Water poverty

Even in a prosperous and water-rich country like the Netherlands, it is reasonable to assume that people may face water poverty. The aim of the project is to explore and investigate this area from different perspectives in order to establish a sound basis for the water sector to address the issue further.

Water poverty in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a prime example of a prosperous country that is rich in water and where the availability of good-quality tap water at a relatively low cost goes without saying. Nevertheless, it is not inconceivable that, here too, people may face water poverty. By contrast with energy poverty – a concept that is already well established at home and abroad – there is still no clear definition of water poverty in the Netherlands. Generally, the term refers to a situation in which people do not have access to enough water or to the water quality required for their basic needs, such as nutrition, or physical and domestic hygiene. Water poverty refers not only to the risk of being cut off from drinking water but also to situations in which people have to use tap water so sparingly that the most elementary needs can no longer be met.

Five perspectives

This study is a ‘nursery’ project under the sector-research umbrella. The aim is to explore and study the water poverty problem in the Netherlands from five different perspectives:

Context: a more detailed exploration of the concept of water poverty, the main causes of water poverty in the Netherlands, and how water poverty is related to poverty in general and energy poverty in particular. This perspective also includes an exploration of water poverty in other European countries.

Data: a review of the quantity and types of customers affected by water poverty. This includes identifying how many customers are unable to pay their bills and how many have their water supply cut off.

Customer: an exploration of what water poverty means to customers themselves. This includes not only people who can no longer pay their bills or are even cut off from the water supply but also customers who make changes to their behaviour to keep bills affordable. That can involve reducing water consumption by, for example, showering less or taking shorter showers, collecting and reusing water, or reducing the frequency of toilet flushing.

Sector perspective: a review of the policies of different drinking water companies for addressing water poverty, the possible legal frameworks, and what the companies do to prevent customers being cut off from the water supply as a result of financial problems. The aim is also to look at the perspective of the professionals who have contacts with the customers in question.

Future: an explanation of future developments in the field of water poverty, including an explicit review of how water poverty relates to future developments/policy developments relating to saving water (changes in behaviour, technical adaptations in the home, changes to rates).

Establishing a picture of water poverty

A better understanding of water poverty and what it means for customers and drinking water companies will make it possible to respond effectively to future developments in this area. In addition, it will be possible to draw on the results of this study to determine whether follow-up research is possible and appropriate, and what form it should take.