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From 63% to 100% water coverage in 15 years

Article - February 3, 2016

In the 90s, the city’s water system left much to be desired when it came to water quality, pressure, and accessibility. This situation led the municipality to form a project to modernize and privatize services, allowing the city to begin the task of supplying drinking water and a city sewer system to the entire population.

H ome to a dynamic economy that has flourished thanks in no small part to the support of its local municipality, Guayaquil offers its citizens a wide variety of vital social services, the most lauded of which are its high-quality water and its efficient wastewater management system.  

The Empresa Municipal de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado de Guayaquil, more commonly known as EMAPAG, is the municipal company responsible for setting the standards of drinking water and sewage management in the city of Guayaquil. Through sensitivity to local needs and the enforcement of exacting standards, EMAPAG has been able to create an efficient system for providing potable water and sewage services to the entire city. This is especially remarkable since only just 15 years ago it was not possible to privatize municipal services such as water and waste management, and as a result, these offerings were either unsatisfactory or nonexistent.

However, since 2001, EMAPAG has become the regulator of these services, and International Water Services of Guayaquil -- also known as Interagua -- is the service provider. Together, these two companies decide on what type of action is needed and prioritize the most important investments so that the sectors in most need receive the infrastructural improvements and basic sanitation services they need. Leveraging their human resources from local populations, EMAPAG and Interagua not only improve the quality of life in Guayaquil by providing access to basic services such as drinking water and a dignified wastewater disposal system, but also create jobs, provide professional training so that locals can perform competently in those jobs, and stimulate the local economy through both direct and indirect employment.

Among the other significant changes that have improved the quality of water and waste management services in Guayaquil has been the transfer of administrative responsibility from the national to the local level. As of 2007, the municipality of Guayaquil has been in charge of dictating the politics of the industry and overseeing the entity -- in this case, EMAPAG -- that regulates the technical, economic, and legal aspects of the industry, as well as managing Interagua.

Overall, since this new model of water management was established in 2001, 100% of the city has had access to running water since 2013, and by 2016, it is expected that all citizens will benefit from a dignified wastewater collection system. This is all in stark contrast to the beginning of the century when only 63% of the population had access to running water, and less than 50% lived in areas serviced by a wastewater collection system.

It is important to note that all citizens of Guayaquil not only have access to clean running water, but that they have it in their homes, as ensuring domestic access and high quality water were both top priorities for the municipality. Much to the pride of local authorities, the quality of the water in Guayaquil has not only been corroborated by tests from nationally renowned laboratories, but also by the satisfaction expressed by citizens and the fact that the percentage of illnesses related to water consumption have drastically decreased.

Among the other significant changes that have improved the quality of water and waste management services in Guayaquil has been the transfer of administrative responsibility from the national to the local level. As of 2007, the municipality of Guayaquil has been in charge of dictating the politics of the industry and overseeing the entity

As far as water treatment goes, EMAPAG received more than 200 million dollars worth of financial support from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, as well as an additional 50 million from the municipal government in order to provide universal access to wastewater collection in the southern part of the city of Guayaquil, which is home to one million residents. As part of this undertaking, a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant will be constructed in the southern part of the city, and the sewage system from 30,000 households in the area will be repaired and or upgraded using modern, non-invasive technology that will avoid having to break through sidewalks or create other similar construction disturbances. In order for all of this to happen as planned, the government and various state financing and credit agencies have had to join forces and cross check balance sheets for what will eventually represent a $450 million investment, which includes the water treatment plants that will service the city and its residents.

A critical cog in the system that will ensure these goals are met, EMAPAG was established in 2012 with the aim of helping to improve basic living and health conditions in Guayaquil through ensuring efficient and high-quality water and wastewater management services, as well as effective storm water drainage. It has a solid reputation within the community and is known for its lean management and high ethical and moral standards. Dedicated to providing the best possible services, it is a company that functions closely attune to emerging community needs.  

In tandem with EMAPAG, Interagua works to serve the citizens of Guayaquil. Based in Amsterdam, Interagua is a conglomerate of several Ecuadorian and other foreign companies including Veolia, and is specialized in providing potable water and basic sanitation. It’s most significant contributions are in the realm of providing knowledge and know-how with regards to all aspects of the water cycle -- from collection to treatment, to distribution and disposal, right down to sales management.

Now the leading utility in Ecuador, Interagua boasts triple certification for quality, occupational health and safety, and environmental management. It is among the nearly 9,000 global companies subscribed to the UN Global Compact – a voluntary initiative based on CEO commitments to implement universal sustainability principles and to undertake partnerships in support of UN goals. At the core of the company’s ethos is the idea that social responsibility means doing everything possible to leverage skills, technology and resources for the greater good. It prides itself on employing best practices for the use of water, on operating sustainably.

Through its ‘We Are Water’ program, Interagua makes an effort to inculcate a culture of respect for natural resources in the local communities of Guayaquil. Through talks, workshops, conferences and other activities, children are taught about water and are shown ways to preserve and treasure this important natural resource. Likewise, Interagua’s ‘Plant Water’ project takes things a step further by encouraging children to plant trees and garner a more hands-on understanding of the fundamental role and importance of water in our ecosystem.  

As a result of the unified efforts of Interagua, EMAPAG, and the municipal government of Guayaquil, the city has become a role model; it is now the only metropolis in the country where water and sanitation have a regulatory body. Although public companies in cities like Quito and Cuenca have also made great strides in providing greater access to basic sanitation and higher-quality offerings, the Guayaquil model is still the most revered.