The 2022 edition of World Water Week will take place 23 August to 1 September online and in Stockholm, Sweden. The conference will be held on the theme ‘Seeing the … Read more
By Neil Jeffery
Today is my last day at WSUP after eight years as Chief Executive. I let the Board know of my decision to step down at the end of last year. The substantial notice period allowed for a stable and ordered handover to the new CEO, Ed Mitchell, a very knowledgeable and experienced individual. I am delighted to have been able to organize the transition in such a way to maximize stability for the business. Ed and I have spent the last fortnight visiting most of WSUP’s main funders and supporters to ensure an ‘in person’ handover of each relationship. This period has provided an invaluable opportunity to discuss in detail the future opportunities for WSUP.
Over the weekend I was clearing out papers from my office and came across a presentation on achieving scale that I had prepared for the WSUP Board in 2014. This set me reflecting on the journey that WSUP has been on over the last eight years, and the scale we have managed to achieve over that period.
Achieving impact at scale is the “holy grail” of social enterprises. Many talk about seeking or planning to achieve scale, but far fewer manage to reach a level of scale in their operations. WSUP recently celebrated the milestone of improving the lives of 30 million low-income residents in Africa and Asia through improved water, sanitation, and hygiene services. These women, men, and children have benefited through access to sustainable and financially viable services provided by local utilities and private sector providers working under the mandate of the utility. In 2014 WSUP had successfully worked with 4 million individuals, so achieving the target of assisting 30 million required a transformation in the organization’s ability to operate at scale.
I am extremely proud of having been able to lead WSUP through this period of sustained growth in impact. This achievement is down to many factors, not least WSUP’s remarkable, talented and experienced global staff. 80% of WSUP team members work in, and are from, Africa and Asia. This impressive pool of talent and expertise has been fundamental in building and maintaining positive relationships with governments, partners, and communities. It has allowed us to be entrepreneurial, agile, and responsive in the face of external shocks such as COVID or severe climatic events.
However, to reach scale, we needed to help these teams achieve even more. Over the last few years, we have worked to increase the autonomy and agility of our international teams in a framework of strengthened assurance, to allow them to achieve greater and faster impact. As part of this initiative, we established a three-year training and mentoring programme to strengthen the capabilities of our Africa and Asia country managers to prepare them to lead much larger multidisciplinary teams as WSUP grew. In parallel to this, we created new Africa-based senior roles to lead our international influencing strategy.
To grow, funders and investors needed to have confidence that we were able to credibly deliver on time, at scale, and in complex scenarios. I recognised early on that this belief must be underpinned by a high level of confidence from external stakeholders in our internal systems. As a result, I set about transforming our systems to prepare the business to achieve impact in a fundamentally different and more efficient manner. Over a number of years, we completely transformed WSUP’s finance, talent, risk, and IT management systems, and established new learning & development procedures. Additionally, we introduced a “cradle to grave” contract management process for all WSUP’s operational contracts. These professionalised systems, combined together, allowed us to increase support to our global teams and strengthen assurance and accountability, whilst empowering staff to deliver impact at scale.
Equally important was a clear, realistic, and inspiring vision for staff and external stakeholders of WSUP’s trajectory for growth. It was essential to ensure that all believed in the mission and stayed connected to the journey. Articulating the values of the social enterprise and those who worked in it was a critical aspect of this process. For the first time we were able to establish a set of organisational values that truly reflected the aspirations of our staff. We accomplished this through an extensive consultation process with all global teams, collating their perspective of WSUP’s unique contribution and value. This ultimately allowed us to announce six new organisational values to coincide with the 2020-2025 Business Plan.
Finally, an engaged Board was essential for achieving success. The involvement of the Board in each business plan process has increased steadily over my eight years at WSUP. The Board participated actively in defining the strategic direction of the 2020-2025 Business Plan. Based on reflections and suggestions collected through 50 detailed stakeholder interviews conducted with staff and external partners, the Board elaborated five strategic objectives as the basis of the plan. In 2019 the Board travelled as a group, for the first time, to conduct a deep dive into one of WSUP’s most successful operations and finalise the strategic goals for the plan.
