Customer service agents for reduction of non-revenue water

Customer service agents for reduction of non-revenue water

The project is funded by eThekwini water and sanitation.

This programme involves the utilisation of a highly skilled technical team who analyse the customer database and GIS data in order to plan and prioritise community interventions. Analysis involves the identification of water consumption hot spots, payment patterns and debtors status. The programme also has highly trained field workers (customer service agents) who interact with residents or customers to address identified problems.

 

There are a number of objectives that the CSA programme has set out to achieve:

  • Increase revenue
  • Reduction of unaccounted for water
  • Reduction of bad debt
  • Educate customers with regard to sustainable use of water services

Achievements as at december 2014:

  • Payments made:r 19 961 240
  • Reduction of bad debt: r 12 101 860
  • Household visits: 56 000

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1. Customer service linked to non-revenue water

BACKGROUND

The eThekwini water and sanitation unit (EWS) is responsible for the provision of water and sanitation services to more than 3.3 million people within the eThekwini municipal boundaries. This includes both urban and rural areas which have resulted in a number of challenges that needed to be overcome such as a lack of awareness on how to use water and sanitation services correctly, illegal connections, blockages and vandalism. Education and awareness programmes, as well as interaction with the community are an essential part of overcoming these challenges and improving the quality of life for all population groups.

These challenges can be summed up as an inability to adequately manage water services at household level. Specific household challenges would include:

  • An inability to manage water consumption resulting in unnecessary high bills
  • Faults (leaks) left unresolved
  • Lack of awareness of the need for water saving

EWS is committed to assisting its citizens or customers resolve their individual water service challenges. Assistance is available at walk in centres situated in the various regions of the municipality. The flagship customer service centres are called sizakala centres, where all help desks for municipal services (including water and sanitation) are found under one roof. The one downside of the walk-in centres is that it is incumbent upon the customers to visit these facilities to seek assistance. The reality is that many customers who really need this service do not access it. They choose not to do anything about the water service challenges they face (which invariably include payment issues). In an ideal world this would be an anomaly, however, the reality is that the challenges faced by poorer households are not conducive to heightened levels of understanding of the implications of not attending to water service problems.

The unsustainability of high household water consumption due to a lack of conservation and leaking pipes resulting in unaffordable and unpaid bills, informed an EWS decision to look at an alternative customer interface approach. The approach would not be reliant on pro-activeness of customers but would see customer services being extended to customers at a household level and at community level in general. Thus two key approach strategies were initiated, the customer service agent (CSA) and the raising citizens voice (RCV) programmes.

The CSA and the RCV programmes were designed to enhance existing EWS office based customer service offerings. Each programme was two pronged in that it desired to help customers at a household/community level whilst also addressing municipal objectives of revenue generation, reducing debt levels and enhancing the sustainable use of water services.


CUSTOMER SERVICE AGENT PROGRAMME

Objectives and activities
This programme involves the utilisation of a highly skilled technical team who analyse the customer database and GIS data in order to plan and prioritise community interventions. Analysis involves the identification of water consumption hot spots, payment patterns and debtors status. The programme also has highly trained field workers (customer service agents) who interact with residents or customers to address identified problems.

There are a number of objectives that the CSA programme has set out to achieve. Listed below are these objectives with associated activities.

• Increase revenue

  • Visit and inform customers of various programmes and initiatives to help with arrear accounts including debt relief, flow limiters and amnesty
  • Identify and increase revenue from customers with arrear accounts
  • Determining location of un-metered connections (urban, rural, new developments, etc)
  • Assisting customers in completing new application forms
  • Form links and relationships with other units (non-revenue water, GIS unit, housing, etc.)
  • Development of additional training and communication materials
  • Support for community outreach programmes

• Reduction of unaccounted for water

  • Investigation of eThekwini billing system and GIS system in order to identify target areas and develop weekly work packages for customer visits
  • Conduct customer field investigations
  • Verification of customer details
  • Identification and reporting of community water leaks
  • Reporting / monitoring of faults
  • Investigate reports of suspected illegal connections
  • Determining location of un-metered connections (urban, rural, new developments, etc.)
  • Assisting customers in completing new application forms

• Reduction of bad debt

  • Regularization of indigent customers
  • Verification of customer details
  • Identify and reduce high water consumption customers

• Educate customers with regard to sustainable use of water services

  • Visit customers and educate on water related services utilising tools such as:
    • Educational brochures
    • Street theatre
    • Posters
  • Identification of household leaks as part of the "forced leak repair" programme
  • Reporting and monitoring of faults
  • Liaison with councillors and other municipal departments when required
  • Support of community outreach programmes

Achievements to date
The key performance indicators (KPIs) listed below illustrate the successes achieved to date.

