Establishing clean water delivery is just the start: How to maintain investments long-term
May 24, 2021
May 24, 2021
With climate change, rising populations, and aging infrastructure, developing communities requires a long-term approach for dependable water
The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 is to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. A lack of access to clean water is one of the biggest causes of global poverty, especially in sub-Sahara Africa where more than a quarter of the population spends more than half an hour per trip to collect water. The task of fetching water also tends to fall on women, a burden which can prevent girls from attending school.
Other causes affecting access to water in sub-Saharan Africa include climate change which is making water availability less predictable as droughts have been drier and longer lasting in recent years, speeding up hunger and health crises, increasing poverty, and lowering incomes for entire populations. Africa’s rising population is also driving demand for water, decreasing the availability of water resources and creating challenges in securing clean drinking water. The development of pathogens (such as cholera, amoebic dysentery, typhoid, and hepatitis A) through climate change, floods, and heavy precipitation, can affect the quality of drinking water. In 2017, only half of Africa’s population had access to safely managed drinking water.
While establishing a municipally managed water delivery system can help address these immediate challenges, many developing communities continue to suffer from lack of access to dependable, clean water because these systems are not properly operated and/or maintained over the long term. This is often because the investments needed to maintain these systems are costly and require specialized expertise.
The water supply system for Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown, was constructed in the 1960s. It includes a reservoir in the Guma Valley reserve, a water treatment plant, and a distribution system comprised of pipes and storage tanks. 50 years of inconsistent investment has rendered the water system serving urban Freetown inadequate. Providing clean drinking water to residents is limited by a number of factors, including:
Over the years, the longstanding lack of investment in the piped water network has resulted in many illegal/ mischaracterized connections, non-payment for service, unreliable service, poor quality water at the standpipe (only 152 of the 283 public standpipes owned by GVWC are functioning), and continued deterioration of the distribution network. Ineffective management and poor service delivery also create and perpetuate opportunities for corruption, whether in providing new connections, billing and collection, or internal waste and inefficiency.
With the right funding and guidance, communities in the developing world can get their water supply networks on the right track. In the case of Freetown, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—a bilateral US foreign aid agency established by the US Congress—provided $44 million in funding to the Government of Sierra Leone as part of a five-year Threshold Funding Program (THP). This began in February 2016 and recently completed in March 2021, with the goal to reform the water and electricity sectors and advance economic growth.
In 2016, Stantec’s International Development Group was selected to help MCC oversee all aspects of the program, including engineering, financial, institutional, policy, regulatory, capacity building, and service delivery elements of the THP. Stantec brings a long history leading this type of work in developing countries around the globe. Over the last 10 years, we have successfully undertaken similar water supply projects where a lack of water resources, poor infrastructure, and poor management were addressed through establishment of an Infrastructure Network Management System (INMS). The INMS includes provision of mapping/GIS, network modelling, engineering design, and pipeline extensions. These physical interventions were coupled with institutional strengthening of the local water companies to improve operational performance, increase revenue collection from customers, and enhance long-term maintenance of the system.
The work completed under the THP in Sierra Leone—through a myriad of strong, committed partnerships and collective efforts—provided a foundation for the GVWC to establish improved sustainable revenue streams. Better service levels and improved customer support increases customers’ willingness to pay, which then enables the GVWC to reinvest in further network improvements. A more robust water system also allows the residents of Freetown to reap the long-term health and economic benefits of a dependable, clean water supply.
Stantec is grateful to have been part of the success story for water sector reform in Sierra Leone under the MCC THP, which improved safe and sustainable access for 15,000 residents. We also celebrate their selection in 2020 by MCC’s Board of Directors to develop a compact aimed at further reducing poverty and increasing economic growth for their people.