I recently attended a presentation at the offices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID’s Urban Programs Office puts on a monthly speaker series titled “Making Cities Work”. At these monthly presentations, various stakeholders discuss USAID projects focused on urban development around the world. At the presentation I attended, a USAID implementing partner discussed the progress of strengthening the urban water sectors in Southern Sudan and in Kenya. The challenges and solutions to the urban water sector in both countries are very different, requiring tailored activities and objectives that are locally appropriate. While there, I was able to listen not only to comparisons and contrasts of urban water challenges and opportunities in South Sudan and Kenya, but also to consider challenges and opportunities for the urban water sector in Afghanistan, and ICMA’s work there to strengthen urban water through its implementation of the USAID-funded Commercialization of Afghanistan Water and Sanitation Activity (CAWSA) project.
ICMA’s mission to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional local government management worldwide couldn’t be more timely and appropriate in Afghanistan’s urban water sector. With the five-year CAWSA project, ICMA and USAID are working closely with the Afghanistan Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Corporation (AUWSSC) to assist the newly formed government-owned corporation with capacity building to increase cost-recovery and to improve and expand water service to Afghanistan's urban populations. In Afghanistan, key challenges and issues in the urban water sector include but are not limited to: 1) lack of potable water; 2) old water network systems; 3) low capacity of water supply departments’ staff; 4) more demand for water as urbanization occurs, and many others. Since its creation in 2006/7, AUWSSC has been challenged by low tariff rates, high power and fuel costs, standardized organizational structure and reporting, staff capacity levels and access to adequate funding and to modern technical equipment.
In AUWSSC’s strategic business units (SBUs) in Jalabad, Ghazni, Gardez and Mazar-i-Sharif, ICMA implemented the CAWSA project for three years to assist those SBUs in establishing viable business models to increase cost-recovery ratios to at least 85%. The CAWSA project was overwhelmingly successful in those locations and was subsequently asked by AUWSSC and USAID to carry activities forward to support AUWSSC’s SBU in Kandahar, as well as assist other, smaller water supply departments coming under AUWSSC jurisdiction in the cities of Mehtarlam, Zaranj and Lashkarga.
At the request of AUWSSC, and through discussion and work plan development between ICMA, AUWSSC and USAID, ICMA will continue to assist AUWSSC in those expanded locales by embedding capable Afghan staff in AUWSSC offices to work side-by-side with AUWSSC staff to improve the water supply departments’ capacity both administratively and technically. The CAWSA project also implements small improvement grants, where minor repairs to water networks can be carried out, maintaining current systems to continue and expand service delivery. Developing and measuring against a system of metrics for each SBU is also critically important and is a key component of the project. CAWSA works to assist AUWSSC in standardizing its reporting across Afghanistan, and the project also utilizes study tours and exchanges inside Afghanistan between AUWSSC SBUs, as well as between AUWSSC staff and staff from water supply departments in south Asia.
ICMA’s work has been successful in supporting AUWSSC to improve commercial and operating processes, such as customer awareness and customer complaint management systems. The project has moved AUWSSC forward by helping the organization develop personnel procedures and systems, technical operating and maintenance manuals specific to individual water supply networks, creating collection and billing systems, leveraging funds from other donors for water supply projects, and establishing databases for AUWSSC to record and track data.
On a recent visit to Afghanistan to assist with the project’s administration, I met with a number of AUWSSC staff and customers who expressed their thanks, appreciation, and pride in the work that AUWSSC, USAID, and ICMA have done and continue to do via the Commercialization of Afghanistan Water and Sanitation Activity (CAWSA) project. As ICMA concludes its 98th year, ICMA’s work in Afghanistan and in other places around globe reminds me that now, more than ever, ICMA’s mission is critically important. ICMA continues to play a vital role supporting communities throughout the world with promoting professional management to find locally appropriate solutions. As the world urbanizes and becomes more interconnected, the next 98 years will likely prove exciting for ICMA and its membership as the profession grows around the globe!