|Tuesday, 18 May 2004|
Water : Sri Lanka
Partnership in the Pipeline
Buckets, cans, pots and pails. Spending just an hour in the Halagahakumbura community on the eastern suburbs of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo is enough to convince anyone that these are the favourite possessions of its residents.
And the reason for their obsession with empty vessels is not difficult to see either. 500 out of the 540 families that make up this low income settlement do not have piped water in their homes and are dependent on public taps for this precious commodity.
In Colombo's hot, balmy climate water is easily the resource most critical to human survival.
"I often come to the public tap at midnight to take a bath. That is when the pressure of water flow is best," says Mrs. Premalata, a member of the community who spends hours every day filling up her little army of pots and buckets to meet the water demands of a family of six adults.
Now, an alternative to this daily grind is emerging in the form of a new project that seeks to put a water connection in every home in the Halagahakumbura settlement.
A demonstration of the Pro-Poor Public Private Partnerships or 5P model, the UNESCAP project involves private companies that, with support from State agencies, will provide piped water to poor families in return for a modest fee.
The number of people in the Asian and Pacific region without access to water is shocking. About 40 million people in urban areas and 20 million in rural areas need new water connections every year.
One of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goal targets is to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people without access to drinking water.
"The targets are incredibly ambitious. We are talking about something like 60 million new people a year requiring access to safe drinking water in the Asian and Pacific regions. That is the equivalent of giving piped water connections to the entire population of Thailand. The challenge is enormous," says David Jezeph, Chief, Water Resources Section, UNESCAP.
The uniqueness of UNESCAP's 5P model lies in the fact that it overcomes both the lack of resources of publicly-owned agencies and the profit-oriented outlook of private companies in order to benefit underserved populations.
The 5P approach provides an alternative in which the supply of water can be ensured to the poor at a reasonable price while the private sector can earn a fair return for the risk it takes and investment it makes.
"This is very different from the usual privatization of water that involves large companies and concessions. We are involving small private operators together with the local public sector and the community to improve the access of the poor to water.
Most of the decisions will be taken by the community," says K. L. L. Premnath, Additional General Manager, National Water Supply and Drainage Board, (NWS&DB).
Prior to the project intervention only a handful of families had installed piped water connections to their homes by paying as much as 18,000 Sri Lankan rupees for the service to the NWS&DB.
This sum is way beyond the reach of most residents of the settlement, who are largely daily wage workers earning a couple of hundred rupees per day.
Under the 5P demonstration project, however, the 500 families that currently do not have this service will get it on down payment of just 500 rupees.
The rest of the costs of installation can be paid in instalments of 100 rupees per month over three years, for which community members will be assisted through income-generation activities and a revolving credit fund.
About 29 percent of the population or about 5.5 million people in Sri Lanka still do not have access to piped drinking water, both in urban and rural areas. If the Halagahakumbura experiment is successful, a vast market could open up for small private entrepreneurs who get into such ventures early.
Though the revenues involved are as yet quite small, private companies such as the Colombo-based Petra Engineering Co. are quite enthusiastic about participating in the project because of the potential they see for similar business at the national level.
"In the future, water, especially drinking water, is going to be scarce. Since the public sector is not going to be able to meet the demand on its own, if we do it properly, the private sector can have many opportunities," says J. E. Godakumbura, General Manager of Petra Engineering.
According to the deal being negotiated with NWS&DB, Petra Engineering will have to buy the water at bulk rates, install piped water connections to individual households and collect the monthly water fees from residents.
For the public sector NWS&DB, which is the monopoly supplier of water for residential, industrial and agricultural purposes in Sri Lanka, the UNESCAP project has come as a very welcome intervention. Currently Colombo city alone has over 800 public water taps serving poorer urban communities.
These taps consume a large amount of water, the cost of which is borne entirely by the NWS&DB. If the consumption as well as wastage of water in these public taps is curbed, NWS&DB officials feel that they can increase their revenues considerably by reselling the water saved to other consumers willing to pay a good price for it.
"We supply Colombo with about 109 million gallons of water per day, and of this amount about 10 to 13 per cent is consumed by the public taps, where water is given free. Our revenue per cubic metre in other installations in Colombo is 20 rupees. You can work out the arithmetic of how much money we can save," says T. M. M. Mediwake, Deputy General Manager (Commercial), NWS&DB.
Though initially worried about having to pay for water, which has always been a free service till now, many community members are enthusiastic about being able to get piped water in their homes at reasonable prices.
"We are now willing to pay for piped water connections since it will save us a lot of time and effort spent every day on collecting water," says Palita Subasinghe, President of the Halagahakumbura Community Development Council.
Typically, community members, especially women, spend a few hours everyday waiting in queues to fill up water containers, time that can be spent productively in income-generating activities.
"Women in particular will be the biggest beneficiaries of this project, since normally they are the ones expected to stand in queues and fill up water containers for the entire family everyday. They are going to be very happy," says K. A. Jayaratne, President of Sevanatha, an NGO involved in the social and community aspects of the project.
For further information contact: Water Resources Sections, UNESCAP at email@example.com
Fast growth of urban population
Good progress in water supply coverage, but the number of unserved people increased over the 1990s. To achieve the 2015 target an additional 40 million people/year or 108,000 people/day must be served.
Produced by Lake House