions related to water use and foster conservative collective efforts (Krutilla, 1967; Allcott, 2011; Ferraro and Price,2013).
This project aims to understand if bottom-up engagement by local religious leaders and faith-based messages on water preservation can be an effective coordination device to induce communities to save water in low-capacity settings. More than 90% of inhabitants in MENA believe in Islam, which recognizes in water a central role for practice. Religious leaders may decrease believers' water usage by leveraging on their authority, adjusting religious practices (e.g. ablutions), or appealing to communitarian beliefs (e.g. brotherhood of men), etc.
The evaluation will be conducted through an RCT among Jordanian and refugee communities recruited at the mosque. We will select 20 female religious leaders (waithats) to organize two classes each of around 20/30 believers. For each waithat, we will randomly assign topics to the classes, stratifying by religious leader to guarantee that half of her classes belong to treatment and half to control. In treatment classes, subjects will attend a class on water conservation under religious perspective, where religious leaders will instruct believers on the importance of water and its preservation in Islam, as well as provide tips on how to save water in daily activities. The control group instead will attend a class on an unrelated religious topic, and receive an informative leaflet on water saving techniques to equalize the level of information between treated and control participants. We thus estimate a sample size of 800 to 1,200 individuals.
I will monitor the effect of the treatment both with surveys and real outcome measures, such as inspecting water bills, organizing dictator games to measure prosocial behavior, recording donations to a charity working on water issues, and consent to receive water-related information and services. I will also analyze potential mechanisms (e.g. authority, religious messages, etc.). Moreover, I will track the sharing of information in the social network of the participants, since a cultural message of this sort, being more understandable, might be easier to pass on, inducing possibly large network effects.