As Cairo reaches its saturation point for jobs and opportunity, other cities in Egypt are becoming centers for rapid development.
Competing for industry, tourism, and other sources of revenue, these cities are struggling to modernize their infrastructure. Among the many areas requiring attention, water systems in these cities are plagued with problems.
Leaky pipes a major source of water loss lower pressure so much that water often cannot rise above ground floors. Some cities, lacking wastewater systems of any kind, rely on informal networks of septic tanks and collection pits that empty wastewater into irrigation drains without treatment. The costs are enormous: contaminated ground and surface water causes diseases that threaten lives and productivity.
"Service delivery problems have a direct correlation with urbanization," said Dewey Bryant, Chemonics International Inc chief of party on a project that is helping Egypt's secondary cities build water and wastewater service capacity. "Most cities did not plan for growth, and providing it requires a large financial effort. If cities are not prepared to devote the resources, they just get farther and farther behind."
In 1995, the government of Egypt passed landmark legislation that authorized the creation of financially autonomous utilities. The legislation allows commercial approaches to delivering public water and wastewater services, giving utilities the ability to levy and retain tariffs and generate revenue. This development represents a remarkable shift toward efficient, cost-conscious service delivery in a sector long characterized by over-employment and low productivity.
Chemonics International Inc is working in seven cities to develop these approaches. A parallel effort, also funded by USAID, finances the design and construction of water and wastewater infrastructure. These and other efforts are expected to yield national models for utility management that improve services for residents and industry.
As they take steps toward operating as separate economic units, utilities are improving rate setting, bill collection, and cost analysis. With Chemonics International Inc help, several municipalities are setting up management information systems to monitor performance and improve efficiency. Four governorates reported improved fee collection in the first half of 1996.
Municipalities that benefit from a base of paying customers or innovative managers are testing new approaches to utility management such as commercial contracting, build-own-operate, and build-operate-transfer. Chemonics International Inc is helping to develop such approaches in several cities.
"We are putting in place revolutionary strategies," said Bryant. He said the government is considering a Chemonics International Inc strategy to establish a concession for water and wastewater operation and maintenance in Luxor, for example, which can be turned over to a private company and run on a contractual basis. Seventy-five percent of Luxor residents lack access to wastewater services.
The move toward private participation in utility operations is already well advanced in Sharm El Sheikh, another project city. In this resort town, many services are managed by private companies, giving the town one of the highest wastewater service access rates in the country. A private system supplies water to most of the hotels in the city's popular Naama Bay area, and a private wastewater treatment facility is being built that will also supply treated water for reuse.
In Nuweiba, private companies maintain the city's water and wastewater system. Chemonics International Inc is helping to improve and standardize the contracting process and has produced a handbook to provide managers with tools for operations management and budgeting.
An elaborate on-the-job training program at water and wastewater facilities across the country is helping to improve service, increase revenues, and contain costs. "Building skills and motivation also improves utility capacity," said Mohamed Moawad, project training specialist. The training relies on Egyptian firms for coursework in utility finance, operation and maintenance, management, and planning.
A project-designed management information system is giving utility managers a powerful tool for tracking water delivery, customer complaints, billing, and revenues data that until recently were laboriously hand recorded by a small army of clerks and bookkeepers. Stressing the link between service and payment, Chemonics International Inc is helping utilities set up consumer relations departments to track customer satisfaction and utility responsiveness.
Many challenges remain to meeting Egypt's water and wastewater needs. Overstaffing is still a problem, given high unemployment and a tendency to see maximum employment as a social good even when inefficiency results. Despite these hurdles, Chemonics International Inc is laying a strong foundation for services that cost less and better serve the public.
Note:This information is provided courtsy of Chemonics International Inc. , a consulting firm based inWashington , DC with branches in Cairo and West Bank/Gaza.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)