Others may point to additional critical factors, but if the experience of the last eight years has taught me anything, it is that you must get the basics right before you can “soar” as a social enterprise. Impact at scale is definitely achievable, but it requires strategic focus, analytical rigour, determination, and passion.
Working with Ed over the last couple of weeks has demonstrated that he has the passion, energy, and vision to lead the organization to even greater impact at scale. I know he is enthusiastically committed to assisting more low-income residents to access sustainable water and sanitation services. I wish Ed and all the WSUP team across the globe the very best for WSUP’s next stage of growth.
Top image: Neil Jeffery and WSUP managers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2018
This is the first in a new monthly series of articles, named “Letter from…”, written by WSUP’s teams in the main countries where we operate (Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, and Madagascar). In the first week of the month, one of those teams will have an article on the WSUP’s website about life in their communities. The first comes from Bangladesh and focuses on the impact of floods in the country.
By Abdus Shaheen, in Dhaka
Bangladesh has survived a number of disastrous events by adapting to climate change and disaster risks. At the time of writing, however, the country faces another gruelling experience: north-eastern districts are suffering from heavy floods, even after intensive preparation to prevent such a tragedy.
A coastal country, Bangladesh witnesses 2,200 millimetres of rainfall each year, but the north-eastern districts can receive as much as 5,000 millimetres. In the most recent event, the districts surrounding the Sylhet area have been suffering from very heavy rains, and the Himalayan meltdown – which is not stopped by Indian barrages – leads to the overflow of local rivers. This flow is going southwards, causing widespread damage, including in the Chattogram area, in the south-east.
Due to these disasters, people mostly suffer from water and sanitation-related crises. WSUP Bangladesh has been playing a vital role in mitigating human-induced climate issues, especially in providing safe water supply and waste management services.
Infrastructure in risk zones
In Chattogram, WSUP has been implementing water supply infrastructure projects where regular authorities have not been able to supply safe and clean water to the poor households in risk zones or underprivileged areas. Those areas are also prone to landslide risks, and when incidents occur electricity and water, including all types of utility connections, tend to be cut off.
The Chattogram Water Supply And Sewerage Authority is responsible for supplying drinking water to the city, but in the most low-income communities (LICs) it has been a major challenge to offer the service, as residents usually live in hill tops or very low-lying lands. WSUP Bangladesh tries to fill these gaps.
Alongside water infrastructures, WSUP Bangladesh is also implementing safe sanitation infrastructure activities for LICs that have been struggling to implement disaster-coping sanitation systems on their own.
Sustainable and waste management
Chattogram is a heavy industrial area, and there are various garment factories in the industrial zones. WSUP Bangladesh has, therefore, also focused on ready-made garments (RMG) workers’ communities whose water and sanitation facilities are inadequate.
Under heavy rainfall, dwellers most commonly suffer from waterlogging, which is contributed by the waste dumping at the drainage and canal networks, blocking the path that is supposed to carry the water out of the city.
WSUP Bangladesh has been helping build awareness for sustainable and waste management services and concentrating on faecal sludge management, including treatment and safe disposal. While the raw sludge water carries harmful bacteria – and is a nightmare for any public health institution –, treated water from faecal sludge is safe for the environment.
Our teams have already constructed a large faecal sludge treatment plant in the area of Chattogram City Corporation, and some private enterprises are engaged with the local authorities to provide sludge emptying services. The same enterprises also carry the collected sludge from the containments and transport it by vacuum trucks – which are much less likely to expose it to the open environment.
The carried sludge is dumped in a treatment plant, where the treated water is released into the open environment, while the treated solid from the sludge is transformed into compost or soil conditioner to be used in the local agricultural sector.
