WATER is life. As everyone knows, life cannot exist without it. However, when considering the wastage of water in Sri Lanka, it is clear that few people value this immense gift bequeathed to us by nature. A perusal of the losses incurred by the Water Supply and Drainage Board shows how the essential need of water is drowning out profits and bleeding public money.
It was reported that the cost incurred by the Water Supply and Drainage Board due to leakages, illegal connections, free water supply to stand posts and tenement gardens had accumulated to as high as Rs. 2.8 billion in 2009, according to the latest Auditor General’s report submitted to Parliament last week. The Water Board blithely calls it Non Revenue Water (NRW), which accounted for 31.07% of the total water supply during the year under review, a decrease compared to 32.13% reported previously. In this manner, 139.3 million cubic metres of water had been used. In the Colombo Municipal Area, it was as high as 53.05%.
Perhaps there are instances when the water should be given free of charge. However the simple fact that Sri Lanka is blessed with adequate water supplies is no excuse to waste it. In an increasingly competitive environment for water, the ideology that it can be wasted with impunity must end.
The board had reported that the water leakages were due to the use of pipes which were not burst proof. In Colombo City, 77% of the pipes have been laid more than 55 years ago. In the Colombo area, 97% water supply is done through the old cast iron pipes. The report highlights the need to discard all these old pipes. Such pipes have been used even in under water projects implemented in recent times. The losses incurred due to illegal connections alone had stood at Rs. 19 million during the year.
Add to this the observations by the Auditor General that the board had not taken effective measures to prevent the use of water by various persons and individuals outside the metered connection of the board and it becomes apparent that a serious disregard for water exists.
The failure to reduce the extent of NRW has eventually increased the cost of water unit by Rs.11.42 per cent, up against 11.37% in 2008, 10.37% in 2007, 9.27% in 2006 and 8.19% in 2005. This clearly shows that there is a direct result of water wastage, one that is often foisted on people that are honest enough to pay their bills.
Mismanagement of water resources can have serious effects in the future. As development and population increase, the fight for water will only become more intense and expensive. Therefore, it is imperative that Government organisations understand the value of water and take steps to preserve it. As unsavoury as it is, valuing water means putting a price to it. Valuation should not be viewed as an attempt to ‘privatise’ water, but as a measure to understand its true worth and protect it so that the right to life is preserved.
Developing infrastructure should also flow into upgrading water networks and protecting current prices by enforcing strict laws on people who abuse their privilege to water. Cleaning out the Water Supply and Drainage Board of corruption and wastage would also be a welcome move. From its south Asian neighbours, Sri Lanka is unique in its abundance of this essential resource and it is up to the people to protect it for the country and future generations.