Monte Sinaí is a squatter settlement, like many others on the edges of major cities in developing countries, to which extremely poor populations from rural areas continue to flock. They set up home there, with no legal title to the land, in houses made of bamboo.
This neighborhood is not part of any urban development plan and basic services are not provided. The water supply used to be delivered by trucks outside the municipality’s control. The water distributed was of poor quality and posed a health threat to the entire metropolis’ population, exposing them to a heightened risk of water-borne diseases. The chaotic distribution conditions created a tense atmosphere. Last but not least, the abnormally high and variable prices proved untenable for families.
A source of growing tension, this critical situation posed a health, social and political problem. In the light of these difficult conditions, providing Monte Sinaí’s residents with an acceptable solution was only natural for Veolia’s staff, even though the district was outside the scope of the concession contract signed with Guayaquil (operation and maintenance of the city’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater networks).
“In Latin America, shared perspectives foster a very high level of solidarity between social groups, which is particularly strong among our staff in Guayaquil,” explains Frédéric Certain, CEO of Veolia in Ecuador. “Veolia cannot merely content itself with a service that works well in the city but remains inaccessible for hundreds of thousands of people in the surrounding area. Its raison d’être is at stake: we are only credible if we are useful.”
Smart technologies on behalf of the most vulnerable
The challenge to be met consisted in organizing the distribution so as to guarantee quality water, a secure low-cost supply, and increased profitability for the truck drivers. The “Agua del Sinaí” (“Water of Sinaí”) program is the fruit of lengthy deliberations between Veolia, Monte Sinaí community representatives (mostly women volunteers heavily involved in neighborhood organization, each representing some one hundred families) and institutional partners. It is also the result of fierce negotiations with the truckers.
As the residents have a cellphone, the water supply was able to be digitized. Using GPS, smart routing was set up to locate users, organize the distribution, and optimize the truckers’ route while checking them. The drivers have a dedicated app on their cellphone that tells them the route and allows them to directly save user information and the amount delivered. The whole process is overseen by Veolia thanks to a remote management and monitoring system. Each truck has its own identification attributed by the municipality and the truck drivers now wear uniforms. The vehicles display the “Agua del Sinaí” logo, the price applied, and a telephone number for orders and any complaints.
A filling station built by Veolia in the same neighborhood, connected by a pipeline to the municipal service, assumes many functions (filling, office, etc.). It is where the water quality is checked by random sampling, subject to bacteriological analysis. This location has also brought about notable improvements, guaranteeing the origin of the water distributed and reducing truckers’ journey time. The closest filling station was previously 8 km away.
“The services provided by Veolia cannot develop without an understanding of what happens in the most fragile communities,” analyzes Frédéric Certain. “We have worked a great deal on social cohesion; it’s an added contribution that consolidates our credibility in Latin America.”
A positive impact for everyone
From now on, a tank truck goes by each house at least four times a day — however, it may be up to eight times depending on demand — distributing drinking water at a more affordable set price in a calm atmosphere.
This low-cost scheme first and foremost benefits users, who enjoy a secure, regulated, high-quality drinking water service, which has a positive impact on their health and purchasing power. However, it is also beneficial to the truck drivers, whose working conditions and profitability have improved, and to the municipality, which is seeing the risk of a health and social crisis recede. “For Veolia, it’s a source of satisfaction and pride to have provided aid,” says a delighted Frédéric Certain. “And for our South American staff, it’s extremely important to have helped their fellow citizens. Our users here are incredibly grateful to us.” “Agua del Sinaí” proves that quality drinking water distribution is possible without a connection to the official network. The set-up in Guayaquil can be applied to other makeshift neighborhoods, as well as urban development areas in Latin America, Africa, India, etc. facing the same problem.
“The difficulty is neither technical nor financial. The key to this program’s success lies in the determination and courage of Veolia’s teams, who wanted to provide a solution for the city’s most vulnerable population. This kind of action gives Veolia renewed credibility when it comes to working in poor regions,” concludes Frédéric Certain.
Assessment after one year up and running
Water for all
Since April 2019, the “Agua del Sinaí” program has been providing quality drinking water to all homes in the Monte Sinaí squatter settlement, 15 km from Guayaquil, i.e. 130,000 people (including 100,000 children) living in extreme poverty. This population is growing by 10,000 to 20,000 people per year. The water supply station built in the neighborhood has eight pumps, enabling 26 tank trucks to distribute 2,500 m3 of drinking water per day. On site, an efficient and regular bacteriological analysis system guarantees the water quality.
Regularity of service
The digitization of distribution via smart routing using GPS and a dedicated app on the truckers’ cellphones makes it possible to adjust delivery to demand in real time. Truck drivers make seven to eight journeys per day compared to the previous maximum of four, and they now go past each house a minimum of three or four times a day. An automatic control and notification scheme for the tank trucks and their drivers guarantees peaceable relations between users and truck drivers.
Improvement in user's purchasing power
A 0.21-m3 tank is billed at the flat rate of US$ 0.75. This is over 25% less than the previous minimum price (which ranged from US$ 1 to US$ 3 during the rainy season).
Veolia contributed $450,000 to construct the filling station and support the scheme’s set-up. Nowadays, the project no longer requires any funding. Guayaquil’s 540,000 households with a water meter pay a contribution of $0.10 per month to a fund to renew the truckers’ vehicles.