A history of floods
Out of 18 minor and major floods in Bangladesh during the 20th century, the most catastrophic ones happened in 1951, 1987, 1988, and 1998. In 1987, more than 57,000 km2 of land were affected by the devastating flood. In 1988 the disaster was even more damaging, as 82,000 km2 – or about 60% of the whole territory of the country – ended up underwater. Yet, resources were not prepared adequately, and a decade later, in 1998, about 75% of the country submerged in floods once again.
Significant floods this century took place in 2004 and 2010. Bangladesh’s southern districts (all coastal areas) also suffered immensely from cyclones Sidr and Aila, in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Later several small and large cyclones hit the country, causing massive saline intrusion in the agricultural lands, therefore making the southern agricultural sector almost incapable of cultivating crops.
Bangladesh is a riverine country. River erosion, flash floods, the peak of river waters, heat waves, and various other disasters are yet to be addressed. The Chattogram region also suffers from earthquakes, on top of flooding and land-sliding in the hilly areas. In the northern areas of Bangladesh, the Himalayan meltdown causes massive water inflow in neighbouring lands, flooding farms for thousands of miles. Bangladesh’s preparation for disasters, however, has become stronger with the dramatic experience brought by these events. Several government departments have been working to provide tools to prepare citizens for any potential calamity, as the country learns to be more resilient.
Environmental disasters, caused by nature but increasingly exacerbated by human activities, still have severe potential to harm Bangladesh’s livelihoods and nature. WSUP Bangladesh is one of the change-making organisations aiming at overcoming issues surrounding the water and sanitation sector, a mission also embraced by other national and international agencies working with the country’s authorities. We hope and work for a cleaner urban environment, in Chattogram and the whole of Bangladesh, where people can enjoy healthier and safer lives.
Top image: Flooding in Chattogram. Credit: Chattogram City Corporation
By Philip Oyamo, in Kampala
On a chilly dawn in Kyenjojo, western Uganda, the electromechanical technician at Mid-West Umbrella for Water and Sanitation (MWUWS), the regional water service provider, assembles his small unit and equipment, ready to drive off to Kigorobya scheme, some 176 kilometres away. This follows a report received at 2am from the pump attendant at the production borehole, saying that the pump was not working, meaning the town would be soon waking up to dry taps.
As if nature had conspired to worsen an already bad situation, the Area Manager for Bundibugyo almost immediately calls the senior technical officer and informs him that the Bundibugyo main water intake at the river has been washed away by raging floods, due to excessive run-off from Rwenzori mountains. The increased discharge episodes in the river is attributed to climate change, deforestation, herding animals, and cultivation along the riparian zones. For the MWUWS team, it means that the previously made plan for the week has to be aborted and another team from the lean staffed technical division has to be mobilised to immediately travel 155 kilometres to Bundibugyo, assess the situation, and come up with a solution as quickly as possible, limited resources notwithstanding.
This is a typical day at MWUWS, which manages 62 water systems meant to serve circa 1 million people in small towns and rural growth centres, spread across 16 Districts in the mid-west region of Uganda. Additional schemes – water production and distribution networks serving specific communities – are periodically gazetted for the Umbrella’s take-over.
The challenges experienced in ensuring continuous supply of potable water are not only on the technical side but also on other operational spheres. From holding volatile meetings with community members incited by politicians to demand for absolutely free services because the source of the water is “their” mountain, to lobbying District and town council stakeholders in fighting off competition from a larger utility interested in taking up water supply systems from MWUWS – and having to work extremely hard to collect revenues from customers in order to sustain operations.
Further compounded by a huge outstanding debt portfolio that the utility has been working extremely hard to recover from customers, these are just a few challenges that the commercial and finance divisions of MWUWS have to deal with on an ongoing basis.
Reorganisation and professionalism
Managing water supply in fragmented schemes spread geographically wide, with lean staff most of who are unskilled or semi-skilled, is not an easy task.
