Household Connection Survey in Soc Trang Reveals Astonishing Results

Created on 07 February 2013 Print Email

 Since July 2011, Soc Trang Urban Public Works Company Ltd. (ST-UPWC) charges a tariff for wastewater services to customers who are connected to the public sewerage system in Soc Trang city. With this step, Soc Trang was the first province in Vietnam to implement the directions given in Prime Minister's Decree No 88/2007/ND-CP. If calculated on a real-cost and demand-driven basis, tariffs are globally considered a crucial tool to ensure quality and efficiency of public services. They give service providers (such as wastewater operators) the necessary financial autonomy to meet set service and performance standards, and hence are a warrant for sustainability of infrastructure investments.

Due to the lack of available data on household (HH) sewer connections, ST-UPWC had to conduct a large-scale HH survey during the preparation of tariff collection in the city. The survey aimed to identify those customers of ST-UPWC who are required to pay the tariff.

However, due to time-constraints and the extreme difficulty to identify whether a house is actually connected or not, the initial data collection was insufficient and unsatisfactory regarding reliability and validity of data. Also, it was initally unclear, whether open channels and ditches, which transport wastewater (WW) of domestic dischargers and are regularly cleaned and maintained by ST-UPWC, count as part of the public sewerage system, or not. This confusion lead to insufficient revenue for ST-UPWC (due to HH who should pay but were not registered as connected dischargers) and citizen complaints (from HH who were charged without being actually connected).

To clairfy the situation, ST-UPWC decided to re-survey all HH currently not registered as customers. Supported by WMP, 16 interviewers  surveyed 10.136 HH in 10 wards of the city in October 2012. Besides using a short questionnaire, the specially trained interviewers visually inspected each house's WW discharge point(s) to ensure valid survey results.

Results:

With the survey, ST-UPWC could identify four groups of HH:

A.      1.210 HH (12%) which are connected to the public sewer system but had previously been counted as not connected

B.      1.709 HH (17%) which discharge their WW to open channels/ditches that are regularly maintained and cleaned by ST-UPWC

C.      1.064 HH (10%) which are not connected to the public sewer system, though it is available in front of their premises

D.      6.153 HH (61%) which are not connected to any sewer or ditch as these are not available in adequate proximity to the HH premises

Conclusions:

1.       A total of 2.919 HH (groups A and B) could be added as legitimate subjects to tariff collection to ST-UPWC's customer database.

2.       For HH in group C, appropriate measures will have to be taken by local authorities to make them connect to the sewer system. By prevailing law (Decree 88/2007/ND-CP) it is required for WW dischargers to connect to sewer systems, if available and technically feasible. However, the currently very low Environment Protection (EP) fee (acc. to Decree 67/2003/ND-CP) which dischargers, who are not connected to sewer systems have to pay, and the comparably high WW tariff that connected dischargers are being charged, act as disincentives for HH to connect.

3.       The high ratio of HH not connected to any kind of sewerage/drainage system (group D) is yet another proof for the very low HH connection ratio prevailing in Vietnam's cities (particularly in the Mekong-Delta), and confirms the results of previous studies conducted by WMP. If this fact is neglected during the planning and design of infrastructure investments, it will most certainly lead to severe technical problems (low WW volumes, low pollution loads) of central WW treatment plants with biological treatment technologies. As a number of failed WW investment projects over the past decade in Vietnam have shown, authorities, planners and donors must consider HH connections as an integral part of any investment project in WW infrastructure.

4.       The surveying and re-surveying of such large numbers of housholds is a cumbersome and cost-intensive task. Provinces or cities that aim to implement Decree 88/2007/ND-CP are, however, required to conduct these surveys as the decree demands that only HH connected to public sewer systems shall be charged the WW tariff. As nowhere in Vietnam databases on sewer connections are available, the surveys become a necessity that are a contributing factor to the low willingness and motivation of local leaders to put the decree into practice.

5.       WMP supports MoC in drafting a replacement decree for Decree 88. In this, WMP supports the idea that existing customer databases should be used to charge and collect WW tariffs. This could be either all water supply customers, or all households within the adminsitrative city boundaries, regardless of their connection to the sewerage system. This solution may cause an initial inequality, which will, however, fade out over time, as cities grow and develop and the integration of urban infrastructure becomes more complete. On the other hand, the solution proposed by WMP has clear advantages: it solves the EP fee vs. WW tariff confusion (no one living in a city will pay EP fee anymore), gives incentives for HH to connect and it increases local authorities' motivation to implement national regulations as it releaves them from the burden of having to implement cost and labor intensive connection surveys.

For further information on the WW tariff in Soc Trang, please follow the link below:

http://www.wastewater-vietnam.org/en/news/51-peoples-council-of-soc-trang-province-has-approved-waste-water-tariff.html

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