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Water, health and wealth


Summary of: NBER Working Paper 23807, authored by Nava Ashraf, Edward Glaeser, Abraham Holland and Bryce Millett Steinberg

Providing a supply of clean water requires attending to the costs of the ongoing maintenance as well as the initial pipeline construction. Unfortunately the water supply often fails in the developing world, especially if users don’t pay the marginal cost of water.

This paper uses the timing of frequent, unexpected water service outages in Lusaka, Zambia to identify the short- term impacts of piped water access on contagious diseases, economic activity and the time spent on daily chores. We made use of microdata from the primary water utility in the city on the timing and location of water supply complaints to identify and match the outages to activities across the city using extensive administrative data. We found that increases in outages are associated with an increased incidence of diarrheal disease, upper respiratory infections, typhoid fever and measles. We also matched outages to geo-located microdata on financial transactions from the largest mobile money provider in Zambia, and found that outages are associated with a reduction in financial transactions. Outages also increase the time that young girls spend at their daily chores, possibly at the expense of time they spend doing schoolwork. Imperfect infrastructure thus appears to burden the poor in ways that go far beyond obvious health consequences.

Source: Real World Econ Rev, 20 Sept 2017


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