WATER SUPPLY MANAGEMENT IN COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
Background of the project
Over 30 years ago poor families began to settle on low lying government land within the Colombo city limits which became known as 27 Watta. Covering about one and a half acres, this illegal settlement lacked a proper source of water and had little or no sanitation facilities.
In the 1980s The Urban Basic Services Program of the Colombo Municipal Council and UNICEF installed 6 common water taps and four toilets. But the community kept growing and with time, the water source and toilets provided in the 1980s were not enough for the increasing numbers of residents. By 2004 over 462 persons were living in 112 housing units and the community was still lacking basic water and sanitation services.
A survey conducted that year by Sevanatha Urban Resource Center, a local NGO, described 27 Watta as one of the poorest settlements in Colombo lacking basic services and infrastructure such as safe and clean drinking water, proper sanitation facilities and an internal drainage system for waste. This had placed a burden upon the residents, which had to wait in long lines while collecting water. Health issues arose due to the open sewage within the community especially when the rains caused flooding.
Since the community was still considered a squatter settlement, with residents living illegally on government land, no public utility authority had extended any services to improve the water and sanitation services. The survey revealed that all households in 27 Watta were willing to pay for water based on the national tariff if it was provided on individual basis in their homes. According to the community profile prepared prior to the implication of the project, the average monthly income per household was between Rs6000 and Rs8000 (US$60 to US$80) (1). By comparison, the average monthly water bill for low-income households in Colombo was between Rs.150 and Rs.300 (according to the national water tariff, which is subsidized). This shows that on an average low-income households connected to the grid spend around 3% of their monthly income on water.
(1) NOTE: Average exchange rate for 2004: US$1=Rs.101.194
In order to address the needs in 27 Watta a partnership was established between the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (state-owned utility) and the Women’s Bank (a community-based micro finance organization). The NGO Sevenatha acted as facilitator. This initiative was a replication of a pilot project initiated by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for
Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in another slum area in Colombo (2). If on the first project the Water Board granted a concession to a local private company to deliver the water, on this occasion a community-based organization was selected to operate the system.
The new project had, the following objectives:
- Provide piped drinking water supply for private individual use for each household
- Arrange an operational and maintenance system managed by the community
- Reduce the water wastage and the amount of the recorded unaccounted water for the National Water Supply and Drainage Board
- Have a lasting impact on the well-being of poor communities in the city
Construction commenced on May 31 2005 and was completed by March 1, 2006 with connections to 70 households. The National Water Supply and Drainage Board is now responsible for supplying the bulk water to the Women’s Bank who in turn is the retail water supplier to the individual households.
The individual households paid a portion of the capital cost, including pipe installation, the purchase of a water meter, as well as their monthly water consumption based on the national water tariff.
The total investment was Rs610,000 (US$6,000). Of this total, 75% was financed though a public subsidy (with money originally provided by UNESCAP under the first pilot project) and 25% from connection charges of households. Any households who could not afford the connection charges were allowed free water from the common taps until they could afford their own private supply.
The success of this project was due to the involvement of the community and the Women’s Bank who worked closely with the families and the community as a whole. The community itself was largely responsible for the success of the project due to their commitment and closeness to the project from the beginning. Their effectiveness was instrumental to the success of this pro-poor water project.
2. Key outcomes
- (2) For more information on the original pilot project see “Water Distribution in Colombo” case study in www.unescap.org/pdd/water.
As a result of this project, residents who were once lacking access to adequate water facilities were now able to enjoy a private water supply in their own homes on a 24 hour basis.
The partnership and management of the operation guaranteed an affordable cost for a private connection as each household is paying their monthly water fees without any delays.
The project achieved its objectives within a short period, providing 70 residents with private water house connections. The Women’s Bank in turn developed management procedures to operate the practice without delays or bureaucratic constraints. The project itself provided the residents with a sense of pride as to the success of the project and the improvements it brought to the community as a whole.
The success of the project was based on community involvement and support of the Women’s Bank who was instrumental in mobilizing the residents. As a micro finance organization, the Women’s Bank was well informed with community needs, their behavior and how to deal with the residents in financial transactions. They were able to mobilize the community more effectively than the private company did under the previous pilot project.
3. Sustainability and replication
This practice is financially sustainable and will likely remain so. The community households receive water at an affordable price while the Women’s Bank makes a reasonable profit to cover operational and maintenance expenses and the National Water Supply and Drainage Board receives its monthly payment from the Women’s Bank without any delays.
Since this project was carried out as a participatory process, the community gained a sense of ownership towards the water supply system built within their locality, which improved their daily lives. The households themselves look after the system without expecting external support. The recovery of the water fee is done by a community-based organization, thus rendering the system economically and socially sustainable. There is no need for changes in the pricing system unless the Government adjusts its national tariff structure.
Greater sustainability could be achieved if the National Water Supply and Drainage Board expanded the size of the practice to achieve a large customer base. As the number of households in 27 Watta is small, the Women’s Bank has offered part time employment to its members in this project. They will need al least 1000 households per management unit to justify fulltime staff and earning a reasonable profit as a business venture.
The current water distribution system is considered outdated and ineffective for meeting the needs of low income communities where basic services are in great demand. The success in 27 Watta serves as role model for other communities to follow. With commitment, strong support within the community and the will to improve the quality of life, even the poorest of communities can work together to build a better life for their families.
With 1,614 underserved settlements in Colombo city, the success within 27 Watta could be implemented in other communities using the same guidelines carried out by the Women’s Bank and the commitment from the community itself.
5. Contact information
Mr. K. A. Jayaratne (Program Manager and documenter)
President, Sevenatha – Urban Resource Center
14, School Lane, Nawala, Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka
Phone/fax: +94-112-878893, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Secretariat. Mention of firm names and commercial products does not imply the endorsement of the United Nations. This publication has been issued without formal editing.