In late June, ICMA’s USAID-funded Commercialization of Afghanistan Water and Sanitation Activity (CAWSA) project team coordinated and managed a “study tour” for water utility staff from Kandahar, Zaranj, Mehtarlam, and Lashkarga to visit the Afghanistan Urban Water and Sewerage Company (AUWSSC) Strategic Business Unit (local municipal water provider) in the western Afghanistan city of Herat. During the study tour, water utility staff learned about management and engineering practices carried out in the Herat locality. These included exploring customer care & billing systems, understanding metering processes, reviewing procurement and transportation management, learning how financial systems function in the Herat SBU, and learning about successes and challenges of population coverage and engineering for municipal water service delivery.
I was fortunate enough to help support coordination and implementation of the study tour along with ICMA’s fantastic local staff on the project. I loved watching the interaction between staff members from various places around Afghanistan, with different experiences, coming from water utility units with varying levels of capability. For example, in Lashkarga, in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, ICMA’s work has been to assist the AUWSSC unit to separate from the municipality as a stand-alone, local entity. Traditionally, water service delivery had been managed directly by the municipality. In Lashkarga, the municipality had very limited knowledge of the actual water distribution network below the city streets because it had been built more than 35 years ago and time and war resulted in a number of lost records. One of ICMA’s initiatives in Lashkarga has been to help identify the location of the water network, and who is connected to it and receiving water when the pumping stations are actually operating (only several hours per day). Contrasting Lashkarga with Mehtarlam, ICMA’s involvement in the latter location (located in the eastern region of the country) has been to assist Mehtarlam with improved billing collection by establishing a team entirely dedicated to that effort that will be absorbed by the water supply department in early 2013. Utilizing university students studying economics, ICMA facilitates women and men to engage customers (both paying and yet-to-be-paying) to collect bills. ICMA also has assisted the Mehtarlam water supply department with a network expansion of 800 meters that will serve approximately 1,200 additional people—a significant achievement in this country. ICMA is working with embedded staff in the Kandahar City Strategic Business Unit as well, and one project ICMA is currently undertaking there is to assist the SBU with the repair of “back-up” pumps to help the SBU increase consistency of water service delivery. The CAWSA project’s focus on assisting AUWSSC with cost recovery and capacity building continues to be a success, with the project having spanned nearly five years to date, working in nine localities across the country during that time.
Customers line up to pay their water bills; a major sign of progress in Afghanistan.
In addition to the excitement of the study tour, I had a special, unexpected treat while traveling to Herat City. In the Kabul airport, I struck up a conversation with a man who was also headed in the same direction as me. Mr. Teddy Ryan surprised me in discussion when he noted that he was a 30+ member of ICMA! I was caught off guard and thrilled to hear the news and meet him. A long-time city manager and former city official for several municipalities in the US, Mr. Ryan now works on a USAID-funded project led by Development Alternatives, Inc., called Regional Afghan Municipalities Program for Urban Populations (RAMP-UP) West, as a municipal service delivery advisor. ICMA is a subawardee to DAI on that project and has international and local staff on the implementation team. In my role at ICMA, I don’t support that project directly and therefore hadn’t known of Mr. Ryan. Prior to and during the flight to Herat, I had a wonderful conversation with him and he graciously shared some of his experiences and wisdom from more than 30 years in local governance in the US and abroad. ICMA members truly are everywhere and doing great things!
Scheduled to end in May 2014, you can find out more about ICMA’s CAWSA project at http://icma.org/en/international/projects/directory/Project/1001/Commercialization_of_Afghanistan_Water_and_Sanitation_Activity. For more information about ICMA’s other international programs, visit the ICMA International website, the International Development topic in the Knowledge Network, or contact email@example.com.