After nearly 22 consecutive years in office, the PPP/C government has still not been able to reverse the over 70% loss of water produced in Georgetown, while only 6.5% of the populace is being serviced by the national sewerage system.
The stark figures were contained in a release the Inter-American Develop-ment Bank (IDB) issued last week as it announced a US$31.6 million package for Guyana’s water and sewerage system. The high loss of water within the Georgetown system has been a problem for longer than 22 years but it means that despite the pouring of significant resources into the water system and uninterrupted governance of over two decades, the PPP/C administration has been unable to reverse the losses. Now, more money is to be borrowed to address the problem.
The water loss mirrors the situation at the Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL), which has seen intractable losses for the same 22-year period.
A total US$31.6 million, which is being provided by IDB and the European Union’s Caribbean Investment Facility (CIF), is to assist the Government of Guyana as it seeks to correct deficiencies, including inefficient equipment, less than adequate operation and management practices as well as high energy costs.
According to an IDB, 50% to 70% of the water produced by Guyana Water Inc (GWI), estimated at 123,241,062 m3 in 2013, goes unaccounted for despite advancements in annual billing, while the current sewerage arrangement covers 48,000 people living in Georgetown. This figure represents just 6.5 per cent of the national population, as the vast majority continue to use septic tanks and pit-latrines.
When asked why the PPP/C administration has taken so long to address these deficiencies, Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali told Stabroek News that steps were initiated to improve GWI’s efficiency some years ago. He admitted, however, that there have been challenges along the way.
With regard to reducing losses, Ali reiterated that the system is old and inefficient but also said that many of the problems are caused by customers. He said many persons continue to tamper with the system, going as far as breaking pipes so as to redirect the flow of water. He noted that several mining operations in Region 8 are known for perpetrating such acts. When this happens it compromises the integrity of the distribution system, opening it up to contamination.
Ali also said there are instances of meter tampering, which means persons are not paying what they ought to for the water they use. The minister added that persons opt not to pay their bills. GWI has stated before that many customers illegally reconnect their water without paying arrears.
Ali is hoping that the various initiatives bring GWI’s losses down to below 30 per cent.
With regard to the sewerage system, he said there are no immediate plans for expansion. Instead, efforts are being concentrated on making the existing system more modern and efficient. Ali noted that Guyana is unique in that many citizens, both in and out of the capital city, use septic tanks. He, however, added that as more and more housing schemes open up, there may be investments towards centralising and recycling waste.
According to IDB, problems faced by GWI as it looks to improve its services and management of operation include aging pipes, some of which were laid in the 1920s and never replaced for lack of planning. It also said levels of asset management and maintenance at GWI is insufficient. It further states that “electromechanical efficiency of equipment as low as 50% (in 2012), which, combined with the current O&M practices and the energy costs, brings GWI expenditure on energy to about 53% of its annual OPEX (operational expenses).”
High energy costs were also cited as a strain to GWI’s operations. The company currently pays US$0.3 per kWh, among the highest in the Caribbean, to pump its water and to power is sewerage system.
The IDB release added that service, at times, is unreliable, as pressure can be as low as 1 to 3 m3 and some communities, even in Georgetown, receive running water for a period of 16 hours a day.
Under the “Programme to Improve Water and Sanitation Infrastructure and Supply,” which will target regions 3, 4, and 6, the IDB will be releasing US$16.8 while the CIF will be contributing US$14.8 million.
The very first component of the initiative involves the construction, rehabilitation and expansion of Guyana’s water treatment plants. The estimated cost of these works is US$16.4 million.
Specifically, the funds will finance the final designs and works required to improve Guyana’s water supply system, as well as the quality of water provided to citizens. It will also facilitate the creation of additional water treatment capacity.
Towards these ends, four storage tanks will be constructed as the government looks to ensure water supply continuity and higher pressure throughout the distribution network. Also, three new Water Treatment Plants will be constructed to complement the 25 GWI already manages. Meanwhile, the Shelter Belt and the Sophia treatment plants will be rehabilitated while the Central Ruimveldt treatment plant will be expanded.
Component two of the initiative will see US$7.2 million going towards financing a Non-Revenue Water (NRW) Program, which is aimed at reducing GWI’s NRW, in light of the amount of water unaccounted for at the national level. The national figure ranges from 50% to 70%, while the figure for Georgetown is worse as it was found that more than 70% of water provided by GWI to the capital city is unaccounted for. This is blamed on the deterioration of Water Distribution Networks (WDNs), parts of which were laid decades ago and are now very old.
The initiative envisages the development of a NRW management programme to define a reliable baseline, and to monitor and control physical and commercial losses. Also, systems will be zoned to allow for better management. Zoning will also include the installation of district meters where necessary. Additionally, work will be undertaken to rehabilitate the network and to install additional meters.
The installation of meters under this initiative will complement a metering programme GWI already commenced as it looks to achieve universal metering by 2020. As a result of ongoing efforts, GWI’s collection rates improved from 43% in 2010 to approximately 63%, according to the IDB. Despite this advancement, the IDB says the figure falls below industry standards.
The third component of the initiative seeks to undertake the institutional strengthening of GWI. This component will cost US$1.1 million and will seek to enhance the utility company’s capacity to manage the improved infrastructure, and move towards international managerial and operational standards.
Activities under the third component will include capacity building instructions on asset management and NRW reduction; activities to strengthen GWI administrative, financial and commercial management; and support for the implementation of a monitoring and evaluation system to track GWI’s performance overtime.
The final component will focus on improving access to sanitation, and will cost an estimated US$1.3 million. Like the metering component, this too will complement ongoing efforts as it will finance the conversion of obsolete pit latrines into efficient septic tank units. The number of such conversions will be determined following the establishment of relevant criteria.
Specific activities include the construction and installation of toilets and septic tanks; operation and management instructions to relevant personnel and public awareness activities on good hygiene practices.