Saturday, May 26, 2012

Drinking Water Worldwide-Every Drop Counts

Hard to believe but true: half the – scarce - drinking water in developing countries is lost in leakage. Damaged pipes, illegal tapping and vandalism are to blame. Unpaid water bills also don’t help to improve the infrastructure. Dutch companies are involved in helping to provide drinking water all over the world.

The Dutch offer large-scale support to local companies with the aim of connecting more people to the water network, cutting down on leakage and strengthening organisations. Water supply companies don’t see this as development aid work but as co-operation linking them to water companies abroad.

Dutch water companies are actively engaged in dozens of drinking-water projects around the world. These are financed by Dutch or European subsidies or through crowd-funding (money from Dutch citizens and companies).

The following selection of projects give a good picture of the problems which Dutch water companies come up against abroad.

A request came from Kenya for a partnership project with two towns, Nakuru and Kisumu. As often is the case, it was about reducing waste from leakage, connecting people to the water network and the construction of toilets. Adriaan Mels from the sustainable water services company, Vitens Evides International:

“Just 40 percent of Kisumu’s population is connected to the water system. The rest get it from wells, surface water or buy it from local shops at high prices. This water is often illegally tapped from the network. People in slum districts often have absolutely no source of water or it’s kept in unhygienic containers. In that sort of situation, we try to install communal taps.”

South Africa
The World Waternet (Wereld Waternet) company acts for Amsterdam City Council and the Amstel, Gooi and Vecht Dyke Board (Hoogheemraadschap Amstel, Gooi en Vecht). It is active in a number of countries, including South Africa. Otto Ferf Jentink is a project leader at World Waternet:

“The water ministry in South Africa has asked us to join local companies to deal with the whole cycle from surface water, through purification, to drinking water.”

World Waternet kicked off in Theewaterskloof and Stellendam in the Western Cape by asking some questions. What's the organisation like? How's production set up and what kind of staff do you have? Is there enough expertise on board?

South Africa’s background problem is a lack of fresh water. Ferf Jentink says the surface water is polluted because waste isn't dealt with properly. It costs a lot of money to purify the polluted water.

Water charges end up in the local authority treasury from which other expenditure is financed. “That’s why you can’t work to cover your costs,” explains Ferf Jentink.

New techniques
“We’re also introducing new techniques. In Durban, we’ve started laying pipes without digging trenches. We push pipelines under roads, which saves digging and creates less nuisance.”

Apartheid still plays a part in South Africa.

“Organisations are still wrestling with it internally. They want to represent all population groups. That takes a lot of time, time which could be used for other things. Widespread illiteracy also plays a role. People are taught on the job and have little theoretical knowledge. The government does demand a high level of expertise though.”

Little attention to maintenance
It appears that scant attention is paid in developing countries to the need for maintenance and management of the water system. Marco Schouten of Vitens Evidens International:

“It’s not as sexy as new investment plans but, in the longer term, it’s the way to make far bigger strides. We have to keep hammering away about it. They have to know where the infrastructure is. When should you replace a component and when not, and where are there lots of leakages? The stock of spare components also has to be in order.”

Ferf Jentink thinks their encouragement of long-term maintenance is something special that the Dutch bring to the job.

“We’re especially strong on the organisational front and, compared to other countries, have great expertise in water systems.”

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