The good news is that, over the past four years, WSUP Advisory has been supporting MWUWS to become a well performing utility through funding received from the Conrad N Hilton Foundation. The funding provided to date totals USD 4 million, which have been invested in institutional reorganisation and capacity support, setting up governance structures and appointment of board members, marketing new connections, and expanding customer base by implementing pipeline extensions, revenue collection campaigns, adoption of billing and finance systems, scheme improvements, staff trainings on various identified gaps, among others.
The successes recorded in institutional reorganisation came through the area performance management framework (APMF), which organised the MWUWS into core technical staff based at the secretariat, Kyenjojo. This team have been supporting and guiding semi-autonomous area teams made up of between 2 and 9 water systems, led by a single area manager. All 16 areas are further grouped into 3 clusters of between 3 and 5 areas overseen by 3 members of staff from the secretariat. This has made it possible for MWUWS to oversee operations seamlessly at all the schemes with key decisions being made at the lowest possible level. It is worth noting that some of the schemes the utility inherited from the previous managers in 2017 were rather quite old, with some dating back to the 1970s.
The schemes outlived their design capacities. This situation was exacerbated by the ever-increasing population, due to migration to the previously tiny villages and small towns. This has led to the support programme focusing on scheme improvements that enhanced the hydraulic performance and conditions of the water systems. It entailed rehabilitation and expansion of pipeline sections, installation of critical operation and maintenance valves, and fittings and installation of bulk and consumer meters. The improvements have allowed customers to receive more water in a reliable manner, with sufficient pressure.
Investments in water quality testing equipment and recruitment of additional staff have led to increased testing and consistent reporting. Water systems where testing was previously done only once in a quarter are now seeing tests done and reported four times in a month, with a few having tests done at least three times a day.
The few significant milestones enumerated above, among many others, could not have been possible without the leadership and close guidance offered by the Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE). This has been coupled with the support the Umbrella received through MWE’s 100% service coverage acceleration project (SCAP 100), which availed pipes, fittings, meters and finances for systems expansion and connection of customers.
The Water and Sanitation Development Facilities (WSDF) at Central and Southwestern have also been a key infrastructure developer and local support provider for MWUWS . Other partners, e.g. IRC and Water for People, have offered significant support to the utility as well in the recent past. The MWUWS management team and staff in general have also been a key pillar to their own success, through commitment and being receptive to new initiatives and improvements.
This has not, however, been an easy journey, especially for the secretariat staff who have been spread out so thin on a number of occasions when they played host to consultants that outnumbered them in a single day. They have to sit through the deliberations and brainstorming sessions with the consultants, while still guiding the teams handling crises at the Kigorobya and Bundibugyo systems. Various support initiatives to the Umbrella are being driven from MWE side and other partners, in addition to the WSUP Advisory programme, all aimed at performance enhancement.
The work WSUP Advisory has managed to achieve at MWUWS clearly demonstrates how bringing on board extensive experience in utility management, leveraging on existing resources and capacities while closely collaborating with the government and other partners, can lead to positive and sustainable change. The utilities monthly billing, for instance, has increased from UGX 80 million in 2018 to UGX 278 million in January 2022. In the face of so many challenges, made even more difficult by the biggest of them all, climate change, this result is quite commendable.
Click on the link to download the report: The challenge of small towns: Professionalising piped water services in Western Uganda
Top image: Construction of water filtration facility at Bundibugiyo. Credit: Stephen Mwesigwa
Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) is pleased to announce Ed Mitchell as the new Chief Executive Officer of the non-profit company, following Neil Jeffery’s decision to step down after eight successful years leading WSUP.
Rt Hon Lord Boateng, Chair of the Board at WSUP, welcomed the new appointment. “Ed has an impressive background in leadership, policy and sustainability in the private and public sectors, having worked in senior roles for several UK water utilities and government departments”, said Lord Boateng. “I am confident he is the right person to lead WSUP into the next chapter of its development, building on the great foundations laid by Neil during his tenure.”
