Water company faces major hurdle
-- $750M-$950M lost in revenue every year by Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
July 2, 2004

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SOME 60% of the water being distributed by the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) is unaccounted for, resulting in $750M-$950M lost in revenue every year, company officials estimate.

At the GWI inauguration of a `Water Wise Community’ programme yesterday at the National Library in Georgetown, acting Managing Director, Mr. Andrew Barber said water loss which amounts to 40% of the operational expenditure of the company, is its singularly biggest problem.

He stressed that such a situation has to be significantly reversed to ensure the company’s sustainability and in this regard several initiatives have been adopted, including metering customers.

Currently, 20% of the customers are metered but it is projected that by 2007 that figure would increase to 85%, Barber said. He pointed out that in addition a special GWI team was monitoring and fixing leaks along transmission lines in the distribution system.

However, Barber observer that a significant percentage of water that is unaccounted for is through illegal connections by some consumers.

Apart from the water saving measures implemented by GWI, he said community sensitisation and education with respect to the economical use of water was an “important tool” in reducing water losses, and this led to the implementation of the `Water Wise Community’ programme.

Minister of Housing and Water, Mr. Shaik Baksh stressed that reducing water losses was essential in ensuring the viability of the GWI.

In this regard, he noted that part of the contract with the British firm, Severn Trent International, which manages the GWI, caters for reduction of water loss from 60% to 25% by 2007.

He impressed upon GWI personnel the need to work in collaboration with communities, particularly in the area of communications, to resolve difficulties that may arise.

The minister said that in his visits to communities he has been receiving many complaints of poor service from the GWI and urged the Public Relations Department of the company to broaden its focus in relation to community work.

Giving examples where he used the community approach successfully, Baksh said whenever there is a problem people would understand, provided there is timely communication explaining the nature of the problem to the community.

He said the recently compiled Customer Charter which underscores the rights of customers, was a step in this direction.

On the issue of paying tariffs, the minister indicated that consumers are willing to pay but because of perceived or real situations of poor service they are reluctant to make payments, which are essential in ensuring sustainability of service.

GWI Public Relations Officer, Ms. Audreyanna Thomas explained that the aim of the `Water Wise’ programme was to educate and create greater awareness of water, and its many values, as well as to highlight the importance of water conservation and recognise efforts made at the community level to be `Water Wise’.

She noted too that water is central to human development and poverty alleviation, and no longer is it taken for granted as a plentiful resource.

“People have come to realise that water as a limited resource must be carefully managed for the benefit of all people and the environment to ensure water security now and in the future. This concept of water security, which considers the future of water in present day planning, also implies ensuring access to water by all groups and empowering them to manage and represent their interest,” she said.

She observed that in Guyana very often the behaviour and attitude of the public towards water consumption was unbecoming, and influenced by the fact that Guyana has large supplies of fresh water which is perceived to be a free and unlimited resource.

As part of the initiation of the `Water Wise Programme’, six communities were honoured with certificates for fulfilling the benchmark of consuming less than 180 litres of water per capita.

The communities were Industry and Better Hope, East Coast Demerara; Republic Park and the Eccles new housing scheme, East Bank Demerara and North and South Ruimveldt, Georgetown.

The `Water Wise Community Programe’ is a collaborative effort of GWI and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).

Thomas acknowledged the support for GWI’s water reduction efforts by several agencies, including the British Department for International Development (DFID), the Inter-American Development (IDB) the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).