SAR, Vol 15 No 1, December 1999
WATER IN LUANDA
BY CAROLYN BASSETT AND MARNIE LUCAS
Carolyn Bassett and Marnie Lucas are PhD candidates in the Department of Political Science at York University in Toronto.
In 1992 the Angolan war became a war of the cities. UNITA gained the upper hand over the government after the breakdown of the 19911992 peacebuilding period by maintaining its military strength. When UNITA returned to war, one of the most important features of their strategy was to force rural populations into the cities, rendering them dependent on humanitarian assistance. Shifting people into the government-held areas was a particular objective of UNITA, adding to the pressures on the governing MPLA. By 1999, more than half of the country's population was living in urban areas.
Alan Cain, a Canadian who has been based in Luanda for nearly fifteen years working with the Canadian and French organization Development Workshop and who spoke in Toronto on September 22 of this year, has seen the impact of this war of the cities first hand. According to him, the urban services for Luanda's more than 3 million people rely upon a crumbling infrastructure originally designed for 400,000. But 75 percent of the city's population lives in `informal' settlements - called musseques - where they have no access city drinking water or sanitation services.
As a result of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, Cain argued, Angola's public health problems are staggering. Despite its rich natural resources, it is 160th of 174 countries on the United Nations human development index. Three of 10 Angolan children don't see their 5th birthday - an extremely high mortality rate. Life expectancy for women is 48.1 years. For men, it is less than 45. Inflation is more than five thousand percent per year. Only 3 - 4 percent of the national budget is spent on health - more than six percent, according to official statistics, goes to the war. This statistic, of course, excludes what UNITA spends.
Public health problems
The poor urban infrastructure in Luanda contributes to the humanitarian crisis. The incidence of mortality due to diarrhoeal diseases and malaria is extremely high. Ensuring that poor households have adequate access to safe water and sanitation has been one of the biggest challenges that Development Workshop has tried to address.
People living in areas without formal urban infrastructure have been forced to rely on the services of informal water truckers, currently paying more than $20 US per cubic metre for drinking water, Cain reported. "It's a tremendously inefficient way for delivering water," Cain commented, "as opposed to piping water," and extremely inequitable. In fact, he continued, "people who have access to formal services in the centre of the city pay subsidized rates for water and get services almost free. But people in the periphery of the city - the poorest, and the poorest of the poor - pay far more for water. You can actually read the scale of poverty according to the price of water (an inverse relationship)."
Development Workshop estimates that some poor families spend as much as 20 percent of their regular salaries on water. And yet, an elderly man living in the musseques in Luanda commented, "Angola has lots of rivers. We do not need to be short of water. If we are short of water, it is because of poor organization and maybe not enough technicians. We have water but the price is so high that sometimes we eat less food in order to buy water."
Water vendors located in the musseques purchase water from water truckers, store it in underground water tanks in their houses and then resell that water by the bucket to individual households. The average price in 1996, a Development Works study estimated, was $9.46 US per cubic metre but could reach as high as $17 US per cubic metre, with prices depending on the location of the musseque. This amount ranged from 800 to 10,000 times the official price of piped water in the downtown core. The informal water economy generates approximately $40 million in income per year for the informal water truckers and vendors. If this income could be invested in the extension of piped water services to the poor communities, Cain suggests, local financial resources would permit many current water (and other urban infrastructure) problems to be overcome.
Working with communities, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local government, Development Workshop has developed a strategy to try to redirect some of these resources back into communities in order to improve urban infrastructure on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis.
Community water program
Piped water, Cain explained, is provided from the city system (with the cooperation of the local government) to communities that had relied in the past on water purchased from the private water sellers. Community seminars are held to let Luanda residents know about the new program. On a community by community basis, local groups have constructed and now manage water standposts, public, community-run water collection points with one to four water taps. One of these standposts serves as many as 100 families.
The standposts offer a better source of water to people living in the musseques in a number of ways. According to Cain, the standposts offer a more hygienic means for water collection and have explicitly built-in features to reduce the incidence of water-borne diseases and avoid malarial breeding grounds. Users run the water standposts as a small enterprise, electing a committee to collect water fees to pay the water company and for maintenance and repairs. They are still able to sell water at rates much lower than those charged by the private water vendors - about twelve percent the price.
The much lower price for water for the urban poor of Luanda now permits households to divert some of their modest incomes to other needs. Women seem most likely to be able to take advantage of the cost savings since they head 23 percent of musseque households and in any case contribute a good deal to household income through their informal economic activities. Women currently occupy 64 percent of the positions on the standpost committees and "are often the most committed members," Development Workshop reports, giving them a role in key management decisions. Women also make up 60 percent of the community mobilizers that promote the projects to new communities.
Local authorities, Cain pointed out, have also shown a strong interest in this approach to local service delivery since it covers its own costs. Since Luanda city officials are dependent on an unreliable flow of revenue from the central government that offers at best meagre resources for local development, the user fees provide an additional source of revenue.
Building on a community by community basis, the pilot phase of the community water program has been such a success that it is now city-wide. The water standposts, Cain stated, even generate a surplus that is used to promote other community activities such as sanitation and rubbish disposal.
