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PPP-powered access to water — and much more

Melvin Tan's picture
Note: This blog entry was adapted from an original submission for the PPIAF Short Story Contest. It is part of a series highlighting the role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in projects and other transformative work around the world.

One of the most salient features of a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement is the flexibility to use out-of-the-box solutions in resolving the many challenges in day-to-day operations. As a result, the PPP setup gives operators the liberty to come up with innovative solutions for more effective and efficient delivery of the most basic services.
 
Location of Laguna Province in the
Philippines. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the Philippines, Laguna Water — a joint venture company formed as a result of a PPP between the Provincial Government and Manila Water Philippine Ventures formerly known AAA Water Corporation — is benefitting immensely from that flexibility since it took over the operations of the province-run water system in 2009. Although primarily tasked to improve the provision of water and wastewater in the three cities of Biñan, Sta. Rosa and Cabuyao — collectively known as concession area — Laguna Water’s sustainable business model allows it to participate on matters related to community development (including job generation), as well as programs centered on health, safety and environmental protection.
 
As a staunch advocate of sustainability, Laguna Water takes pride in having significantly improved access to piped, clean and affordable water to 62 percent of the population of the concession area— a far cry from the 14 percent when it started its operations in 2009. The joint venture’s PPP framework has been instrumental in putting in place water infrastructure that provides easier access and better services to customers. Today, Laguna Water is the biggest water service provider in the entire province, and is also ahead in its service-level targets on coverage, water quality and water loss reduction. 
 
Here are some details about our PPP-empowered approach.
 
Community Livelihood Program
In coordination with Manila Water Foundation (the social development arm of Manila Water), Laguna Water is able to implement the Community Livelihood Program (Kabuhayan Para sa Barangay), where chosen local cooperatives are provided funding assistance and given greater access and participation in the water company’s supply chain. 
 
One successful case study from this program is an organization from the city of Cabuyao, called the Sikap Builders Cooperative, which once made and sold Christmas lanterns. Through our Community Livelihood Program, we trained members of the Cooperative on the skills they needed to work with Laguna Water, and also provided a loan as start-up capital for the group to purchase equipment, uniforms and other items. Laguna Water officially engaged the services of the Cooperative in 2013 for customer service, including the reconnection and disconnection of water connections.
 
Today, the Cooperative is a company with 37 employees who earn a regular income. It is now also able to rent an office space and purchase computers and other furniture and equipment for their administrative work. With the expected expansion of Laguna Water’s sanitation program, the Cooperative will soon be asked to provide additional 30 workers. In the years ahead, Laguna Water is expected to support many more cooperatives, even those whose line of business may differ from our main focus areas.   
 
Interconnection of public schools
Despite the improvement of the province’s water supply after the entry of Laguna Water, many school children are still susceptible to the risk of water-borne diseases because public schools have sets of rules that make it difficult to connect to the company’s water network. To facilitate the process and address the budget limitations for clean water supply, Laguna Water waived its interconnection fee for public schools through its Lingap Eskwela, or We Care for Schools Program. The program is a holistic infrastructure program for schools that includes the rehabilitation of toilets, installation of drinking fountains and regular testing for water quality. 

So far, nine public schools with approximately 20,000 children and teachers have benefited from this program since its inception in 2013. Laguna Water is exploring the possibility of expanding the program to include private schools.
 
Environmental protection
The quality of raw water depends largely on the state of the environment — a clean environment usually means easier access and more expedient water treatment. With this in mind, Laguna Water spearheaded an ambitious campaign for environmental protection, in partnership with other cause-oriented and civil society groups.
 
One such program is a comprehensive System Loss Reduction Program, which addresses the challenges of water losses due to leaks and illegal connections. Through a dedicated team using state-of-the-art equipment, leaks are easily identified and immediately repaired. These efforts yielded positive results, as the level of water leakage in 2009 (48 percent) has dropped to the current 12 percent, reducing environmental stress associated with aggressive ground water extraction. In coordination with other entities, Laguna Water also actively participates in activities like tree planting, river clean-up, fun runs and other environmental protection campaigns.
 
Laguna Water is proof that partnership between government and the private sector through a PPP program can make a difference in effectively and efficiently delivering services to communities.  Not only does the PPP promote community development, but it also ensures continued stakeholder engagement and adherence to sustainability practices.