Saturday, 6 September 2008

Poverty: Water Vendors can make a difference!

Joachim Ezeji

As the world becomes more urbanized and poverty becomes an increasingly urban phenomenon, it is becoming clearer that a key contributing factor to the incidence of poverty is a shortage of adequate employment in growing cities and towns.

UN-HABITAT in 2005 conducted a detailed research study on the informal economies of six developing country cities, namely Bangkok, Delhi, Durban, Lima, Mexico city and Nairobi. The objective was to examine existing regulatory environment in each city and to identify innovative policies for improving the operational efficiency of the urban informal economy.

The final report, Innovative policies for the urban informal economy published in 2006, shows that complex and stringent regulatory requirements on the establishment and operation of micro-enterprises have contributed to the growth of the informal economy, notably in developing country cities.

The link between poverty and water in urban centers often seems convoluted to many, but this should not be so. As water vending activities expands, one need not look far to see that the expansion is happening mostly at the informal sector.

The reality is indeed ironically startling as the global urban population without access to improved water services rises from 107 million in 1990, to 170 million in 2004. Many of the inhabitants of these big cities live in slums and have no or inadequate access to running water.

Urbanization heightens the relationship between available water quantity and water quality as well as poverty. Cities are faced with mounting cost of water shortages, water treatment, well deepening and development of new sources. This is particularly true for cities in Africa.

They do not only have limited means with which to expand the water, and maintain the quality but they also need to expand water supply services to meet the ever increasing needs of industry and to support growing population with varying distribution of population and settlement patterns in rural and urban settings.

Compounding the existing difficulties facing these water utilities is the enormous task in providing water services for these expanding urban populations where population growth rates of 5-7% per year are raising fears of the doubling of existing population in the next ten years.

The consequence is that not up to 3 out of 10 people in many urban populations across the continent gets supplied water by utilities in many places. Worst hit are low income areas and/or people living in illegal estates or slums as squatters or settlers etc. To cover these water access gaps in many cities, alternative water suppliers now exist.

But who are these alternative water service providers? ……….They are mostly Non-state providers (NSPs) or informal water providers (IWPs) who provide basic water services to consumers on a long term basis and are paid for their services by their water customers directly. They could also be called Small Scale Independent Providers (SSIPs) and Small Scale Water Providers.

These alternative water service providers include water vendors using trucks, kiosk, carts and commercial boreholes. In a small city like Owerri in southeastern Nigeria these alternate water providers get their water mostly from privately owned but commercialized boreholes as well as from the Otamiri River, a major river catchment that drains the Owerri area.

The crucial support of alternative water providers to water utilities needs to be properly recognized by government in view of the fact that in creating access to water they aid in mitigating poverty. According to Collignon and Vezina (2000), over 75% of the urban poor in Africa get at least some of their water from such informal providers.

This is true because access to safe drinking water has been proven to have strong impact on wider development issues including poverty, a fact that has been summarized by the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) based in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the WSSCC, access to water mitigates poverty because; the security of many household livelihoods rests on the health of its members; adults who are ill themselves or must care for sick children are less productive. The illnesses caused by unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation generate high health cost relative to income for the poor.

Healthy people are better able to absorb nutrients in food than those suffering from water-related diseases, particularly helminthes infections, which rob their hosts of calories. Access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation helps reduce household expenditure on health care; and the time lost because of long distance water collection and poor health contributes to poverty and reduced food security.

In aggregate, the total annual economic benefits of meeting the Millennium Development Goals targets on water supply and sanitation accrue to US$84billion; while global estimates for the additional annual investment to meet the MDG water and sanitation targets all arrive at about US$11billion, meeting the targets translates into 322 million working days per year gained at a value of US$750million.

As part of its recommendations to end the global water and sanitation crisis; the UN Millennium Project Task Force on water and sanitation had emphasized that Investment in water and sanitation must focus on sustainable service delivery, rather than construction of facilities alone.

Appositely, the Millennium Project Task Force had reported in 2005 that “expanding water and sanitation coverage is not a rocket-science”. Therefore to get rid of this migraine, systematic overhaul in the areas of vital reforms and targeted investments should continue to move in parallel.

Coupled to this is the need to mobilize all water vendors to the table and duly recognize them as important stakeholders. This is so because in embarking on this enterprise they have created employment for themselves and in so doing are working to meet the water needs of millions of households thereby closing the service gaps created by the water utilities.

Restricting or banning their trade as well as imposing unrealistic regulation on them as was recently the case in Nigeria’s Federal Capital City Abuja makes matters worse. This is so glaring to us all because the government has over the years grossly proved itself incapable of meeting the water needs of millions of its citizens.

