The eThekwini story on urban water and sanitation servicesSeptember 6, 2014
The eThekwini story on urban water and sanitation services
The World Water Week, a global gathering of people in the water sector, is currently on in Stockholm, Sweden. This is the Mecca for water practitioners where cutting edge yet practical ideas and experiences in managing the water sector is shared and discussed. At the water week various awards are given out and this year the winner for the World Water Prize is Dr John Briscoe. In the urban water sector the winner for the 2014 Stockholm Industry Water Award is the eThekwini Municipality and more specifically the eThekwini Water and Sanitation Utility (EWS) which is in charge of providing water and sanitation facilities to the greater Durban Municipal area. Here there are many lessons for Indian water utilities and municipalities.
The eThekwini utility is responsible for serving a population of 3.6 million people spread over a vast area of 2297 square kilometers. It supplies 900 million litres per day to both formal and informal housing settlements where the informal settlements are actually 54 %. In South Africa the constitution recognizes water and sanitation as a human right and therefore a certain amount of water – 900 litres per month- is provided free to households as well as access to free sanitation in the form of a Ventilated Pit toilet at the minimum. In the greater Durban area 37 % of the families receive these free basic services as it is the Ethekwini Municipality which is designated as the agency responsible for the delivery of these rights.
What then differentiates this utility and makes it the most progressive and innovative water utility in Africa? At the heart seems to be the institutional team with a creative leadership with a vision. Neil Macleod, the outgoing head is recognized a s a great team leader with a vision. He sets out his vision as following the 5 key management issues – human resource skills, customer management, revenue management, asset management and new services delivery. Clearly lessons for Indian utility managers. With this leadership it has also been possible to generate the required political will towards innovative and progressive water and sanitation services delivery.
The second seems to be a relentless focus on customer first as well as clear service level standards. Every customer in the municipality is clear about what she can expect under the customer charter so developed as well as a clear articulation of the Service Level Standards set out by EWS.
Some of the innovative ideas tried out include the provision of more than 80000 Urine Diverting Dry Toilets (UDDT); Investigation is now on to see how both urine and faecal sludge can be used as a nutrient for agriculture. Also there is a project to pelletize the faecal sludge and then use it as a fertilizer. Rainwater harvesting is being encouraged for households to supplement their water requirements. Wastewater recycling for industrial use, street theatre for customer literacy and the correct use of sanitation facilities, a robust community engagement mechanism including customer service agents is some of the innovative ideas being tried out.
Durban is famous for its beaches and it is the clear water and surf which brings tourists in hordes and helps the local economy. It is critical therefore that the waters be kept free from sewage pollution. That the EWS focus is both basic service to people as a human right and managing waters to benefit the economy and the environment is a tribute to its efforts recognized by the Award.
It is time that water utilities in India learn from the eThekwini example and a visit to Durban is therefore a must. That would be water and sanitation wisdom.