Providing Clean, Safe Water to Armenians

More than 600,000 Armenians have benefited from an ADB-supported project that upgraded water supply and sanitation systems in the central Asian country with the help of private companies.

Not long ago in the small Armenian town of Artashat, a day's routine was difficult, dusty, and often unhealthy. The water piped into homes usually was not flowing; and when it was, it was unsafe to drink.

"The public tap where I was getting drinking water was about an hour's drive away," recalls Ruben Hovhannisyan, a 50-year-old father of two. Like many of his neighbors, he spent a significant portion of the family income driving back and forth for clean water.

"Besides that, can you imagine how much we were contributing to dust and pollution?" he asks.

Today, Ruben and others in the town no longer need to make these time-consuming, expensive, and polluting drives. The clean water they need flows directly from the faucets in their homes.

The people of Artashat are among the more than 600,000 Armenians who benefited from the ADB-supported Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project. The project helped the Government of Armenia upgrade water supply and sanitation systems with support from private companies.

"Through this project, the government has improved people's access to clean water—a fundamental basic need," says Cesar Llorens, an urban development specialist in ADB. "The country is acting as a regional leader in providing innovative solutions in the water sector."

A long-standing issue

Armenia has faced serious challenges in providing clean, safe water to its people during the last 2 decades. In many parts of the country, people had water for only two to three hours a day and the pressure was low. Often the water from the tap was not safe for drinking or cooking.

"Through this project, the government has improved people's access to clean water—a fundamental basic need"

– Cesar Llorens, urban development specialist, ADB

The country's problems were familiar to many of its neighbors. When Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it faced the mammoth task transforming the state-run utility systems into modern, efficient agencies.

In the 1990s, about 60%–80% of the water flowing through the system was lost to leaks or other problems and only about 15% of the population enjoyed continuous water service.

Residents of the capital, Yerevan, and about 95% of the other city dwellers in the country were connected to the Soviet-era centralized water service that had fallen into disrepair from neglect and poor maintenance.

In 2007, a survey in 60 towns and 300 villages showed that more than 60% of the water supply and sanitation infrastructure was in very poor condition. More than half of that had to be replaced or rehabilitated immediately.

Water, water everywhere

The project made a major impact by blending international water management expertise with long-term financing and government reform programs. It has helped rehabilitate the water and sanitation networks of 21 small towns and 97 villages, all of which are managed using efficient commercial principles by the Armenian Water and Sewerage Company. The project supplies potable water for at least 14 hours a day to more than 600,000 Armenians, one-quarter of whom were poor.

The project has reduced the incidence of waterborne diseases and cost of medical care. It has also allowed all members of the family to spend less time collecting water, and more time participating in social and economic activities.

The Armenian Water and Sewerage Company has operated much more efficiently than its predecessor. On average, compared to the situation in 2008, the company has increased the duration of water supply to its customers from 6 to 14 hours a day. The percentage of people who are paying their water bills has increased from 48% to 90%. This will enable the company to maintain and upgrade its services in the years ahead.

The number of water connections with meters has increased from 40% to 77%, and about 98% of the water flowing through the system complies with international water quality standards. The improved water services in Armenia are the result of the combined efforts of international and local partners working together.

Together we deliver

ADB, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, KfW, and the World Bank provided the funds and expertise to improve the country's water systems. The national and local governments worked with a broad range of local and international contractors and operators to bring much-needed private sector expertise and efficiency to improve the country's water systems. As part of this effort, Saur, a French company that specializes in assisting governments in the management of public utilities and other services, partnered with the Armenian Water and Sewerage Company to share good practices from its international experience.

The international community recognized the project's innovation. During the 2012 Global Water Summit in Italy, the Armenian Water and Sewerage Company received the Water Performance Initiative of the Year award.

This article is an excerpt from a longer piece originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.