Drinking water, sanitation infrastructure key problems in Asian cities, says ADB

Written by Sajan C Kumar | Chennai | Updated: Oct 24 2009, 04:56am hrs
The drinking water and sanitation infrastructure in Asian cities is a major area for concern and though most cities are aware of their sanitation needs, only a small percentage have sanitation plans, and few are able to provide information on capital expenditure and operations and maintenance costs. These are some of the findings of a survey of 27 cities published by the Asian Development Bank in its Asian sanitation data book 2008.

Of the 27 cities, one is in Bangladesh, three are in Peoples Republic of China, four are in India, one in Indonesia, three in the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), five in Nepal, three are in the Philippines, two in Sri Lanka, and five in Vietnam.

A somewhat disturbing finding is that most cities that provide sanitation services rely on government funding to pay for capital and operating costs, with only 10% indicating that sanitation fees and charges can cover the costs. Alarmed at the deteriorating condition of water distribution and overall sanitation, ADB has called for priority action by all stakeholders including the concerned governments.

The data book culled from a survey findings and other observations has come out with for a slew of measures to tackle the problems, which include initiating city sanitation plans, setting targets for sanitation outcomes and coverage, institutional arrangements to strengthen accountability and avoiding multiple-agency involvement that causes unnecessary delays and setting in place a coordinating mechanism.

The bank has urged for review of operation and maintenance expenditures and cost recovery policies to ensure providers can sustain operations and extend services. It has suggested there be a sanitation information management system that is regularly updated to help planners and decision makers make investment and operations decisions. As significant investment is needed, sourcing funds outside of government sources and other revenue-generating mechanisms needs to be looked into.

According to the survey, wastewater, particularly from households, is slowly polluting the groundwater and surface water sources of the respondent cities. Twenty of the 27 participating cities monitored their groundwater and surface water quality and about half of the water pollution came from household liquid waste. About 70% of the wastewater was discharged to bodies of water without treatment.

Four cities reported that their rivers were heavily polluted, while the rest reported that the pollution levels of their rivers were medium or low. Many cities are adjacent to each other and are expected to work together to address sanitation and wastewater issues. However, only three cities reported that they were cooperating with neighboring towns and/or cities on pollution problems. The rest were tackling the issue independently.

Over half of the cities were unable to report key health statistics. Those that did show increasing diarrheal cases when the share of household wastewater increases. Far too many cities still have incidences of open defecation (ranging from 10%-40%) and sanitation coverage depends on private householders investing in toilets and septic tank systems.

The institutional arrangement also frustrate action and reduce accountability. Multiple agencies have responsibilities for some aspects of sanitation. However, local government seems to be the primary organisation. These organisations were operating under at least several national laws and one local law.

Here is the pecking order in terms of amenities provided. Among the 27 cities, Kunming (Peoples Republic of China), and Thap Cham (Vietnam) ranked first in providing improved sanitation facilities, with 100% of their population having individual toilets that are connected to centralised sewerage system with treatment facilities. Gwalior (India), ranked second, with 86% of the population having individual toilets connected to a sewerage system, and Colombo (Sri Lanka) third with 80% of its population having individual toilets connected to a sewerage system. Both Gwalior and Colombo have no sewage treatment plants.

On water supply coverage, Kathmandu (Nepal), ranked first in terms of water supply coverage, with 100% of the households connected to a central water supply system. Makati City (Philippines) ranked second, with 100% of the city land area served by the central water supply system and 99.7% of its population connected.

Fifteen cities have a central sewerage system, yet 11 of the 15 sewered cities still need to cover 70% of their population. Of these, eight cities reported having a wastewater treatment plant. Thap Cham (Vietnam) reported 98% of its area being served by a central sewerage system, with 100% connection and 99% of its wastewater is treated.

On capital investment, Colombo (Sri Lanka) ranked first with an annual capital investment of $27.9 per capita, where 47% is subsidised by the national government and the remaining 53% sourced through loans. Coming close at No 2 is Jabalpur (India) with an annual capital investment of $22.5 per capita, with funding sourced from national government (50%), local government (20%), and loans (30%).