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DEVELOPMENT-ANGOLA: Building Sustainable Water Systems

Louise Redvers

LUANDA, Oct 1 2008 (IPS) - Angola may be emerging as an African super power with its plentiful oil exports and a booming property market. But look behind the façade of this boom and real entrenched poverty continues to blight millions of lives.

In spite of its huge mineral wealth and escalating GDP (24 percent last year) Angola has the second worst child mortality rate in the world, only outdone by Sierra Leone.

According to “The State of the World’s Children” report published in September by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, 260 out of every 1,000 Angolan children die before their fifth birthday. The same UNICEF report reveals just 31 percent of Angolan children have access to adequate sanitation, a key factor in the country’s high rate of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases, the second biggest killer of children after malaria.

Some of the worst sanitation can be found in the capital Luanda, where families fled during the three decades of conflict.

Six years after peace came to Angola, more than a million of these displaced people still remain, cramped onto hillsides prone to collapse during the heavy rains and living without many basic facilities, including access to clean and safe water.

Many rely on unprotected and shared wells, hand pumps, unprotected springs or tanks filled by trucks to get their water.

The trucked water is supposed to be treated, but its communal delivery and its transportation back to homes in open buckets doesn’t always guarantee this and many families treat their water with chlorine solutions before it’s drunk or used for cooking. Of course many do not, which accounts for the high levels of water-borne diseases.

The Angolan government is investing 650 million dollars through its “Agua para todas” (“Water for everyone”) scheme which is focusing on these peri-urban areas, building more wells and boreholes and improving supply.

But while some African countries face drought and mounting debt, Angola is a rich country with a wet climate for half the year. Its problem is not a lack of resources, physically or financially, it is a lack of human and institutional resources to manage the water supply.

This is where the World Bank and its Water Sector Institutional Development Project comes in. A recently approved seven-year “credit” is worth 113.2 million dollars and will be spent on helping Angola get its water systems working better.

But as Luiz Tavares, a lead water and sanitation specialist and the World Bank’s project task team explained: “This is not about hydraulics and water pumps, it’s about the management of systems after the civil works finish.

“Angola has asked the World Bank for our expertise and we’re transferring our international experience to Angolans.

“This project is about creating and improving institutions that can be sustained. It’s important that the system is there for the long term and that’s what we’re doing here.”

A delegation from Angola was invited by the World Bank to attend a two-week event in Washington where they were exposed to lessons learned and new ideas, exchanging experiences with representatives from Europe, Latin America, Asia and other parts of Africa.

Tavares, who is based in Mozambique, said: “We’re here for the day after – so the water system has been put in, now how is it going to be operated and maintained?

“Water systems aren’t like roads which are built and then just you drive through. It’s like a hospital, you build it but then you need to open it every day with medicines, doctors, nurses, and supplies to make it useful.

“With water systems, you can physically expand the piping and distributions but you need to ensure the quality of the services continues, in terms of treatment and quality of the water, and in terms of pressure in the distribution.”

He added: “What we’re building here with Angola is institutional development – creation of agencies which can handle the work.

“We’re not telling Angola how to do things, we’re giving them options of how it could work based on lessons learned from other countries. This project will make a critical difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Angolans, by providing the water in a sustainable base, in the long run.”

As well as expanding water access, the Angolan government is also decentralizing the operation of the system to create provincial water and sanitation utilities. The idea behind this, Tavares explained, is to give more local ownership of systems to make them run more effectively for the people they serve with high economy of scale.

He said Angola faced large challenges for expanding water access to particularly the over-populated peri-urban areas of Luanda, but also in Malange, Huige, Kuito and other cities and this needed to happen quickly to meet growing demand and reduce disease.

But he said it was important there was quality to these new services and prices were managed at break-even points, otherwise the increase in demand could push up the monthly spend on water.

By creating regulation systems to oversee the service, the idea is to avoid these delivery problems and maintain a constant supply at balanced prices that covers the costs of operation. Otherwise, the systems will slowly stopping to work properly.

Some World Bank water schemes have however attracted the wrong kind of headlines. In Tanzania for example, there were allegations that money was mis-spent and promised pipe development was not carried out.

Tavares said the model used in Tanzania had been reviewed along with models used in 12 other countries.

He said Angola’s system was closer to the Brazilian experience, using public enterprises, with regulatory aspects which have been successful in Mozambique. Tavares also defended the Bank against criticism that a wealthy country like Angola should not be encouraged to get into debt to the World Bank when it has enough money to hire the services itself.

“I cannot respond on behalf of the Government of Angola, but they see the benefit of our involvement to bring the experience of the Bank from other continents to the table as well as our network of peer reviewers.”

Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said: “Supplying clean water to Angola is a very important investment and Angola needs this work to happen.

“I don’t see this credit as a tremendous risk to Angola, considering the price of oil at the moment and the budget surplus they have recorded.

“In terms of problems with previous World Bank water projects, I think lessons have been learned and here the focus is more on the human resource rather than the physical water structures and this human capital is something which Angola really needs.”

UNICEF Angola Representative Angela Kearney said: “We support any improvement to water and sanitation here in Angola and this credit is particularly timely because 2008 is the international year of sanitation.

“Studies show that every $1 you spend on sanitation, it gives you $9 back in terms of benefits for health and care in children.”

Kearney said the will was certainly there within the Angolan government to improve the country’s water and sanitation but agreed the challenge was procurement and achievement of these aims.

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