Toilets and rubbish
A sanitation program based on the same methodology as the community water program has followed. Dry-pit latrines, explained Cain, are introduced to areas where there is no sewage system at all. The sewage disposal system used by the dry-pit latrines renders the toxic human waste harmless. The project again incorporates local economic development - latrine workshops are set up in different neighbourhoods that sell latrine slabs to the community and offers credit to families to purchase them.
Already, 4,386 household latrines have been built in addition to 300 latrines in refugee camps. Statistics are not yet available on the extent to which the latrines have reduced disease but anecdotal and comparative evidence suggests that they will improve community hygiene considerably.
Development Workshop's efforts to develop effective strategies for solid waste (trash) collection has revealed a more complex problem that is not as amenable to community-based, small scale solutions. "While communities deal with solid waste in a logical way," Cain reported, "depositing rubbish on roadsides in areas where a government removal system could easily pick them up, it's a city-wide problem and without a strategy at a city-wide scale, community action is limited." Nonetheless, their relationship with the local government, built on the basis of the success of the other two strategies and the fact that the Luanda provincial government begun to invest in a program to remove solid waste, has made Cain confident that they will be able to work towards a community strategy to address this problem.
Getting the World Bank to support the initiatives of Development Workshop, based on findings that contradicted the Bank's own dearly-held assumptions about how to undertake local development projects, has also been a challenge.
Showing up the World Bank
In an effort to convince the World Bank to reevaluate the merits of its traditional "trickle down" approach to water and sanitation development projects (i.e. investing services in upper and middle class communities first, assuming that the income produced by this sector for the city would eventually be used for developing the poorer areas) the Development Workshop shared the findings of their project study with the World Bank. The study, Cain noted, directly challenged the World Bank's approach to development since "it debunked the whole series of assumptions that planners had made that were absolutely wrong in the Angola context."
Indeed, as consistent with numerous other development studies, the Development Workshop revealed that, as usual, the funds from the upper and middle class communities were not trickling down to the poor. And again, consistent with other development studies, they argued that funds should be re-channelled to the poor squatter areas of Luanda that obviously exhibited a greater need for relief than did the middle class communities in the city centre.
However unlike numerous other development studies, the Development Workshop made the argument that the poor squatter communities were actually a better investment target than the middle class communities since the poor were more accustomed to paying for services and thus more likely to be willing to pay: "In terms of cost recovery those who are used to paying high service prices are actually the poor." Therefore, Cain argued, if the World Bank were to follow its classic arguments and invest only in the upper and middle class communities "one would be investing in areas where communities were unwilling to pay - the wealthy - and by inverting the traditional approach and investing in the poorest areas some of that $40 million could be used for upgrading the water system!"
Indeed, Cain pointed out that as a result of this study the World Bank has since either cancelled or modified several components of their water program for Luanda. Using the Development Workshop's research as justification, he explained, the World Bank has redesigned its water system project to target the poor squatter areas of Luanda rather than the new, middle class, housing developments. Since the study demonstrated successfully that poor neighbourhoods have a higher "willingness to pay" for services, the World Bank has conceded that it simply makes more sense to invest in the poor. "This, of course, turns `conventional wisdom' on its head" Cain acknowledged, "but this is the reality in many other poor countries as well."
Basing peace in civil society
For today at least, peace remains elusive in Angola. Political elites have failed to lead Angola out of the misery of many decades of war. However, Cain argued, a new ray of hope for peace might be found elsewhere in Angola ... in civil society. There was "a real flowering in civil society" with the publication of the first freedom of association laws during 19911992. NGOs and church organizations have since offered an alternative leadership in the quest for peace.
Despite the resumption of the war (twice!) many of Luanda's civil society organizations, including those active in local services, have been able to build on this base to begin to transform Angolan society from below. Such participatory approaches, Cain argued, are even beginning to transform the Angolan government, again from the bottom up. The precise role of local government in the Luanda local programs is still evolving, but Development Workshop suggests that the attempt among community organisations, local government and service providers to communicate and develop joint projects based on concrete activities contributes to local democratic development and good governance. Solving problems with the joint participation of people and their local authorities has an accumulated value: both are taking this work more seriously.
With little by way of a policy and legal framework to guide them, all stakeholders involved in local service provision - including Luanda's city government - have been obliged to consult and negotiate until they achieve some form of consensus. Though not the fastest way to get things done, Cain admitted, he argued that it generates goodwill and builds relations of trust and mutual respect among stakeholders. On this basis, new approaches to dealing with communities and incorporating user participation have been introduced. Musseque residents can exert influence and control over decisions and resources that affect their lives and negotiate with other parties.
This bottom-up, participatory democratic approach may ultimately provide a more durable basis for peace in Angola than UN-brokered elite mediations. "There is," Cain notes, "for the first time in Angola's history, an emerging peace constituency, and an indigenous leadership, largely from the church, lobbying for peace." While only time will tell whether or not such groups might be able to achieve what government and international `experts' could not, if the success of the community water program is any indication, it wouldn't be the first time that community initiatives succeed where official policy-makers have failed.
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