• Increase revenue

KPI description TOTAL
Arrears of all customers visited R 239 209 956
Visited customers made a payment 5 310
Payments made R 19 961 240

The total arrear amount owed by customers visited during period 2012 – 2014 was r239 209 956 and 5 310 of these customers made payment totalling r19 961 240 (average r3 759 per customer).

• Reduction of bad debt

KPI description TOTAL
Customers visited signed up for debt relief 1 170
Total value of agreements R 12 101 860

1 170 arrear customers visited during the period 2012 to 2014 signed up for debt relief. The total value of these agreements was r12 101 860.

• Reduction of unaccounted for water

KPI description last name TOTAL
Un-metered sites identified 7 736
Suspected illegal connections identified 1 114
Application
Forms
Qadi - bothas hill 566
Nhlungwane 203
Thornwood 1 011
Ogunjini 453
Ward 99 5 217
Non-revenue (NR7) 5 148
General 4 267
  • 64 public leaks were reported and fixed
  • 7 736 unmetered sites but which had water were identified
  • 1 114 suspected illegal connections were attended to
  • 16 865 applications for new meters were processed for various areas

• Educate customer with regards to sustainable use of water services

KPI description TOTAL
Households visited 55 957
Customers visiting EWS in response to a CSA visit (A3) 3 866
Forced leaks reported 226

At each one of the homes visited, customers were educated about various water issues depending on priority issues faced by individual households.

Lessons learned
Some valuable lessons have been learned through the CSA programme. These include:

  • Household level visits sensitize customers to the seriousness of payment issues and sustainable water uses
  • Generally customers do take steps to attend to water issues after a visit
  • It is difficult for indigent customers to get to an EWS office and household visits are a welcome convenience
  • Visibility of EWS at community level is an indication that EWS is prepared to go the extra mile to help its customers

CONCLUSION

The innovative customer engagement model in the form of household level customer service have yielded extremely positive results in addressing overall EWS objectives, especially those related to increase in revenue, debt level decrease, reduction of unaccounted for water and customer education on sustainable use of water services.

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Removal and recycling of faecal waste from 50 000 UD toilets
Removal and recycling of faecal waste from 50 000 UD toilets

Removal and recycling of faecal waste from 50 000 UD toilets

This project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and eThekwini water and sanitation.

EThekwini municipality has installed over 50 000 urine diversion (UD) toilets at households in rural areas. Due to concerns over disposal risks, Khanyisa Projects has been asked to develop and implement a project to remove faecal waste from UD toilets and generate valuable products from the waste where possible. The project involves a contract with a managing contractor and local small businesses to remove the waste and either bury onsite with tree planting or transport of waste to a recycling plant. The recycling plant which is being constructed at the isipingo waste water treatment works will utilise black soldier fly technology to process the waste and generate valuable products.

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2. Removal and recycling of waste from urine diversion toilets (use of black soldier fly technology).
Funders: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
EThekwini water services

Since 2002, eThekwini municipality has installed over 80 000 urine diversion (UD) double vault toilets at the household level in rural areas. This technology was selected to replace ventilated improved pit latrines (VIPs) as the municipality’s basic onsite sanitation option as it was expected that the UD systems would produce a degraded sludge which could be safely removed and buried on site by the resident. This approach eliminated the challenges and costs encountered when servicing VIP systems, which included access to pits, removal of sludge containing solid waste, and transport and disposal of sludge.

However, a number of concerns have since arisen over the removal of faecal material from UD toilets. These include health risks to residents who handle the potentially pathogenic sludge and dissatisfaction amongst household owners over the expectation that they will remove the faecal matter from their systems themselves while other recipients of basic sanitation receive a free service from the municipality. The municipality therefore needed to identify other safe and economically feasible faecal matter removal options which can be provided to the 80 000 (and increasing) homes.

Through funding from the bill & melinda gates foundation (BMGF), the eThekwini municipality’s water and sanitation unit (EWS), together with a professional consulting team (khanyisa projects, partners in development and the university of kwazulu-natal’s pollution research group) began exploring the use of business partnerships using incentivized contracts for the safe and efficient removal and disposal or processing of the UD contents.

The project will involve the disposal or recycling of waste by means of two options:

  1. Where there is space on site and poor access, burial of waste on-site (with planting of a tree)
  2. Where there is limited space, socio political pressures and good access, removal of waste to a decentralized processing plant and production of valuable end products

In order to implement these two disposal / recycling options the project has been divided into two components as follows:

The first component is the rollout of a management contract which will include the appointment of local labour to undertake the removal of faecal waste from the UD toilet vaults and either bury onsite or transport the contents to a central BSF processing plant. It will be stipulated that the managing contractor must adhere to all health, safety and environmental requirements. A mentoring program will be initiated for local labour showing business potential through the establishment of a business incubation unit. The final step will be the selection of contractors for the second rollout (cycle 2) without the need for a managing contractor. In summary, the key steps that are taking place are:

  • Development and approval of tender document
  • Management of tender process
  • Contracting of managing contractor with requirements for employment of local labor or local businesses
  • Establishment of business incubator
  • Management of removal and transport contract
  • Selection of potential businesses for cycle 2 rollout
  • Evaluation

It is envisaged that the second UD waste removal cycle will be initiated during the last six months of this program.

