More than 600,000 Armenians have benefited from an ADB-supported project that upgraded water supply and sanitation systems in the central Asian country.
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 dilapidated system
Armenia is a mountainous country, bordering Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey, that is blessed with an abundant supply of water. The country can supply more than 10 billion cubic meters of water per year, and only needs a quarter of that amount to provide drinking water for its 3 million people.
"Through this project, the government has improved people's access to clean water - a fundamental basic need."
The drinking water that is pulled from the ground, usually through wells and springs, is of good quality and requires minimal treatment.
Despite these natural advantages, Armenia had 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.
The country's problems were familiar to many of its neighbors. When Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it faced a mammoth task transforming the state-run utility systems into modern, efficient agencies. This included the national water and sewerage company and local water agencies throughout the country.
In the 1990s, about 60%–80% of the water flowing through the system was lost to leaks or other problems. This was more than four times higher than the norm for most cities in Western Europe.
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. The old system then fell into disrepair from neglect and poor maintenance. In the years after independence, only about 15% of the population enjoyed continuous water service.
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.
The people of Armenia needed a modern system of bringing clean water into their homes, including investments in new equipment and infrastructure. They also needed an updated system of making their water supply pay for itself through a sustainable billing system.
Strong partners, clean water
The government needed to modernize the country's water supply system and bring clean water back into the homes of its people, but it faced a lack of resources and expertise.
A key element of the government's strategy to address this problem was to outsource many of the management functions of the water supply system to a company with strong experience and a good track record in the water sector.
This was backed by financing and support for upgrading infrastructure, training staff on technical and financial management including water source protection, and reforms to bring about systematic improvement of water supply and sanitation services.
Government reforms in the early 2000s allowed the country's principal water agency, Armenia Water and Sewerage Company, to partner with private companies to improve the efficiency and quality of services.
Financial support in 2007, as well as technical expertise, came through the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project, supported by a $36 million loan from ADB. In April 2012, ADB approved an additional loan of $40 million to construct 600 kilometers of new pipe networks to connect 110,000 more households, as well as rehabilitate pumping stations and treatment plants.
Serving more patients
At the Central Dental Clinic in Artashat, about 18 kilometers southwest of Yerevan, the impact of an improved water system is felt every day. The dental clinic is one of the largest in Armenia, with 35 dentists serving about 170 patients a day. A big part of the service they provide requires the use of dental machines that cost as much as $15,000 each.
"In the past when we were using low-quality water, the dental machines used to break down very often," says Hakob Yughurjyan, the director of the clinic. "Sometimes the machines would break while we were treating a patient."
Mineral deposits from tap water accumulate on the walls of dental unit water lines, causing damage to the equipment. Aside from the inconvenience of the machines breaking down, the clinic had to add the costs of repair and maintenance to the fees charged to patients.
"Now we can serve more patients because we have a steady supply of clean water," he says.
Less time collecting water
The blending of international water management expertise with long-term financing and government reform programs has had a major impact. The dental clinic is just one example of the wide-ranging effects of the project.
The project 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 Armenia Water and Sewerage Company. It supplies safe 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.
Armenia Water and Sewerage Company has operated much more efficiently than its predecessor. On average, it 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.
Keeping the children safe
Life can be hectic at the home of Nazik Grigoryan, a 59-yearold retiree who lives southwest of the Armenian capital, Yerevan. She lives with her two married sons, their wives, and her three grandchildren.
Their busy household of eight people is a happy and peaceful home, but her young grandchildren were at risk of getting ill at any time.
"I had to be careful that the children did not inadvertently drink water from the faucet," she recalls. "There was always a danger of getting sick."
The water piped into their homes was available only for two hours in the morning and two hours at night. The water was also salty and unsafe. To keep their family healthy, Nazik's two sons had to make expensive and time-consuming trips to fetch drinking water from the public tap.
With the improved water system, the family now enjoys clean water from their faucets for at least 17 hours per day, for an equivalent of about $12 a month, which is a fraction of what they used to spend to drive across town to obtain clean water. As a result, her sons are able to spend more time working and earning income for their families.
Nazik's 28-year-old daughter-in-law has noticed another benefit from the new water system.
Due to the improved quality of water they use for bathing, she says, "Our skin and hair have become softer."
Partnering for progress
The improved water services in Armenia are the result of the combined efforts of international and local partners working together. 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 Armenia 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.
Tanya Saribekyan is 67 years old but she still works to help support her son's family, including her grandson, who is an engineering student in college. She tailors and alters clothes for her neighbors, and also makes preserves from the apricots she harvests from her garden.
Before the water improvement project, she had to stand in a long line each day to fetch water from a public tap that was open for only a few hours.
"If you missed the time when they turned on the water supply, you might be without water for the whole day," she recalls. The improved system has brought 24-hour water supply to their home. Tanya can spend more time on her tailoring work and other livelihood activities. Her family is healthier and she can enjoy simple pleasures, such as tending her flowering houseplants.
"I so enjoy taking care of the flowers and seeing them bloom inside my home," she says with a smile.
This article was 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.