Ed Mitchell has significant relevant experience in the environmental and water sectors, as well as with public policy and administration. Most recently he was a Director at Pennon Group, the owners of South West Water, Bournemouth Water, Bristol Water, and Viridor.
Prior to this, he held the role of Executive Director of Environment and Business at the Environment Agency for nearly a decade, and was also the Director of Environment and Corporate Responsibility at Thames Water. He has also worked for GlaxoSmithKline and the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as acting as special advisor to Dame Margaret Beckett, the UK’s first female Foreign Secretary, from 2005 to 2007.
Ed holds a Master of Science (MSc) in Water and Wastewater Engineering from Cranfield University, and through his role with Thames Water was previously involved with WSUP as a non-executive director following its foundation in 2005. He is currently Chair of the Environmental Advisory Group at the Canal and River Trust, a member of the boards of South West Sensor Ltd and the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, and a trustee of the South West Lakes Trust.
“I am thrilled to be joining WSUP, having been for a long time a passionate supporter of the organisation and firm believer in the value of WSUP’s unique business model and theory of change,” says Ed. “The combination of climate change, population growth, urbanisation, and poverty is making it more urgent than ever to develop sustainable and resilient solutions for the poorest communities in the developing world. WSUP is uniquely placed to deliver these – at scale – and make a really significant contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Ed took up his position as CEO on 22nd June.
During the recent training in Kenya, jointly organised by EMAS International and the SMART Centre Group EMAS drilling was introduced at the Aqua Clara Centre.
EMAS drilling is a low-cost drilling method, capable of drilling wells of up to 80 meters in relatively soft soils.
A team from the WOT in Enschede was present and develop a video tutorial of the EMAS Drilling Technology. The video is now available on the Youtube-channel of the WOT and has already attracted over 160.000 views!
Background to EMAS Drilling (source: Akvopedia)
The EMAS method of manual drilling is a hybrid between Jetting, percussion, and rotary drilling. A manually powered mud pump is used, and the drill stem is turned through 90 degrees at the end of each stroke. It permits to drill through all kinds of loose soils, as well as consolidated materials and light rock. It will not, however, penetrate hard original rock or boulders (e.g. ancient river beds underground). The usual diameter of the tube well is 37 mm.
The EMAS drilling method was developed by the Escuela Móvil de Agua y Saneamiento (Mobile School for Water and Sanitation, EMAS) in Bolivia. Project leader of EMAS in Bolivia is Wolfgang Eligius Buchner, born 1957 in Holzkirchen bei München.
EMAS was established in 1993, and has provided training for about 130 independent well builders in its branches in San Julian (1994) and in Puerto Pérez (1997). 20 students have been able to graduate from the licensed craftsman course. The well builders in Bolivia have founded a well builder organization.
During a three-month education, agricultural workers are trained to independently drill wells, build sanitary installations and market their skills in their local area depending on demand. The need for large financial investments for well drilling and the building of line systems has traditionally prohibited the construction of large scale potable water systems in rural areas. Wolfgang Buchner adapted already accepted suction – and rinsing drilling methods to local conditions.
EMAS is not only the name of the mobile school for water and sanitation, but also a whole technical and social concept of water and sanitation which includes rain water harvesting, solar water heaters, windpower, hydraulic rams, water treatment, small tanks and sinks, a variety of hand and foot pumps, and ferrocement tanks.
For a general introduction to the EMAS Technologies check the video below:
The SMART Centre Group and EMAS, together with Aqua Clara Kenya, recently organised a training on Self-supply technologies, at the Aqua Clara Centre in Kisii, Kenya.
A diverse group of participants from Kenya, Cameroon and Ethiopia gathered for two weeks. During the course the participants were introduced to various EMAS technologies and SMARTechs, including the drilling, hand pumps and solar pumps.
A brief training report can be accessed here.
