Jonathan Maino interview — Wicked problems in Port Moresby, PNG: non-revenue water, illegal settlements, and institutional governance challenges

An interview with Jonathan Maino manager of non-revenue water at Eda Ranu, the water utility in Port Moresby, PNG. He discusses the non-revenue water challenges  Port Moresby faces when supplying water to settlements, working build-operate-transfer (BOT) financing partners and the lessons he believes PNG can learn from other Pacific nations.

Jonathan works for Eda Ranu, a water utility, providing water and sewerage services in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. He joined the organisation just after they started the non-revenue water project in early 2002, under the supervision of a British consultant.

He role was to create district metered areas and worked on developing pressure management systems to reduce leakages (non-revenue water losses). Eda Ranu maintains piped water systems through the DMAs, dividing each region into zones and sub-zones. Jonathan is also involved with joint monitoring of the systems with another manager from the water operations department. His openly discusses his challenging role in this interview to improve water use efficiency.

Interview topics

  • About Jonathon Maino and his role with Eda Ranu, the water utility in Port Moresby.
  • Non-revenue water and pressure management issues in Port Moresby?
  • The history and context of informal settlements in the city.
  • The extremely complex context of managing an urban water system in the capital of PNG
  • The need to integrate the functions of the utility, as well as seek external support with hydrological modelling?
  • Opportunities for collaborations and sharing knowledge in the Pacific

Please tell us how you came to the work you do now in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea

I first joined the company, Eda Ranu, which was originally called City Water, when the company was working with consultants to set up District Metered Areas (DMAs). That project started in around 2002 and had three phases, ending in 2010. I was mainly involved in pressure management and repairing leakages and not with the biggest challenges Eda Ranu faces — namely non-revenue water going to villages and settlements, as well as illegal connections within Port Moresby city itself. I look after the monitoring part of the leakage repair section. Repair and maintenance is looked after by another manager who is in charge of Water Operations.

Can you give us an overview of the situation in water management in Port Moresby?

We have a number of non-revenue water (NRW) issues. One of them is the time it takes to repair leaks — they are not treated as a matter of urgency. Another is that our water treatment plant is working at full capacity. Therefore, we need to use pressure management to maintain people’s water supply.

With our pressure management system, we control the water supply to villages and settlements during the day and only open-up the flow at designated times, mostly during peak hours in the morning and evening. Over the years, people got used to the intermittent supply, but more recently we have been having complaints from people who are trying to run businesses there, or who have rental units. It would be very expensive for us to expand the network now because of the way it was planned originally. We are trying to manage this through community consultation.

Another issue is that we are not receiving enough revenue through people paying their water bills. We are thinking about reviewing the way the bills are paid, which currently is via a collection system.

What is the history of these settlements? How and why were they set up?

Most of the settlements started when people moved to the city from the villages — may be thinking life would be better in the city, or to find a good job. Because city planning was not prepared for this influx, the people just settled down wherever land was available at the time. Now we are talking about thousands of people in the settlements. It’s very difficult for the city planners to move them now because they have been living on that land for 10 or 20 years, even over several generations.

The settlements are not officially accepted, but those residents have voted-in particular leaders, politicians, who fight for their rights and say they will pay for the settlements to have power supply and water supply — yet it’s not their land. They should be working with the water or power authority but there is no control. These people are just settled there. They use 50% of the water supply for Port Moresby and they don’t pay for it.

To try and fix this problem we asked these communities to form water committees, with a Chairman and office-bearers. We thought that was working, but the issue now is with the committees that are collecting the people’s payment for water bills. It’s created a small business opportunity for them, but it means we are not directly collecting the money from the householders. The people tell us they have paid the bill to the committee’s collection person, and yet the Water Committee Chairman tells us a different story. Some of the villagers are also landowners in the capital, and they think they should get their water for no cost. They are living on the city fringes and only getting low water pressure.

