SEAWUN strives to bridge gap in water services

The Southeast Asian Water Utilities Network and Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association will co-organise the Second Water & Wastewater Asia Conference & Exhibition, which will be held from 5-7 October 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Pamela Wolfe

On 23 September, PennWell Corporation successfully launched Water & Wastewater Asia 2003, the first of a high-level conference series totally dedicated to Asian water issues, in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - a perfect venue to begin a dynamic regional initiative.

Just last year the Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association (VWSA) hosted the First Meeting of the Southeast Asian Water Utilities Network (SEAWUN) in the capital city of Hanoi. Both organisations played a major role in co-organising Water & Wastewater Asia, and plan to continue this cooperative partnership with PennWell for the Second Water & Wastewater Asia Conference & Exhibition, which will be held on 5-7 October 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand.

"A huge gap exists between Southeast Asian countries in terms of quality and quantity of water and wastewater services," according to Mr. Vu Kim Quyen, the VWSA vice chairman and SEAWUN executive director in his keynote address at Water & Wastewater Asia. "To bridge this gap and facilitate integration, water professionals must assist one another in overcoming the great challenges facing the water and wastewater sector in the region," he explained.

SEAWUN member countries - Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and, of course, Vietnam, agreed in the first meeting to work together towards these goals with the support of the Asian Development Bank and the United States Asian Environmental Partnership.

The water and wastewater sector in Southeast Asia face major challenges, Mr. Quyen explained, such as —

• 19% of Asians do not have access to clean water - approximately 700 million people.
• 52% of Asians do not have sanitation services - more than 1.9 billion people.
• Unaccounted-for-water rates are high.
• Institutional mechanisms and policies for water and sanitation are unclear, slow to change and lack transparency.
• Water tariffs are very low and are greatly influenced by social and political factors.
• Water supply enterprises are not yet financially viable. Water is not considered an economic commodity.
• Quality of water supply and sewerage services are not high. The private sector has not had sufficient opportunity to participate in development investment, management and operations of water supply, sewerage and sanitation systems.
• Finally, training and human resources development, the decisive factor to increase efficiency, has not met the required demand, especially for qualified operators of water and wastewater treatment plants.

After identifying regional challenges, SEAWUN's second meeting held in Manila in mid-2003 focussed on four programmes to solve the identified problems - benchmarking studies; training and certification programs for operators of water and wastewater treatment programs; non-revenue and unaccounted-for-water; and water tariffs and cost recovery.

The government of Vietnam recognises the importance of building constructive relationships with water professionals in Southeast Asia and around the world to solve serious water supply and sanitation problems at home. Since 1990 the government invested more than US$ 1.3 billion into doubling the nation's water supply network to meet demands for its growing population of 77 million. More than US$ 1 billion has been invested on the construction of sewerage and drainage systems within the past five years. As of 2001, approximately 70% of the country's urban population gained access to clean water with improved quality and service, according to Mr. Quyen.

Much work remains to meet the nation's 2020 goals to increase water supply access to 100% of the urban population with a ration of 120 to 150 litres per capita per day. International organisations, such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, and the countries of France, Denmark, Finland, Japan and Germany contributed a major portion of this infrastructure investment. This development route has made the VWSA keenly aware of the importance of participating in international conferences, seminars and study programs, to improve managerial and technical skills of its directors, technicians and project managers.

So next year's Water & Wastewater Asia in Bangkok will specifically focus on these key water issues in the region.

Pamela Wolfe, Managing Editor

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