2018 will be critical for water utility company Water and Sanitation Corporation (Wasac) after it came under scrutiny in 2017 over perennial water woes, as well as a range of challenges still complicating supply of clean water across the country.
This is the year when the country targets to deliver universal clean water access to its rural and urban population, as per the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Figures from the 2014-15 Demographic and Health Survey show that while 72.9 per cent of households have access to an improved water source, 48.7 per cent still have to walk 30 minutes or more to the nearest water source.
The findings also show more than 54.8 per cent of households in rural areas walk 30 minutes or longer to get drinking water, compared with 19 per cent in urban areas.
Officials from the Infrastructure Ministry cite challenges in meeting the huge per capita costs to reduce the distance and reach 100 per cent coverage within the remaining months. However, sub-sector players say several limitations and emerging issues impede the pace of progress.
“It is becoming almost impossible to achieve optimal operation and sustainable functionality of existing water supply networks, especially in regions currently undergoing fast urbanisation.
“Many of these water schemes are overstretched yet they are in a dilapidated state and could soon deteriorate if nothing is done,” said a rural water supply operator in Northern Province who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Over the past two years, operators suffered a critical water shortage and were forced to stop connecting individual households to piped water as demand rose beyond production capacity.
A rapidly expanding population has seen decades-old water supply and distribution networks stretched even further. While districts that manage the networks have not been deploying substantial investments in terms of maintaining or even expanding them, according to sector players.
As an alternative, some districts instructed operators to resort to communal water access points, but most remain far and the water volume is not guaranteed, resulting in long queues and high costs in areas that Rwanda Today visited.
However, operators expected changes after the government handed the directorate of Rural Water and Sanitation Services — a public water operator focusing only on Kigali and major urban centres — to Wasac.
Rural water supply was the responsibility of respective district authorities, who would contract private operators, but Wasac now has the mandate to support districts in planning, designing and implementing projects in a bid to reach strategic targets in rural areas.
Achieving universal clean water supply target generally depends on whether Wasac meets the huge funding gap needed for construction, rehabilitation and management of water supply infrastructure both in urban and rural areas.
Officials say the absence of an overall investment plan does not allow for a proper estimate of the funding gap to achieve the goal of 100 per cent water supply. However, the World Bank had earlier in the year put at an estimate of Rwf300 billion ($351 million).
Misuse of funds
Wasac came under increased criticism last year over its failure to end perennial water woes after a 2016 audit showed a number of water projects were delayed or failed to take off due to misuse of funds by top officials — some of whom were prosecuted.
Kigali’s rapid population growth has been overtaking water supply capacity — pending the completion of Nzove water treatment plant upgrade, alongside rehabilitation and extension of a 512-kilometre water network around the city.
Also planned were water supply systems expected to cover 2,600 kilometres across the country’s secondary cities, with a focus on connecting vital facilities like schools, hospitals and industrial establishments.
Wasac deputy CEO in charge of Rural Water & Sanitation Services, Gisele Umuhumuza, said efforts to meet the universal clean water access target by 2018 will see the company deploy manpower to monitor provision of services in the rural water supply sector.
“We want to deploy engineers who will be in charge of rural water services at all our branches across the country. They will make sure operators achieve the same level of service quality where we operate,” said Ms Umuhumuza in an earlier interview.
However, she said a permanent solution to the water problems would be found after completion of a comprehensive water supply master plan design for the entire country.
The country largely relies on water supply systems built more than 30 years ago. Experts say that until the system is overhauled, Wasac will continue to encounter challenges.