Safe Water Network And PepsiCo Foundation World Water Week Event Shares Results On Economic Sustainability Of Community Water Systems
At the 25th World Water Week in Stockholm, Safe Water Network and the PepsiCo Foundation co-convened a session that focused on the operational efficiencies seen from grouping community water systems, relying on data from eight years of operating community water stations in Ghana. The session A Portfolio Investment Approach to Community Water Systems is particularly timely with the impending launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in September which include universal availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
Amanda Gimble, Safe Water Network’s Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, opened the session by introducing the organization and key principles on which it operates – providing safe and affordable water; treating the end user as a consumer who is willing to pay for a convenient, quality product; and ensuring financial and economic sustainability of community water systems. The model, she stressed, is complementary to other solutions, where piped water is insufficient or unsafe.
Mr. Louis Boorstin, Senior Advisor, Osprey Foundation, set the context for the interactive panel discussion, framing the potential of reaching the SDG on water around three criteria: universal usage, realistic scale, and sustainability. The challenge is achieving all three – access and use by all income levels at scale with systems that can run forever from an operational standpoint. Mr. Boorstin said he believes the market-based community water model promoted by Safe Water Network has the potential to meet all three goals.
Mr. Charles Nimako, Director of Africa Initiatives, Safe Water Network, presented data from Safe Water Network’s operating footprint in Ghana that shows Stations nearing the “sustainability target” of 36% operating margin, at which point they cover costs and field support, contribute to a reserve for operation and maintenance and in some cases contribute to capital recovery. Stations are on track to meet this target after four years of operations, even after starting at an operating loss.
Mr. Dan Bena, Head of Sustainable Development at PepsiCo, moderated a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges with the model based on practical experiences across geographies and sectors. Mr. Bena opened the panel with remarks on the alignment of the session with the UN human right to water framework and Sustainable Development Goal 6.
Mrs. Magdalene Apenteng, Director of Public Investment at Ghana’s Ministry of Finance, emphasized the Government’s readiness to assist the private sector in participating in the water sector as well as the government’s interest in diverse partnerships to cover the 10 million Ghanaians without access to safe water.
The discussion addressed the topics of funding sources and the fit of community water systems among larger utilities in complementing other sources that are insufficient or unsafe. The systems can withstand competition but audience members also broached the idea of government-demarcated areas of service much like the way larger private utilities are structured. Mr. Patrick Moriarty, CEO of IRC, stressed the need for public finance for community water systems, and lauded the relatively low capital investment per capita of the model.
Mr. Adrien Couton, Partner, Dalberg Global Development Advisors, discussed the two main challenges he encountered in establishing community water systems in India: marketing of sites to drive demand, and dealing with insufficient supply and downtimes once demand has been generated.
The next steps for Safe Water Network in collaboration with the Government of Ghana are to expand an independent Field Services Entity that provides technical support services to a portfolio of Stations, and to bring other partners along in spreading the model to meet consumer demand.
A video of the event can be found on the SIWI website, and the presentation can be found here.