„Is there any difference? Oh my, as different as salt and pepper! What a difference it is: you just open a faucet whenever you want, wash anything you want, everything is much simpler,“ says Rasim Velić, of Gornja Koprivna, Cazin, when asked what it is like to live with access to the water supply system.
Even though it is the 21st century, the public water supply is still not generally available. For example, Rasim used to carry water uphill from a spring 200 meters away. When he finally got the connection to the water supply network, he had only one faucet in the basement of a decrepit old adobe house. He recently moved into a new home, thanks to the solidarity of his neighbours and the local community, where he has a waterline in the bathroom and the kitchen for the first time.
Even though he is 80, he is still vital. Recently he shovelled over a meter of snow from his doorstep to the road. He rarely sees a doctor, he says. Every day he walks downhill to the villages, goes to the post office to pay the bills...
For one of the bills, the one for water, Rasim receives a subsidy from the local administration - modest, but welcome help, thanks to the MEG project implemented by the UNDP in Cazin and 17 other municipalities, supported and financed by the Government of Switzerland.
Water - blood stream of humanity
Water covers 71% of our planet’s surface. Water makes up circa 60% of the human body. Water is, in a way, the blood stream of human community. The first civilisations appeared in river valleys and areas rich in water. Ranging from biological preservation to navigation, from hygiene to commerce, from a food source to an energy source, the bond of humanity with water is unbreakable.
Water scarcity affects more than 40% of world population. There are 1.2 billion people who do not have a safe access to clean drinking water. There are 2.4 billion people without even basic sanitary services. Every day, more than 1,000 children die of diarrhea due to unsafe drinking water, and poor sanitary conditions and hygiene. More than 80% waste-water resulting from human activities is released into rivers or seas untreated. For every dollar invested in water and sanitation, there is a 4$ return. Hydro power is the most important renewable source of energy, representing 16% of the global electric power production.
There are numerous indicators such as these, and they all point to the same conclusion: water is life, and not taking care of it is a luxury we cannot afford. On the other hand, water affects various aspects of life and represents a crucial element of the social and economic development.
In order to raise the awareness of the importance of water protection and to warn about the issues related to water resources, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared 22 March as the World Water Day, celebrated world-wide since 1993. This date is also marked by numerous events in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The MEG project, implemented in 18 local self-government units (municipalities/towns) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is aimed at improving local development management and quality of public services, with focus environmental and economic sectors. Special emphasis is on systemic improvement of water services, i.e. ensuring sustainable access to drinking water and sanitary conditions to all citizens.
The approach project uses to address these goals is comprehensive - from establishing the regulatory framework to technical assistance to local public utility companies. Consultations have been provided, as has been the case with technical assistance and equipment, including the training on its use.
Local self-government units, as the founders, concluded bilateral agreements on the provision of public water services with local public utility companies, thus regulating mutual relations in the sector. Agreements define the steps which need to be taken for public utility companies to become economically sustainable, such as applying cost-based pricing or job classification.
Public utility companies received equipment such as water flow meters and leakage detection devices, which will be of assistance in repairs and reducing the non-revenue water percentage, which is extremely high in local communities participating in the project (circa70%, on average).
The maintenance of the public utility network and planning of its expansion is facilitated by entering the existing network in the GIS databases.
Leave no one behind
The MEG project stimulates the sustainability of utility companies, which may be achieved only by doing business according to the market principles. At the same time, it is imperative that no one be denied access to clean drinking water.
The project has, therefore, introduced subsidies provided by local governments to the vulnerable population, so that they could afford to pay water bills.
The recipe for implementing subsidies is fairly simple, based on active involvement and partnership of several stakeholders. Local governments define in their decisions the criteria for obtaining subsidies, and provide the funds; social work centers approve subsidies and provide monitoring; water utility companies collect bills using the adjusted accounting software, taking the subsidies into account.
Thus, the total of 700 beneficiaries in 18 project partner locations presently enjoy the right to a water bill subsidy - this is not the final number since the procedure of approving subsidies is still underway. This assistance, other than saving the beneficiaries’ money for other needs, has psychological significance.
„Among our beneficiaries there are many who, even being faced with difficulties, are used to paying their utility bills all their lives, and this means a lot to them,“ says Amela Toromanović, the director of the JU Cazin Center for Social Work.
The end to water troubles
Momčilo Kejić from Kostajnica is one of the water supply subsidy beneficiaries, who lives with his wife Elvisa and their two sons in the Bubnjarice community in Kostajnica. They moved there in September 2017, from the Podoška village, when they were given a new home thanks to the Roma housing project, implemented by the Swiss Caritas, and the Kostajnica municipality. With the new home came the new connection to the public water supply system.
„In Podoška, we used to carry water from the well and used it for drinking, cooking, doing laundry, for everything. Now we have water in our kitchen, in the bathroom, everywhere, and there is no need to carry it from the well. And there used to be a problem in the summer, on a dry year, there was no water at all. Then you would need to walk for three or four kilometers, and transport the water back home using the motor hoe,“ says Momčilo, who has also been hired by the Kostajnica water utility company.
Presently, there are seven subsidy beneficiaries, and, soon, members of three more households will enjoy the same right.
Further project activities
To this date, the MEG project has brought significant benefits to local self-governments.
„Grants and assistance are welcome, by all means, but are not crucial to us, because we use every project as a learning opportunity. This is why we are often an example of best practices and pass on our know-how to others“, says Šerif Kaljiković, an adviser to the Mayor of Cazin.
„Thanks to this project, the operations of the entire local administration and all its sectors have been improved significantly,“ says Aleksandar Pašić, the spokesman of the Kostajnica municipality.
The MEG project, however, is far from being completed, and will bring numerous other benefits. Among them, there will be infrastructure-related projects, such as the one planned in Kostajnica.
„In cooperation with the MEG project, we intend to rehabilitate the entire water supply network in three streets with the highest water loss - even up to 90%, and to construct the sanitation system“, says Drago Bundalo, the mayor of Kostajnica.
Goran Štefatić, the MEG Project Manager, feels optimistic in terms of spreading the positive effects of the project:
„The project is envisaged to last for 12 years, in three phases, so that we could pass on all positive and negative experiences we gain in the four years of Phase 1. Associations of Municipalities and Cities of both Entities are our partners, and we intend to communicate to them everything we learn in the project, so that they could pass it all on further, to their members who are not currently involved in the MEG project.“
The MEG project, funded and supported by the Government of Switzerland, and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in BiH (UNDP), supports local governments in improving the quality and availability of public services and utility infrastructure in local self-government units, and improving the living conditions for at least 700.000 citizens. The project is implemented in 18 local self-government units: Bihać, Bosanska Krupa, Cazin, Doboj, Gračanica, Gradačac, Gradiška, Kalesija, Kostajnica, Kozarska Dubica, Prijedor, Prnjavor, Sanski Most, Teslić, Tešanj, Tuzla, Velika Kladuša and Žepče. Within the project activities, special attention is paid to improving the living conditions of vulnerable groups in BiH. The project Phase 1 budget (2016-2020) is close to 21 Million KM.