However, some groups from the villages and settlements have approached us and say they are willing to pay their water bills if we can come up with a better solution to manage the payment system.

Another issue for us is that, although Eda Ranu is a semi-government organisation, we don’t receive government funding. Instead, our revenue depends on the money we collect from the water bills. In other words, the 50% of the consumers in Port Moresby who pay their bills are ones keeping Eda Ranu going! Our local water production at the moment is 180 million litres a day for Port Moresby.

The intermittent supply also means the settlements don’t have proper sanitation. They use pit toilets. When they are getting no water through their pipes, either because of leakage or because of pressure control, I fear they are vulnerable to health problems. So far, that has not happened, fortunately.

Please tell us about your organisation, to give us some context for these huge challenges you are facing. How large is the organisation? And how many people are working to address non-revenue water issues?

In 1996, the company agreed to a BOT arrangement — build, operate and transfer — to upgrade our water supply system, starting at the treatment plant and continuing all the way down to the distribution points. It was successful. However, by 2019 that arrangement will expire. At the moment, most of the revenue that’s coming in is going out to the BOT partners, and Eda Ranu is getting a smaller slice of the cake every month — just enough to keep us going. We just hope we can get through this period and maybe look at building a new treatment plant, though I keep telling management that first, we need to address our issues in non-revenue water.

Eda Ranu has just over 200 staff. We operate within the national capital district, that’s Port Moresby only. My department, the non-revenue water department, has just over 40 staff. It includes a meter replacement unit and people who do the disconnection and reconnection from the mains We have a village and settlement section, as well as a leakage section.

This department was formed in 2015, with the aim of looking at the connections: that is, the services in the properly subdivided areas of the city that are not paying for water, either because they are getting water illegally or because they say their bills are too high. We have a small group that operates the physical machinery (backhoes, etc.). We need to dig down to the pipes and to disconnect people who don’t pay, which makes them come into the office to pay their bill so they can get reconnected. However, that team is very small so that process is quite slow. I am considering outsourcing the work, but I’m not sure if that is the right thing to do.

The people in our meter replacement team are the ones who go out and replace faulty SMART meters. We believe faulty SMART meters are another factor contributing to the scale of the non-revenue water problem in the system.

Another issue is that Eda Ranu’s billing department has outsourced the meter reading to a contractor, but it’s my belief that those people are not really reading the meters. So when we do our small water balance, we calculate that we’re losing a lot of water through errors in reading the meter correctly. Also, the billing department, after they collect the money, they take a cut from it before they give us our revenue

Where, do you think, are the key leverage points for addressing some of these critical challenges?

I think a way to start would be to bring all the functions into one department instead of being spread over several departments as they are now.

I’ll give you an example. I’m looking after NRW but I’m also looking after distribution for the entire network and I have all the data loggers. However, the water between the treatment plant and the distribution network is the responsibility of another section which is supposed to be monitoring flow. They are not monitoring that at the moment. Then the maintenance team is supposed to be repairing leaks on time … From the NRW section you can really see what needs to be done to repair leaks on time and within the maintenance schedule for replacing ageing pipes, and so on. So at the moment, I know what I think everyone should be doing.

We don’t have hydraulic modelling. I think we should have. I think our water utility needs a hydraulic model for the system because Port Moresby is growing, developing really fast, and we need to have an overview so we can gain control of what’s happening.

So I think it all starts with getting the functions right and if they are all under one department or division I think the functions would move more smoothly. That’s my view.

Would it help to have input from people in other parts of this region? Can you see opportunities to collaborate with other agencies in the Pacific? Maybe from this interview, we could get some people to engage with the challenges that you’ve discussed.

I think that could be a good approach because I can see we can learn from what others are doing. I’ve been trying to do that for 12 years by reading on the Internet. For instance, I read about a group, MIYA, that was trying to involve the community in a water supply somewhere.

I would like to share experiences with others that have similar communities, say within the Pacific in Fiji or New Caledonia, to hear what they have found to work or not work, and what they are doing about their issues.