Pre-Paid Metering is Anti-Poor!

Joachim Ezeji
Today in Nigeria, all the 36 State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have each set up a State Water Supply Agency (SWA) charged with the responsibility of providing potable water supply to the urban and in some cases their semi urban communities.

From Lagos to Calabar; Kano to Port Harcourt; and Owerri to Birnin Kebbi sad tales of high operational costs, poor revenue, epileptic power supply, inadequate funding, ill-motivated personnel, aging plants and machineries have remained the undoing of many of the 36 state water utilities in Nigeria.

The result is that many Nigerians lack sustainable access to clean drinking water, and those for productive activities. The tragedy in all these is such that if sustainable water supply is a ladder in economic development with higher rungs representing steps up the path to economic well being, there are roughly 80% of households, three-quarter of Nigerians, who live lacking support to get a foot on the first rung of the development ladder.

A typical case is the Lagos State Water Corporation. Here, the water distribution network can only reach one in every three of the 15 million inhabitants of the city. Yet, they projected population growth of 4% per annum of the city means that the city’s water demand, will double by the year 2020. The cost of meeting current and projected demand has been put at around $2.5 billion over the next 20 years.
A World Bank 2003 report stressed how the abysmal performance of public utilities has come to symbolize the poorest aspects of governance in Nigeria. Using Lagos as a reference the report revealed that being neglected and close to collapse, the publicly run Lagos State Water Corporation holds the dubious distinction of having the highest recorded level of unaccounted-for-water in the world. Only 4 percent of its water production capacity goes towards the creation of revenue.
Unaccounted-for-water is the most common measure of the efficiency of a water company. The World Bank defines it as “the difference between the quantity of water supplied to a network and the metered water by the customer” It has two components; physical losses due to leakage from pipes; and administrative losses due to illegal connections and under registration of water meters.
No doubt water tariffs must be set and where necessary raised to meet the costs of water supply, which continue to increase due to more advanced treatment, greater distance to be traveled, lower groundwater tables, and more costly distribution in densely populated areas.
However water metering can be detrimental if water prices are set too high. An unaffordable rate structure can threaten the health and welfare of economically disadvantaged populations if they cannot afford to pay for a necessary amount of water.
One way to try to avoid this problem is to calculate an average monthly consumption rate needed to cover key human needs and then charge a basic rate for this amount and a higher price for any consumption above that amount. Can Pre-paid metering guarantee this?
It must however be noted that the objectives guiding tariffs are anchored on the goal to protect consumers while achieving and maintaining the financial viability of utilities. Pre-Paid metering does the later and ignores the former!

These objectives often include; (i) serving the urban poor; (ii) using lifeline rate for the urban poor; encouraging demand management; developing schemes that ensure self-sufficient operation and maintenance etc. Again Pre-paid metering is not in tandem (i) and (ii) above!

For any water utility to maintain or restore a lead to consumers on water efficiency, it must get on top of its leakage problems. Leakage by water companies in England and Wales fell by around 20 million liters a day (ml/d) in 2005/06 because of strict regulation by the Office for Water (OFWAT).

The overall leakage in England and Wales was close to 3,600ml/d in 2006 compared to nearly 5,000 ml/d just a decade earlier. OFWAT took action that required a utility like Thames Water to make a substantial reduction in leakage, and the company entered into a legally binding agreement with the regulator (OFWAT), committing it to spend GPB150million of its own money to step up the program of water mains replacement. It also risks being fined if it does not meet its future leakage targets.

But here, who regulates Nigeria’s urban water utilities? There must be an independent regulator before these utilities would demand Pre-paid water metering, as if this is the only vital fulcrum in their performance improvement plans.

It is germane to underscore therefore, that at the state level, a model water supply services regulatory law has been prepared in association with the World-Bank supported Water Investment Mobilization and Applications Guidelines (WIMAG).

WIMAG provides a basis for water supply reform legislation including the establishment of State Water Regulatory Commission and licensing procedures for all water service providers. It provides an equitable approach to water pricing in Nigeria.

In tandem with the National Water and Sanitation Policy (2000) and the National Water Resources Bill (2007), WIMAG and the model State Water Supply Services Regulatory Law (WSSRL) insists that each state of the federation with a State Water Agency (SWA) must establish a regulatory commission that is empowered to issue licenses for the provision of water supply services by both government and private sector entities; define minimum service requirement; set tariffs; define rights and obligations of the water service providers; and define performance standards.

