The “Green Province”, or “Provincia Verde” as it is popularly known in Ecuador, is located on the northwestern coast of the country and its beaches are undoubtedly one of its main attractions. In addition to the canton of Esmeraldas and its main city, Esmeraldas, with its important port, the Green Province includes also the canton of Atacames, famous its “coco loco” (typical drink prepared with coconut water), and the canton Rioverde, very appreciated for offering rest, leisure and recreation activities.
These days these three “cantones” are at the center of media’s attention, for being the beneficiaries of a major US$100 million infrastructure project to upgrade the potable water system. The project is being implemented within the framework of PROSANEAMIENTO, a National Investment Program in Water, Sanitation and Solid Waste co-financed by the Inter-American Development Bank with the objective to expand and rehabilitate water, sewarage, wastewater treatment, and solid waste management systems in the country.
Few days ago, a visit the project was organized in Esmeraldas. We were all impressed by its progress, and we tried to identify the driving forces of this success story. It was possible to identify the following 5, plus…a sixth element.
- The need was evident and well defined: currently, the water service is inefficient, presents lack of hydraulic capacity in several sections and produces only 800 liters per second, which is not sufficient to serve the existing population. In fact, less than 50% of the inhabitants of Esmeraldas receive water through the water lines. Some neighborhoods do not have a distribution network, and those who do have it receive an intermitted service, with strong rationing (few hours of water only few days per week). With clear needs, it was quite straightforward to identify the main components of the project, which includes, among other things, the improvement and expansion of the catchment system; replacement of raw and treated water pumps; new water treatment modules; improvement an construction of pipelines; improvement and construction of water tanks; rehabilitation and expansion of distribution networks; installation of macro and micrometers.
- A strong executing unit: the project counts on a very strong executing unit, created specifically to oversee and administer all technical, administrative as well as procedural issues, acting as “coordinating-body”. The unit is led by a manager and a technical director. The unit guarantees independence in the decision-making process and guarantees that technical everyday’ s issues are addressed competently and effectively.
- Transparent and Competitive procurement processes: Transparent, fair and competitive public procurement processes have indeed the potential to attract and generate business opportunities for experienced and recognized contractors. In this case, the project was tendered in three lots: i) water catchment, construction of new modules for the water treatment plants and pumping for treated water; Ii) construction of pipelines; (iii) construction and rehabilitation of storage tanks and construction of new distribution networks for the three cantons.
- Strong supervision. As we know, supervisors can be a pain. But they are absolutely necessary, as an independent third-party, to keep construction project on schedule, reduce technical risks and prevent construction errors; comply with the relevant regulations, quality standards and insurance company guidelines; ensure all work conforms to the specified technical documentation and the construction permit; ensure that all documents, certificates and declarations are completed and issued correctly. In the specific case of this project, the supervisors were part of the construction team, working shoulder by shoulder to find the best way to advance with the works as per work-timeline.
- Strong buy-in of the community. Without community buy-in, a project may never get off the ground or will not be accepted once it is completed. The good thing here is that the project is generating employment for almost 500 people per month, and a great part of this employment opportunities is being absorbed by local workforce. There is more: in some technically and socially challenging neighborhoods, the contractors and the community had to find alternative solutions to “fall in love”, agreeing to promote the involvement of the men (for excavation) and women (for cooking) as workforce.
- The X factor: call it magic, empathy, water-mojo. Sometimes, it just happens that things go well, that the right people are in the right place, bound together by a common goal and committed towards the success of an undeniably necessary initiative. If things keep on going the way they are, by April 2018, the Regional System will provide 3,200 liters per second to the three cantons of Esmeraldas, Rioverde and Atacames, benefitting more almost 415,000 people.
Obviously, a good execution does not make a project perfect. The real challenge is around the corner: how to ensure the sustainability of the newly built system. This possibly represents the real test, where things can go terribly wrong. I truly hope that in a few months we will be able to write another blog, identifying the 5 lessons learned for project sustainability. I suspect that the sixth element, in this case, would probably be what we call “cultura del agua”, the individual and collective responsibility to use water today without compromising its future use. Not only is this concept very much connected to education and promotion of efficient water use, but also to efficient metering, billing, collection, preventative system operation and maintenance, leakage control, among other elements.
A real revolution. To be continued…