Eda Ranu

Eda Ranu was set up in 1996 and under a built, operate and transfer (BOT) arrangement to upgrade its water supply systems, including the treatment plants and distribution networks. The agreement is due to end in 2019, after 20 years.

The agency has 200 employees working across departments operates in the National Capital District of Port Moresby. More specifically the NRW department has 40 employees, formed in 2015. They have a meter disconnection unit, meter disconnection from the main, village settlement section and leakage section.

Under the BOT agreement, a diminishing return or the revenue from the system is going to Eda Ranu which strongly limits what the organisation is able to achieve. Jonathon suggests that when the agreement concludes in 2019, the development of new water treatment infrastructure should not be considered, without first addressing the existing non-revenue water issues currently experienced.

These issues include illegal connections in sub-zones in informal settlements, as well as formal residents that do not pay bills because they consider the cost to be high. The challenging role of disconnecting and reconnecting households is hindered by the small size of the NRW water team. He describes fragmentation within the utility, where separate divisions are responsible for meter reading and collecting revenue. He suggests there is a disconnect between the on-the-ground experience of the NRW team and their knowledge of what needs to be achieved with limited resources and their distribution

While he suggests some progress is being made, such as between two and three thousand meters being replaced and more free access communities being converted to billed areas, Jonathan explains that progress is slow. There is limited efficiency, as well as accountability between departments. As a result, the identification and repair of leaks often face lengthy delays.

The growth of informal settlements in Port Moresby

These issues are occurring in the context of rapid, unplanned urbanisation that has occurred over a period of about 20 years spanning in some cases multiple generations. People living in the informal settlements left villages in search of improved livelihoods. While the settlements are not officially recognised, the citizens living in them have political power and represent a formidable challenge

This represents a never-ending challenge for the utility as local authorities have limited involvement and do not fund the utility. However, there have been situations where the utility has stopped supplying services and political leaders intervene and pay for the reconnection to the utility.

There are diverse perspectives, while some landowners believe tenure entitles them to free water because they own the land, they get free water, others in the settlements approached Eda Ranu for a paid shift from an intermittent to a regular water supply to improve conditions in their settlement. Notwithstanding this, 50% of the water supplied to Port Moresby is unaccounted for, with no revenue received by the utility.

Water supply and NRW challenges

Eda Ranu supplies 180 million litres of water a day to Port Moresby and this required careful pressure management to maintain, particularly during peak hours. Informal settlements are accustomed to receiving an intermittent water supply but this is changing. At the same time, the current treatment plant is operating at full capacity.

To engage the settlements, they were asked to form decentralised water committees, with office bearers to organise the collection of fees/ While this had an impact on the whole, the governance of these committees can often be lacking. Eda Ranu has limited control as they don’t go directly into the settlements to collect revenue

One consequence of these problems is a major public health issue in settlements with intermittent water supplies. Without a regular and consistent supply, many residents do not access proper sanitation and rely on pit latrines, which tend to leak into groundwater reservoirs hazardous or result in the accumulation of stagnant water.

Jonathan and Eda Ranu acknowledge that these issues are common in Pacific Nations. He described the work of MIYA, an international organisation who works on water efficiency and water operations projects in the Pacific region to mitigate NRW losses. However, he was not aware of the regional organisation, the Pacific Water & Wastewater Association (PWWA), who is also involved with capacity development in the same space.

Key focus areas

  • Jonathan feels that a major transformation in the way Eda Ranu functions is required to address the levels of fragmentation within the organisation.
  • He believes that an improved hydraulic modelling capacity of Eda Ranu’s water distribution networks is vital, particularly for a city like Port Moresby that is developing rapidly.
  • He hopes to be connected to other practitioners in the Pacific region to share experiences and solutions.

Interview Quotes

 

This interview and related content was originally part of the Kini Interview Series. Kini is a retired brand of the AWP and IWCAN.

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