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Reaching the Unreached: Understanding Penetration Levels in Three Ghanaian Communities

Access to safe drinking water in rural Ghana is a pressing challenge affecting millions of individuals. Project Maji, in partnership with the University of Cape Coast and supported by funder Marie Stella Maris, embarked on a study to understand water sales levels i.e. penetration levels in three Ghanaian communities that have recently received a solar-powered water kiosk. In other words, who is actually using the water kiosks, and who are we missing? The overarching goal of the study is to make evidence-based recommendations on how inclusivity concerns can be mitigated to ensure the most marginalized segments also have access to safe water.  

Research Findings 

 The study focused on three rural communities in the Kwahu West, Eastern region in Ghana: Kwahu Daa, Awaregya, and Nkwantia, where Project Maji has installed solar-powered water kiosks. Before the installation, these communities relied on unreliable water sources, exacerbating their water scarcity issues. The installation of mechanized water sources aimed to provide sustainable access to safe water at affordable rates, and took place approximately one year before the research was conducted.  


This relevance of the research lies in the actual usage of the kiosks. Are we reaching the entire community or not? And if not, why? Sunil Lalvani Fonder/CEO of Project Maji: “When we started Project Maji, we assumed everyone in a small village would be using the kiosks. But as we learned and better understood rural water realities, we realized some people still preferred alternative (natural) sources or had other motivations not to fetch water from our kiosks, including affordability, water quality, reliability or trust. It is the first time we have gathered independent data to contextualize these reasons.”  


The study represents approximately 2,000 individuals across these communities, revealing insights into demographics, awareness levels, registration rates, alternative water source usage, satisfaction levels, functionality issues, discontinuation of use, and water sales.  


The study revealed that the penetration rate is 47% across the researched communities. Penetration is defined as people (families) who are actually buying safe drinking water from the communal mechanized water source.  This is on the higher end of the sector bandwidth, which is estimated to be 10-60% for similar Safe Water Enterprises (SWEs). The fact that this range is so broad, indicates the significant data gap on this topic. In other words, safe water enterprises have little knowledge about their penetration levels.  


Moreover, the research reveals that 32.7% of the villagers have not signed up for a (free) token. It is important to understand what the barriers are and how Project Maji can elevate token registration.  


The ability to pay is estimated at 25 liters per person based on the benchmark that water expenses should not exceed 3% of household income. This demonstrates that the communities that were researched, have the financial capacity to meet their daily water needs. As a result, other soft factors might explain why people are choosing to fetch potentially hazardous water elsewhere.  


The average consumption of active token-holders (TH) is 11,3 liters per person per day and shows high levels of water source satisfaction. THs earn 53% per month more than Non-THs, yet NTHs are willing to spend 21% of their income on water (for reference, 3% is the recommended investment in water). The survey outcomes indicate that NTHs wish to receive more information about the IoT-enabled solar-powered kiosk.   


Notably, dissatisfaction among community members stemmed from poor communication, lack of information about the water solutions, and concerns about token replacement costs i.e. poor community sensitization. Project Maji must be mindful to address these concerns and improve the information flow to build trust and clarity among the community members.  


The study concluded that community sensitization and engagement are the main causes of discontent for both regular users as well as non-token holders. And by prioritizing this, higher penetration rates can be expected. Affordability concerns are mostly cited by NTHs and active users on the other hand (THs) request an extension of the services by adding more kiosks in the communities. Regular users also complain at times that the water is too hot and they perceive functionality issues – which is not substantiated by operational data sources, demonstrating a 99% uptime.   

Recommendations & Corrective Action 

To address the identified challenges, the study proposed several recommendations, including strengthening community engagement, improving communication strategies, exploring affordability options, ensuring water quality assurance, expanding research to more communities, and implementing corrective actions based on findings. More specifically, apart from an increased focus on community sensitization, the study concluded with two tailored recommendations for these specific communities i.e 1) A community revenue share model whereby 30% of the proceeds go to the community, which will decide on the distribution of the funds, and 2) pro-poor pricing for the most vulnerable. The SWE has indicated that both approaches are feasible and can be explored and piloted immediately.   



Effective rural water provision requires addressing operational, communication, and affordability challenges. By implementing the recommended strategies, Project Maji aims to overcome barriers and enhance water accessibility, positively impacting community well-being. Finally, through collaborative efforts like this study, Project Maji and its partners continue to work towards ensuring safe and sustainable water access for rural communities in Ghana.  


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