Further to the foregoing, States are to ensure that water service providers are autonomous bodies subject to regulation by the state regulatory commission; and that the regulatory commission is not subject to the direction or control of the state governor or any other person in respect of any determination, report or inquiry; and that the sector is structured to prevent misuse of monopoly power.

Above all, WIMAG demands that Nigerian States should incorporate principles of good governance into the structure and operational procedures of state water agencies, particularly; equity, accountability, efficiency, transparency and public participation. States are also required to establish appeals mechanisms for decisions taken by water service providers under their jurisdiction.

Till these things are rightly done it would amount to sheer mischief for State Governments and their SWAs to adopt such an extreme measure as Pre-paid metering of drinking water. In this context is the fact that beyond everything else, water is a “social service”, because it is a life and death issue for all living things especially humans.

Nigerian SWAs need not be reminded that there are many ways to set and collect water tariff beyond using pre-paid meters. What is simply required is to achieve such is team discipline and corporate focus. These attributes are on reign in parts of Europe and North America where many homes as at today are not even metered, talk less of being pre-paid.

In South Africa the introduction of Pre-paid meters is already causing serious problem despite the provision for FREE basic water (200 liters per household per day) as a lifeline support for the poor!

Commoditizing drinking water by selling it as a recharge card anywhere in Nigeria will further expand poverty, boost misery and upscale ill health.

We should not allow this to happen!

Making Development Projects more responsible!

Joachim Ezeji

Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP), a Nigerian NGO, is currently promoting the Mor-sand filter in the restive oil rich Niger Delta region. The Mor-sand Filter, an improved adaptation of the slow-sand filter, integrates the combination of coagulation and filtration as effective processes significant in the reduction of the concentration of microorganisms in water. It markedly differs from the ordinary slow-sand filter by its adoption of a Moringa oleifera seed paste layer. This layer offers coagulation, a traditional first unit process in conventional water treatment that is crucial for the removal of impurities in water.

The project aimed to assist households in oil producing communities to maximize the quality of their drinking water supply and free them from the burdens of ill-health caused by human and industrial pollution. In producing these filters, RAWDP also trained independent entrepreneurs on how to make them, thus assisting them to earn livelihood and widen distribution within record time.

As a means of monitoring progress toward the goals and objectives set in the project ‘’Mor-Sand Filters for oil producing communities’’ (Project 0336), as funded by the 2006 World Bank Development Market Place; Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP) in collaboration with a multi-stakeholder group that comprised of traditional institutions, government line ministries, Community Based Organisations and community volunteers etc. developed a core set of indicators for effective Monitoring and Evaluation. A series of monitoring exercises preceded the evaluation using objectively verifiable indicators and tools.

The objectives of the Monitoring and Evaluation of ‘Project 0336’ included the need to measure progress against objectives and performance standards, and to enable accountability to donors, partners and people affected by the project. This was carried out to ensure that the overall objectives of the project which were to assist households in oil producing communities to maximize the quality of their drinking water supply and free them from the burdens of ill-health caused by human and industrial pollution.

It is good to note that many water, sanitation and infrastructure projects fail to provide the benefits originally envisaged. The success of projects depends on a number of factors, for example demand, affordability, sustained functioning and maintenance, management and user behaviour (hygiene and use). In addition are the factors of planning, monitoring and evaluation. It was in realization of all these that project monitoring and evaluation was mainstreamed in the “Mor-sand filter for oil producing communities’’ as an imperative strategy to check and control error and optimize the benefits of the project as reported.

Monitoring is relevant not only to progress in the field but also to managerial, administrative and financial processes within the organisation as the project implementer. It was achieved by establishing a monitoring system that both collects relevant information on progress and communicates it to relevant parties. Evaluation enables RAWDP to compare actual project outcomes with those intended, and from this draws lessons to guide future projects or subsequent phases of the same project. Evaluation in RAWDP was used to guide strategy; measure performance; correct errors; and verify cost benefit analysis.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Biogas- for a sustainable society!