The second component is the establishment and operation of a faecal waste processing plant utilizing the black soldier fly (BSF) technology. During phase 1, the project team engaged with the private organization biocycle which has been piloting the BSF technology to process faecal waste for several years. The larvae of the black soldier fly consume organic waste in order to grow to adult size. The adult larvae are then processed into products such as chicken feed, pet food and oils. The residue can be used as a soil conditioner or converted into biochar. Business modelling was undertaken and a draft service level agreement was drawn up with a view to establishing a form of public private partnership between the municipality and biocycle. The isipingo waste water treatment works was identified as a suitable site for the establishment of the processing plant. The following steps are taking place:

  • Finalization of service level agreement including financial aspects
  • Signing of service level agreement
  • Reports to national treasury and council procurement committees
  • Approval of procurement process by council and national treasury
  • Approval of land use by council
  • Establishment of BSF processing plant
  • Monitoring of operation
  • Evaluation

Should the business partnership be successful, then the disposal costs that the municipality would normally pay for disposal at a hazardous waste site would be substantially reduced. There are still some risks associated with the model as the operator cannot say with certainty how the market will accept the products if faecal sludge forms part of the feedstock. The business partnership that has been agreed between the municipality and the selected operator involves the sharing of the risks and potential profit on a 50/50 basis. The project has also been significantly de-risked through the provision of funds by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the capital expenditure of the BSF plant.

The municipality’s vision is that the profit that it derives from the first BSF plant will be used to establish additional BSF plants to ultimately address all UD and other faecal waste at minimal cost to the city.

The second element of the vision is that local businesses are empowered to form sustainable sanitation businesses that can provide ongoing waste removal services for the city.

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Ndwedwe rural biogas project

Ndwedwe rural biogas project

This project was funded by the south african national energy development institute (SANEDI)

Many thousands of rural households have limited access to safe energy for cooking, lighting, heating water and other needs. Biogas was identified as sustainable fuel available to rural households with livestock waste.

The project involved the following steps:

  • Planning, design and model selection (6m3 brick and mortar)
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Builder selection and training (7 local builders were trained)
  • Selection of beneficiary households (26 were selected)
  • Construction of brick and mortar model with fibreglass dome
  • Priming and testing
  • Detailed assessment

The assessment investigated environmental, cost and sustainable benefits of the project.

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3. Ndwedwe rural biogas project
Funder: south african national energy development institute (SANEDI)

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES

Many thousands of homesteads in rural kwazulu natal have limited access to safe energy for cooking, lighting, heating water and other needs. In addition, rural households often don’t have access to safe hygienic sanitation systems. In many areas women walk long distances to collect firewood or spend a high proportion of their monthly income on fuels such as paraffin.

A biogas digester, through the production of methane gas can provide for cooking and water heating needs while at the same time producing effluent fertiliser rich in nutrients. The effluent can be used to significantly increase the agricultural yields in food gardens. The biogas digester can also provide a safe hygienic sanitation system for rural households.
Other key benefits include:

  • the need for other fuels such as wood, paraffin, LP gas and electricity can be substantially reduced
  • health and safety for rural households is improved through the reduced use of flammable and smoke producing fuels such as paraffin and wood

Digesters require organic waste to be able to operate. A key factor in rural areas is that many households own livestock. The manure from this livestock can be used to increase the amount of biogas produced.
A barrier to the development of biogas as an energy solution in rural areas is the lack of local technical skills for construction as well as support to users. This means these skills have to be brought in from urban areas at great expense. A second objective of this project is therefore to generate local technical and building skills through a practical training programme linked to the construction of the biogas digesters.
It was felt that the local municipality of ndwedwe under ilembe district municipality was an area which was typical of a rural kwazulu natal community.

On the basis of these needs and the status quo in ndwedwe, a proposal was submitted to the south african national energy development initiative (SANEDI) who manages the working for energy programme (WFE) on behalf of the department of energy. The WFE aims to provide alternative forms of energy to cater for the needs of poor communities while at the same time linking to the expanded public works programme (EPWP). The proposal aimed to train a number of local builders to construct 26 six cubic meter digesters with greywater and gas fittings.

