Gain insight to the field of addressing critical water supply challenges in sometimes equally challenging surroundings
By Gertjan Van Der Ende, Management Trainee at Evides Drinkwater.
A story of a young, happy, enthusiastic water specialist in his, fortunately not entirely lonely, adventure to make the world a bit better. For about 5 months I worked with the drinking water company of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
There you are. Mentally exhausted, because you just mentioned a number of tourist destinations to visit with a tight face. It was already too late to arrange a work visa, so the tourist visa was actually the only realistic option. Fortunately, the customs man is not too critical around this hour, and he decides that my story is credible. It is 6 o'clock in the morning, and the drive from the airport to the hotel is quiet. Addis Ababa still sleeps. This city with 4 million inhabitants is apparently not a 24/7 city. Furthermore, contrary to what most of my friends and family thought, it is not a warm, dusty one. Actually, it is a pretty organised city, with a temperature that dances around 23 degrees all year round. So ideal.
Well now, contrary to what they now thought in customs, I did not come for the beautiful churches in Lalibela, the lava lake of Erta Ale, or the very nice Ethiopian food. I came to help the local water company with one of their main problems: Non-revenue water, abbreviated NRW.
NRW stands for Non-Revenue Water. Actually, it is a very simple sum. You take all the water that is produced, and subtract all the sold water cubes. What is left is non-revenue water. That part of your water that you have not paid for. In practice, this includes losses because not all customers receive an invoice, because there are holes in the pipes and losses because meters are broken.
DMA’s, or district metering areas, are more or less the answer to NRW. This is a strategy that consists of dividing your pipeline network into all small areas (200 to 5000 connections). Here it is precisely determined how much water goes into it (using a water meter) and determines how much is sold. Because these are small manageable areas, the reasons for the loss can be traced and resolved.
NRW (see above for explanation) is a phenomenon that is not limited to the developing world. This is sometimes a major problem in Western countries as well. We in the Netherlands also suffer from NRW, but luckily we have a better hand than the Ethiopians. In the Netherlands we are at 5 % NRW. The English often go to 25 %, but in Addis they were talking about 40 %. This is not only a waste of lost income; first of all it is a damn pity, because the limited availability of water then means no water to some parts of the city.
The goal of my project was to make a firm impression of how high that NRW percentage actually was, and then to halve this percentage. This will all happen with the help of DMA’s.
'On the ground' in Ethiopia
Freshly arrived, I obviously had a plan ready. After extensive acquaintance with all employees, we were able to adjust this plan to the local taste and approve it. Very smooth. My boss, however, was very ‘ambitious’. He said he would be satisfied if I could realise just half of my plan. On the one hand, a very reassuring statement (the bar is apparently not that high), but on the other hand it is also very frightening, because how many setbacks are normal here?
Anyway: I had a plan, I had 4 smart local engineers and about 10 mechanics - let's see where the ship is stranding.
It quickly became apparent that my added value was not so much in the technical knowledge that I brought. DMA’s are simply not that complicated. My added value was more in my efficiency, list drive, my access to (higher) management and my direct link to project funds.