The saying that travelling is part of education cannot be less true in all ramifications. I say so because my recent visit and tours of Sweden as a part of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) sponsored Ecological Sanitation Resource class 2008.
I was among fifteen other top sustainable development professionals invited to Stockholm to undergo three weeks Ecological Sanitation Resource training. As part of the training we had schedules of visits very interesting places in Stockholm such as the Natur Centrum, the Skansen Centre, as well as the Skarpnack and Listudden neighborhoods. What I saw in these sites made me ‘dumb’. They were great places to visit by anyone who is really interested in the preservation of nature/ecology.
However my most recent visit to Linkoping, from where I scribble this piece stands out on its merit hence the desire to share my experiences with you. Linkoping is a growing city with a modest population of about 130,000 residents. It has a university that is named after it and which has a population of about 30,000 students. Basic amenities or utilities like drinking water, waste water treatment, electricity and solid waste management etc are under the management of a company called Tekniska Verken. In Linkoping there is great order and everybody seems happy.
Svenk Biogas is a 100% owned subsidiary of Tekniska Verken based in Linkoping, Sweden. Its mission is to promote the development of biogas. It works in this direction regionally by promoting and marketing the production of vehicle fuel gas and bio-fertilizer as well as the process development and biogas production concepts based on both farm produce and organic waste as raw materials.
Biogas is part of the cycle of nature. The gas is formed when organic matters decompose in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. This can take place spontaneously- marsh gas is one example-or under controlled conditions, such as in a digester. In Linkoping, biogas is primarily used as fuel for vehicles, but it can be used to produce heat and electricity as well- and all this without drawing fossil fuel resources from the Earth. The biogas process also gives biological fertilizer, replacing artificial fertilizers.
Two major environmental problem areas-over fertilizing and the greenhouse effect are reduced by using biogas and bio-fertilizers. This results in a complete cycle for nutritive substances as well as for carbon dioxide.
By using bio-fertilizer the nutritive substances are returned to the farms, and by using biogas for vehicle fuel, no new carbon dioxide will be emitted to the atmosphere. You could say that the vehicles are run on solar energy which has first been stored in the green foliage and then been converted to biogas. Since biogas is a renewable form of energy it is an important part of creating sustainable environment-friendly society.
At the biogas plant in Linkoping, various waste products are converted to biogas and bio-fertilizer. Production is based on organic waste material, primarily from slaughter-house remains and the food industry, together with manure from neighboring farms.
The material is mixed into homogenous slurry in a reception tank, after which it is hygienized by steam-heating to above 70oC for at least one hour, in order to kill bacteria. After cooling, the material is pumped into a digester to be broken down by different types of microorganisms in an anaerobic environment at about 38oC. The average detention dwell time in the digester is one month, and this is where the gas is produced.
When ready, the gas is piped to the upgrading facility where it is purified in a pressurized water scrubber before it is supplied as vehicle fuel.
Next to the biogas plant the sewage water treatment plant is located. The gas produced here in the sludge digestion process can also be upgraded and used as vehicle fuel. The two plants are connected with a gas pipeline.
The biogas plant is equipped with a liquid natural gas (LNG) tank. At peak biogas demand, the LNG can be vaporized and mixed with the biogas in the pipeline, guaranteeing an uninterrupted gas supply. The material remaining after digestion, the bio-fertilizer, is cooled to 20oC and stored at the plant a day or two before distribution to farms.
All processes in connection with the production of biogas and the treatment of waste are very energy-efficient, and only a small portion of the energy content of the biogas is used in the production and distribution process.
Before biogas can be used as fuel for vehicles, it must be upgraded. Removing most of the carbon dioxide will raise the methane content to 96-98%; energy content per cubic meter roughly corresponds to 1 liter of petrol or diesel fuel. After filtering and drying, the gas meets the Swedish Standard for biogas for vehicles (SS 15 54 38).
The purified biogas is distributed to the bus depot and the public refueling station through underground pipe lines. When demand increases, it may be feasible to distribute the biogas by gas trailers to other refueling stations.
Fuelling a vehicle with biogas is done at a pressure of about 200 bars. All city buses in Linkoping run on biogas. They are refueled (slow-filling) during night stops at the depot, which has more than 60 parking spaces, making it the largest in Sweden for biogas buses
Cars are refueled at fast fill dispensers, and are usually equipped with dual fuel systems-biogas and petrol. Range varies with type of car and way of driving. The vehicles can also be refueled and run on natural gas (CNG). Biogas is the most environmentally-friendly fuel currently in existence. The combustion of biogas gives low emissions of nitrogen- and sulphur oxides, particles and uncombusted hydrocarbons.
For biological fertilizers, the quality of incoming material is essential and has to be quality assured to produce a high quality bio-fertilizer replacing artificial fertilizer on farms. Nitrogen in its organic state needs to be decomposed in the soil before it is accessible to the vegetation. During the decomposition process the organically combined nitrogen is converted into ammonium nitrogen which can be directly assimilated by the plants. This means that nutriments which the earth once gave the plants growing there, are returned, thereby completing the cycle.
As the Governor Ikedi Ohakim government trudges on with its Clean and Green Project, I am of the opinion that the project could be made greener through the adoption of the Linkoping model in Owerri city. This could be implemented if Owerri is divided into grids and the model replicated in clusters.