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5.6 Policy and institutional framework (Topic f)

The Regional has been experimenting with a dramatic institutional change as a matter of survival. As a rule in the Region, water supply and sewerage services have been provided by a broad range of public agencies operating at national, state, municipal and local levels. The various functions such as planning, financing, operation and maintenance have been spread through several ministries and agencies. A number of constraints to sector development have been identified in the PAHO survey for the 1995 sector review. The five most serious constraints identified by the countries in order of priority were:

  • the lack of government policy for the sector;
  • the limitation in funding (see 9 - Topic i);
  • the inappropriateness of the institutional framework;
  • the inadequacy of the cost recovery systems;
  • and the obsolescence of existing legislation.

In addition it may also be stated that an inherent lack of priority, overlapping responsibilities and duties, poor enforcement of law and regulations and lack of reliable data bases over the last decade have contributed to the present weak situation in the Region. This is more vividly shown when compared with Region's overall development in the same period. Other constraints were the lack of trained professionals and technicians, logistics, the poor involvement of communities, lack of knowledge of water resources, and lack of appropriate technologies.

To help explain the present situation and present reasons for failures the following arguments appear to be valid. Some of the comments were provided by Mr. Sergio Mendona, PAHO Sanitary Engineer, based in Colombia:

  • There is too high a cost associated with conventional technologies. Large and complex facilities are inconsistent with available social and economic works which indicate that no more that 5% of familys monthly income should be allocated to pay for water bills. Doubling at least that figure so as to consider sewerage bills, it becomes obvious why poor people are unwilling to pay for sewerage and sewage treatment costs. For the poor people a US$ 120 family monthly wage in the Region is usual and the US$ 6 to pay for the sewerage and sewage treatment cannot be recovered even using a strong cross-subsidy approach, which makes the search and use of cheaper sanitation technologies mandatory.
  • Water supply has still been regarded by politicians as of higher priority before sewerage and sanitation, even when faced with environmental hazards resulting from foul final disposal. Diversion of sanitation resources, for instance resulting from sewerage tariffs, to the water sector is common even though efforts are usually far from benefiting the target population.
  • Water which is unaccounted for, and water losses, as high as over 50% and 30% respectively, also pose extra burdens on the water services. It is an important reminder that water in excess also increases the wastewater volumes.
  • Defective sanitation services management. There has been too large a proportion of money and resources placed into institutional systems when compared to operational activities.
  • Wastewater companies have disregarded on-site sanitation as an adequate and permanent solution for certain areas in favour of complete and new off-site systems for any given area. Sanitation companies in the Region are self-proclaimed "sewerage" companies. This can be called the "all or nothing at all" approach.
  • The historic and current adoption of the plot's frontline the limit for the care taken by the sewerage companies not only is a public health big mistake but also precludes the use of the householders yard as a sewer way, thus undoubtedly making investment costs more expensive - longer sewers which on top of that quite frequently demand disruption and reconstruction of paved pathways and streets so as to accommodate the public system.
  • Minor exceptions apart, water and sewerage companies have been unable to get community support for the works and thus have received contributions toward cost reductions.

In addition, it should also be stressed that the Region has an ever-increasing urban population, which creates a further problem in that the sanitation systems never get completed as they must be always under extension works with the designer never knowing whether to adopt conservative and currently cheaper "design" population or, in turn, higher (and costlier) figures so as to accommodate future flows.

It is also important to mention the Region's lack of understanding of the mutual implications of sanitation and drainage with other urban services and their mutual implications in public health/sanitary and environment aspects. Also as pointed out by the late Ned Echeverria, urban professional and WB staff up until his retirement in the last decade, the overall "urban pattern" of a given area in one way or another shall determine the level of service for a projected component. In other words, the sanitary engineer's preliminary decision of laying down the "best" solution may be discarded in favor of another one which aside from providing the same health benefits to the community will be both closer, in terms of "user comfort", to other available services and, moreover, cheaper.

Most of the shapes of the urbanizations of slum areas and organized settlements and even important parts of cities do not match the requirements for conventional sewers to be laid down. It is not unusual in these areas to see streets which are narrow enough to accept truck traffic, but design codes for pipe excavation, manhole construction and cover expect to install sewers in heavy truck streets, which convey to wastage of resources or even worse with the solemn declaration that the project area is improper to get the (conventional) sewerage benefit.

It is the common practice from the sewerage master plans in the Region to increasing the sewage concentration with economies of scale as the big justification. This strategy only really helps the designers and big contractors as changing various small and easy-to-control systems into huge and industrial structures, including also huge trunk sewers and pumping stations that require a level of skill for their operation and maintenance, make them suitable only for big companies. In addition the larger the system, larger will be the risks of a foul spill to the environment.

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