Government Establishing Community Partnerships for Rural Water Expansion


Minister of Water and Housing, Donald Buchanan has challenged rural communities to actively participate with government, in the construction and development of their own water supply systems as the public sector could not by itself unable to sustain the level of investment required to fund water supply and sanitation systems.
He was speaking at the recent opening of the Rural Water and Sanitation Programme (RWSP) workshop on Build and Operate (BO) contracting for community managed water systems. Mr. Buchanan stated that water supply expansion had been almost exclusively undertaken by government, using the utility approach.
Since the 1990’s, government had spent over $20 billion on major water supply and sewerage projects, including the Montego Bay/Great River supply system; the Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay sewerage systems; the Lucea/Negril water supply system, and the Great River/Lucea water supply systems.
He further explained that work was currently being carried out on the Great River/Lucea water supply system, the Kingston Metropolitan Area Water Supply and Rehabilitation Project, the Port Antonio Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Project, and the Kingston Water Supply and Sanitation Project. All of these projects, he informed, were funded largely by international loans underwritten by government. He added that the period since 1998 had seen the most intensive and extensive programme of water supply expansion in rural communities in the country’s history.
“Significantly, even while we were putting in the major water supply and sewerage infrastructure in our urban areas through these projects,” the Minister noted, “our record at implementing water and sanitation systems in rural areas has not been quite impressive”.
He said that according to the Survey of Living Conditions 2001, some 71 per cent of Jamaican households had access to piped water and over 50 per cent had water directly in their homes. Meanwhile, the Minister disclosed that coverage in the rural areas was only 45 per cent, compared to 98 per cent in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA), and 85 per cent in other towns. Mr. Buchanan pointed out that this reality has become a major concern and hence the reason for the establishment of the Water Ministry in 1998. Among the Ministry’s principal purpose, he said was to address the water supply needs of the 30 per cent of mostly rural persons who did not have access to piped water.
However, he acceded, the realities of sparse population, challenging terrain and lack of proximity to water sources, had made the expansion of rural water supply challenging and hence the need for more innovative and unconventional approaches, such as the RWSP.
“Access to clean and safe drinking water and proper sanitation have now been accepted as key indicators of quality of life, and no responsible government can ignore rural water provision under the guise of this activity not being financially viable,” he told the gathering of contractors, rural residents and other stakeholders.
He said that it was in response to these challenges and after thorough analysis of rural water needs that government, through its water sector policy, had decided to pursue a strategy of community and private sector participation in the provision of water supply and sanitation services.
“Building these systems is one thing, their sustainable operation is quite another. The truth is that whilst government is committed to making a contribution to the capital cost of water supply systems, it cannot subsidise their operation. Tariffs must take care of operations,” Minister Buchanan said. He argued that “our philosophy of government is not to attempt to do everything for everyone but to facilitate and empower people to do things for themselves.what we are doing through the Rural Water and Sanitation Programme is to work with the community groups and private sector to build and maintain least cost water supply and sanitation systems”.
He told the gathering that a draft was being prepared by the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for the new Water Supply and Sewerage Services Act, which will enable any private entity or community group to obtain a licence as an operator of a water supply or sewerage system, enjoying the same privileges as the National Water Commission (NWC). The Minister maintained that this tripartite approach involving the Ministry, the contractors and benevolent societies has been devised and would require substantial reorientation on the part of communities, which will move from being simply customers of the NWC to being owners of systems, which they have assisted in designing and constructing. He said that communities would now appreciate the cost of running water supply systems and the need to pay water bills. In addition, building contractors will not be mere recipients of contracts to build, but will also function as operators under the build/operate concept.
Mr. Buchanan pointed out that this concept would be positive in two ways, as it would force everyone involved to build systems, which would result in lower operation and maintenance costs; and it would also force building contractors to form alliances with other players who can take care of the commercial aspects of the business.
“Doubtless, the changes will not be all smooth,” he cautioned, adding, “but if we are determined and focused, we can chart a new course, and in the end, coverage to rural Jamaican can be increased substantially”.
The RWSP is aimed at improving the sanitation and health status of citizens in rural Jamaica; supporting the reduction of poverty; and encouraging citizens to participate in the development of their communities. The programme is being implemented through four pilot water projects in four parishes involving 15 communities: Whitehorses, Botany Bay and Pamphret, in St. Thomas; Gravel Hill, in St. Elizabeth; Ffyffes Pen, Cotterwood, Content, Sellington and Shrewbury in St. Mary; and Mile Gully, Athalone, Silver Spring, George Town, Warwick Castle and Tucker, in St. Mary.
The Ministry recently signed contracts with Corcel Corporation totalling some $40 million for the supply of material for the White Horses/Pamphret/Botany Bay water supply system.
The Office of Utilities Regulations will work with the communities to set the rates for water supply, while the Water Resources Authority will act as an independent allocator of the water resources.
The two-day workshop saw presentations on, ‘Community and Private Sector Participation in Small Scale Water and Sanitation’: ‘Trends, Experiences and Requirements for Sustainability’; ‘Confronting Local Challenges Towards Solutions’ among others.

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