– Minister Irfaan Ali cites losses, aging infrastructure among challenges
Minister of Housing and Water, Irfaan Ali, yesterday underscored the need for inter-agency cooperation to develop an effective model to address the challenges facing the water sector.
Ali’s comments came at the opening of the Caribbean Water Operators’ partnership workshop, held at the Cara Lodge Heritage Hotel in Georgetown. Ali said that water is a fundamental right, but its economic value has not yet been fully understood and there are challenges facing water utilities across the region.
He declared that even though water is vital to development, the crafters of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy – the pillar of the regional integration bloc CARICOM – have not adequately addressed the water sector. He said there isn’t “a single cohesive action plan” to address the sector in the CSME.
Ali therefore welcomes the efforts to set up a partnership of Caribbean Water Operators, noting that partnerships are required were the countries of the region are to contribute to the Millennium Development Goal for the water sector, namely to provide access to some form of improved water supply by 2015 to 1.5 billion people.
The main indicators for progress towards this goal would be the marked by the proportion of the population (urban and rural) with sustainable access to an improved water source.
To solve the water problems of the region, Ali said that many issues need to be addressed. He said there needs to be a reduction of non-revenue water losses and developing new infrastructure.
The Minister noted that the problem of non-revenue water loss still persists despite much effort. One of the major issues affecting water utilities in the developing world is the considerable difference between the amount of water put into the distribution system and the amount of water billed to consumers, referred to as non-revenue water.
This seriously affects the financial viability of water utilities through lost revenues and increased operational costs.
Ali said that in Guyana, 65 percent of water is being lost, either through operational losses or residential losses.
Addressing the water problems requires the involvement of local communities. A plan must be devised to involve local governments in the management of water resources, he added.
He said Caribbean water utility services need to address the problems facing the sector in a way that is cost effective and sustainable.
He also called attention to Guyana’s commitment towards addressing global climate change, noting this country’s intention to preserve wet zones as an important contributor to ensuring a sustainable supply of water resources.
Minister Ali also said there was a need for an emergency plan to provide water in cases of natural disasters. Touching on the price paid for water, Ali said there is a great disparity in the price paid for water in the Caribbean.
In the Caribbean, the average household pays US$12 per month, while in the United States the average cost is US$22. In Guyana, the cost is just $4, Ali stated.
He said the water sector is greatly subsidised, since revenues are not sufficient to operate the sector and cater for its development at the same time. Ali called attention to the need for some sort of guideline to dictate an appropriate level of subsidy that governments provide to the water sector.
Director of the Projects Department at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Mr. Carlson Gough, noted that the Bank supports the sector both in funding infrastructure works and in facilitating institutional strengthening.
The Bank is supporting the development of a Caribbean Water Operator’s partnership. Gough said the water sector has a direct impact on the health and living standards of citizens and its unavailability can have severe consequences for business, housing and tourism. He identified water as an important component of sustainable development in the Caribbean.
According to Gough, revenues do not cover the cost of operating water services. He said the Bank’s emphasis has been on helping to provide water to poor and rural communities through the Basic Needs Trust Fund.
The other organisations supporting the Caribbean Water Operators partnership are the Inter-American Development Bank, UN Habitat, The International Water Association and the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association.
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