Water for People

Malawi, Africa

Water asset planning challenges aren’t unique to the developed world. A recent Water for People project in the country of Malawi revealed common themes and lessons that can be applied no matter where in the world they are located.

Water for People partners with local governments, businesses, and individuals in the developing world to provide support for clean water and sanitation systems, and to ensure they have the resources they need to maintain those systems now and in the future. Water for People supports water systems across the country of Malawi and many other nations. These systems can be as small as village level well hand pumps to cluster systems and even municipal-level systems supporting large communities.

The entities they support often work with fewer resources than utilities in the US, so they must be experts at managing resources; applying practical and effective asset management and planning strategies to get the most value out of their systems. While the scale of the systems varies greatly, the principles for their management are largely the same.

Challenged to manage scarce resources, juggle various funding sources, and be more strategic about funding decisions, representatives from Malawi took the proactive step of inventorying their assets, assessing their condition, and developing models for maintenance and renewal.

Initial results of the modeling effort calculated condition-based risks and age-based risks of assets but lacked the ability to integrate both risks into future projected replacement dates. Working with Raftelis and incorporating advanced asset management and financial planning techniques from the developed world, the models were improved to consider both the age and condition of assets to estimate future replacement dates. The results of the modeling created a list of needs that were projected to outpace the ability of local entities and funding agencies to support them.

Raftelis then looked from a different angle, performing an analysis of assets and their in-service dates. This showed that compared to real-world performance, assumptions of useful life were overly conservative. By considering condition assessments and more realistic useful life expectations, the funding gap in Malawi were narrowed in aggregate by more than 20%. The Malawi model was designed to grow with the user and allows for more sophisticated condition assessments than were initially made. As the model continues in use, more frequent condition assessments as part of routine maintenance activities will allow a greater understanding of what factors lead to asset degradation. This approach will drive changes in maintenance patterns and reduce the levels of capital investment needed. It will also help funding agencies get more value out of their investments, which will help attract further investment.

Fundamentally, the principles applied in Malawi can be applied to every utility in the US. Understanding how assets degrade, when and how to assess their condition, and how to model financial investment in them are common challenges. This presentation will discuss how water asset planning lessons from the country of Malawi can be employed by utilities in both the developed and developing world.