THE WATER SERVICE OF SAINT-MARC IS VERY PROMISING
(Haiti Libre) -
Before the project started in 2008, Saint Marc had running water for nine hours a week, at best. At present, service is up to 10 hours a day, the highest average of any urban area in Haiti. Naturally, the ultimate goal is to reach 24/7 service.
It will not happen overnight, but there are other encouraging signs: between October 2010 and September 2011 its water utility collected an average of $37,000 a month from clients, about 18 times more than it used to take in a month before the project.
Saint Marc with a population of 120,000 inhabitants, was the first of five mid-size urban areas to complete an IDB-financed expansion program launched in 2003. Work in Port-de-Paix, on the northern coast, is scheduled to finish this year. Les Cayes in the south, Jacmel in the southeast and Ouanaminthe, on the border with the Dominican Republic, are at different stages of execution.
Saint Marc also stands out because its water system is managed by a private sector operator, SESAM, a French acronym for Societé des Eaux de Saint Marc. SESAM is the Haitian affiliate of a medium-size French company, LYSA, which has a 15-year contract to operate the system.
SESAM has shattered several myths about the participation of private sector companies in the water sector, starting with the fact that it now has more staff than when the service was run by a government agency, which had a single plumber for the entire town. The utility not only kept on the original employees but raised salaries, introduced performance bonuses and intensified training. Of the 40 people on the payroll, only two are foreigners.
Although it has been in charge of Saint Marc's water system for little over two years, the company is proving that clients will pay for decent service. SESAM developed software to track water usage and payments, giving DINEPA full ownership of the program to use it in other cities. When clients fall two months behind on bills they get a warning letter demanding prompt payment, or service is disconnected.
The utility has come up with other creative ways to boost revenues. In an outlying community called McDonald a committee of local residents reads meters and collects payments in exchange for a percentage of the revenue. Its recovery rate is among the highest in the system.
The utility still has plenty of work ahead to reach its financial and technical goals, including legacy problems, such as decaying pipes, and difficulties such as getting spare parts, which can take months to arrive. But if work continues apace, next year it could become the first Haitian city with 24/7 water service.