One of the key promises of the Government when it assumed office in December 2014 was a 24/7 water supply to the population. Despite the commissioning of the Bagatelle dam, many parts of the country presently receive water for only a few hours per day. The Government is now relying on the construction of the Rivière des Anguilles dam to fulfil its promise. However, the constraint is not lack of water because the amount of potable water lost by the Central Water Authority (CWA) has been, according to utility standards, excessive since many years and has been steadily increasing. To overcome the water problems affecting the country, the CWA should, besides replacing leaking pipes, consider strengthening its top-level human capacity.
One of the CWA’s main issues is its high volume of non-revenue water (NRW), which is potable water lost through leakages in pipes and pumps, not registered by faulty meters, and stolen by dishonest consumers. Data in TABLE 1 show that CWA’s annual volume of NRW expressed as a percentage of annual volume of potable water produced (percentage NRW) has been above 50% and increasing from 2011 to 2019 whereas, according to the American Water Works Association, water utilities should be able to keep their percentage NRW below 10% (refer https://awwa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com › doi › j.1551-8833.1996.tb06590.x). In 2014, percentage NRW in Mauritius was 58% (57.64% to be more exact) meaning that, out of every 100 litres of potable water produced by the CWA in that year, 58 litres were lost, stolen and/or unaccounted for, and the remaining 42 litres were delivered to its consumers. The problem has worsened under the MSM led Government because percentage NRW increased to 63% (62.71% to be more exact) in 2019.
CWA’s high percentage NRW is a shame for Mauritius, a high-income level country, when even low-level income countries achieve lower percentage NRW as shown in TABLE 2. With the resources available in a high-income country, CWA’s percentage NRW should have been much less than 10% similar to corresponding figures for Singapore, Germany and Denmark. The poor performance of CWA on percentage NRW damages the reputation of Mauritius as a knowledge and excellence hub in the African region.
Analogous to NRW in water utilities, electric utilities lose electricity through heat dissipation on transmission and distribution networks, faulty metering and theft. Electricity lost as a percentage of total electricity generated (percentage electricity losses) is 6% for the Central Electricity Board (CEB), our national electric utility, which, as shown in TABLE 3, is comparable to percentage losses realized in other high income level countries. In fact, the CEB performs better than electric utilities in advanced countries such as Switzerland, United Kingdom and Spain.
In order to address the problems plaguing the CWA, the Authorities should assess whether the utility should implement measures similar to those carried out within the CEB in 2002 when the CEB Board of Directors under the chairmanship of Professor Swaley Kasenally decided to strengthen CEB’s top level human capacity by calling on external experts through a transparent process that included advertisement in the local and international press. The recruited experts were a General Manager who had occupied a similar position in a South African power utility, a Corporate Planning and Research Manager from a Canadian electric utility and a Transmission and Distribution Manager from India. One of the outcomes of the external expertise has been a sustainable reduction of percentage electricity losses from 11% in 2002 to 8% in 2006 and 6% in 2017.
Another outcome has been the ability of the CEB to keep itself up to date in the use of state-of-the-art computer technology to supervise and control its operations. The technology includes metering systems that enable its customers to reliably monitor their consumption. Consequently, they can readily observe a reduction in their electricity bills when they invest in energy savings equipment and solar panels. CWA’s unreliable metering does not encourage its customers to save water and spend money on rainwater harvesting.
A first step towards solving our water sector problems is the reinforcement of CWA’s management by bringing in seasoned water experts. The management team would then be able to correctly identify what hard infrastructure (pipes, pumps, computing systems, service reservoirs etc) and soft infrastructure (personnel training, work methods, accounting systems, customer care etc) would be required to redress the CWA. Successful realisation of these infrastructures would provide Mauritius with water services and a water utility worthy of a high-level income country.