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Madagascar Taps Public-Private Water System

By Sara A. Fajardo

For years, Anivorano Est has struggled with an unpredictable water supply system run by the local government. The more than 5,800 residents of this small town in Madagascar, off the southeastern coast of Africa, have suffered frequent outages and poorly treated—and oftentimes contaminated—water. Each day, riversides would teem with people who lost crucial work and school hours so they could fetch water for their families.

Ernestine Bothra collects water at one of two new washing stations in Anivorano Est, Madagascar.

Ernestine Bothra collects water at one of two new washing stations in Anivorano Est, Madagascar. A public-private partnership is making clean water possible for her family. Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

All of that changed 3 years ago when Catholic Relief Services and our partners played the role of matchmaker between a privately run business and the local government. Known as a public-private partnership, this marriage unites the professionalism of the business community with the needs and know-how of the local community.

Through a program known as Rano HP, or Rural Access to New Opportunities for Health and Prosperity, CRS is assisting this partnership to build an improved, reliable and sustainable water system that will continue long after the project has ended. Rano HP is generously funded by the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Chrystophe Razafindralidinrina, the assistant mayor of Anivorano Est, explains how this model has worked in his community.

Who was previously in charge of managing the water supply?

Assistant Mayor:

Before, our town was in charge of the water. If a pipe broke, it would take a day or more to repair. People paid a flat fee for water: [About $1.13] a month for a private connection, so it didn't really matter how much they consumed. We couldn't enforce the [10-cent] payment for the shared supply. People refused to pay.

Note: A private connection is a home connection used by one family. A shared supply is a connection that four to five families share.

How does having a private company change the way people perceive their water usage?

Assistant Mayor:

The public-private partnership is more sustainable. Because of how the business model works, people have a stake in the system. We are more accountable for our role in how the water is used.

Everything is official. People see receipts and dates. People can see the meter and the counter, and people know what they'll pay for the water they've used. You no longer see people letting the tap run when they wash their clothes. People are more conscious of the water we use and lose.

As a result, we now have enough money for maintenance. Before, the use was not proportional to the payment—we were undercharging. We didn't have enough money to make routine repairs.

How has the public-private partnership changed the quality of water in your community?

Assistant Mayor:

We had water previously. We had programs and guidelines. But they weren't good. People didn't know how to maintain the supply. There was a lot of water lost, lots of standing water, lots of dirty water in the canals. This new project actually follows the water code set by our government, and a lot of programs don't do that. The water is treated with chlorine. It is much healthier.

People are talking now about how much healthier they are. They compare our water to the expensive bottled water people buy in the stores. Our water is just as good.

Do you have any concerns about the project coming to a close? Can Anivorano Est and VELO [the private company providing the waterworks] manage this project without outside help?

Assistant Mayor:

Over the past years, we've had two Rano HP project employees living and working in our community. They arrived before the construction started and helped us draft our contract with VELO. They also brought in someone from the Ministry of Water to educate people on all things related to the water system. We've been working with them in helping to develop our water supply system. As a result, our community is ready to be on its own. The project worked with our executive water board committee. We gave input and feedback throughout the development of our new water system.

Can you give us an example of how this project has been successful?

Assistant Mayor:

During Cyclone Giovanna, we did not lose water. Almost 70% of the homes in our town were damaged and a lot of our cash crops were damaged, but our water system continued to work without any interruption of service. I credit this to the consistent maintenance that our new system receives.

Sara A. Fajardo is the CRS regional information officer for East Africa and southern Africa. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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