By Bridget Teirney
Life in small towns is rapidly changing for communities across Africa. In the next twenty years the urban population is expected to double, and urban land cover to triple. But urbanisation isn’t just impacting the continents’ large and mega cities.
Small towns are also undergoing significant transformation. Straddling both urban and rural life, they are at the forefront of this change, and systems and structures need to be adapted to keep up. Provision of water supply is one example of an essential service that needs to adapt to this evolution.
In Uganda, many of the country’s water supply systems serve dispersed populations in rural areas or small towns, but these communities are rapidly outgrowing the systems that have been deteriorating due to operations inefficiencies and minimal maintenance. In response, the government is tackling this challenge by bringing typically urban structures of utility management to small towns and rural growth centres. The new WSUP Advisory report The challenge of small towns: Professionalising piped water services in Western Uganda provides an overall view of the progress achieved with that initiative.
Professionally managed networks
The sector change began in 2006, when the Government of Uganda restructured the national framework for water supply to establish six regional support organisations (Umbrellas) to provide technical support to private suppliers and communities in these small towns. Then in 2017, the Ministry of Water & Environment took the next step to transform these umbrellas into utilities, water supply and sanitation authorities known as Umbrella Authorities.
Establishing these Umbrella Authorities is just the beginning of the transformation story. Their mandate is to extend water services to 100% of urban areas and 85% of rural areas by 2025. And the challenge to achieve this is significant: to navigate the journey from dispersed, quasi-independent, micro-scale water supply systems to professionally managed networks of piped water supply systems in rural growth areas and small towns in eight years.
WSUP Advisory, with funding from the Conrad N Hilton Foundation, have been supporting the Mid Western Umbrella (MWU) to navigate this transition since 2018. The overarching goal of this support is to help the MWU to become a ‘performing utility’ that can provide safe, sustainable water services for all its customers. The strategy for the utility wide support programme has been for each business improvement initiative to be developed with and led by MWU staff. In the early days of the programme, within a busy and changing operating environment, the support activities were planned to contribute directly to operational priorities.
This created scope later on for more strategic development activities, such as government improvements, strategic planning, and talent management. From the offset, it was clear that the MWU would need to operate to some extent as a ‘virtual’ utility, keeping overhead costs to a minimum while operating remote systems that generate limited revenues.
The MWU initiated a decentralised approach of area management with a secretariat, driven forward by the core programme management team using the Area Performance Management Framework (APMF). In addition to creating a lean, decentralised structure, the support programme enables and facilitates organisational change by engaging, motivating and helping improve the working practices of staff at all levels of the MWU.
For the MWU to succeed in becoming a performing utility, the support programme recognises that its staff must manage and operate the utility as a business, not just a water service provider. The APMF energises the utility’s staff and helps management to institutionalise a professional approach. The publication The challenge of small towns: Professionalising piped water services in Western Uganda explains in much more detail the role of the Area Performance Management Framework as the driver for change in the MWU. The APMF has contributed to significant performance improvement:
- Billing and collection rates increased
- The Umbrella is regularly recovering its operational and maintenance costs
- Water quality tests are performed more regularly
- Incentivised area teams have the confidence to set and meet increasingly challenging performance expectations
There are five key recommendations the WSUP Advisory report makes to help other utilities serving small towns:
- Adopt a decentralised management structure to remain lean, cost-effective and responsive
- Develop talent and empower middle management
- Start with short-term performance improvement and track simple metrics
- Meet operational costs to create breathing room
- Align support programmes with operational priorities
The WSUP Advisory Uganda report provides further insight into each of these recommendations and provides specific experience and insights for all those concerned with sustainably managing water supply in small towns across Africa.
Top image: Construction of water quality filter at Bundibugiyo. Credit: Stephen Mwesigwa
On 13 July 2022, a SDG 6 Special Event will be hosted during the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2022 at the headquarters of the United Nations in New … Read more
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