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

No project of this nature can be successfully rolled out without a comprehensive stakeholder engagement programme. The first intervention was with the acting municipal manager at the time mr mike newton who willingly approved the project in the ilembe district municipality. The key steps that followed included:

  • Workshops with the ilembe enterprise development unit
  • Meetings with key LED officials from ilembe and ndwedwe municipality
  • Presentations to ndwedwe council including the mayor
  • Discussions with the department of agriculture in ndwedwe
  • Meetings with ward councillors
  • Meetings with amakhosi and development committees

The two wards selected by the council for this project, ward 14 and 18, each had a number of amakhosi areas falling within their jurisdiction. The project team were able to successfully engage with all these stakeholders. The key outcomes have been that at no stage has the project been stopped by community or political issues and the builders employed on the project have in most cases been of an acceptable quality. The selection of beneficiaries within wards by the structures also progressed without any hindrance.

INNOVATIVE APPROACH

Biogas digesters have been built in rural areas on other projects in the province but this is the first time that a comprehensive building training programme has been embarked on to transfer biogas building skills to local contractors.

The biogas digesters built utilised a combination of brick and mortar with a fibreglass dome as well as a LDPE greywater line and composite pipe for the gasline to the kitchen. Each household was supplied with a two plate stove which was converted to operate on methane gas. The use of locally available materials for most of the construction rather than a fully pre-fabricated model allowed for the transfer of the building skills.

The 6m³ digester can cater for up to 40 kilograms of organic material daily and up to 1 000 litres of water via the greywater system. In cases where the rural household had installed a flush toilet this was connected to the digester as well. The outputs of the system are up to 2m³ of methane gas daily as well as nutrient rich effluent that can be used for fruit trees and food gardens.

PROCESS STEPS

The key process steps are set out below:

  • Planning and design (a sketch of the selected design is included in the Annexures)
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Builder selection
  • Selection of beneficiaries
    Beneficiaries were selected based on access to livestock manure, agricultural activities and greywater access.
  • Construction training and mentoring included:
    • Site selection
    • Material supply (local suppliers were used where possible)
    • Technical supervision
    • Gasline and greywater line installation
    • Testing for leaks (gas and water) and priming
    • Training in gas operation and maintenance as well as agricultural use of the effluent
    • Project completion certificate
    • Mentoring and aftercare

Besides the training of beneficiaries in the operation and maintenance of the system, municipal staff were given technical support to raise their awareness on the technology.

PROJECT OUTPUTS

The following outputs have been achieved on this project:

  • 26 six cubic meter digesters at farms and homesteads
  • 7 local builders were trained to construct digesters according to the design
  • 1 200 work days were provided to local members of the community in the support of the builders and are recorded on the attached EPWP report
  • Two local building material suppliers were utilised
  • Clear evidence of an increase in awareness of biogas as a technology in the ndwedwe area and a desire by other members of the community to also utilise the technology (market penetration)

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

A number of environmental outputs have been achieved through this project.

  • Increased awareness within the municipality to understand and utilise biogas digesters as a renewable energy option to provide energy to the poor
  • Reduction in carbon footprint and GHG emissions through the use of renewable sources of energy
  • Closure of ecological loops within agriculture through the use of effluent as a fertiliser
  • Improved quality of life through improved air quality (reduction in the use of wood and paraffin)
  • Environmental impact on forest areas through reduction in the use of firewood

FINANCE

Management of the project

The approved budget for the project was r1.6 million. However, due to a number of efficiencies achieved during the implementation including material and labour cost savings, the scope of the project was extended. The labour costs savings were mainly achieved through the use of a task based approach.

The scope of the work within the original budget was extended to include rainwater harvesting tanks to houses without a reliable source of water. Besides the humanitarian need for water for drinking, cooking and washing, water is a key component of the biogas digester process.

Cost benefit analysis

The average cost of the biogas digester excluding the rainwater harvesting system is approximately r50 000 although this cost will decrease for new phases as builders will not need to be retrained and the stakeholder engagement requirements will also be reduced. The estimated annual cost savings are based on the following assumption.

  • 1,4m³ of methane gas produced and used daily
  • 1,4m³ of methane gas used daily is equivalent to approximately 220kg LP gas per year
  • Cost of LP gas is r24/kg
  • Total annual savings will be r5 280

The payback period excluding interest will be approximately 9,5 years although this excludes the value of the effluent for agriculture.

SUSTAINABILITY

A number of steps were taken to assist with sustainability of the project. These included:

  • Training of beneficiaries will help to ensure correct operation of the system
  • Officials of both ilembe and ndwedwe have been included in the process and will thus have an understanding of the support requirements
  • The department of agriculture was also included so that they are aware of the opportunities for agricultural activity
  • The ilembe municipality stated that the project fits within their 2020 vision for renewable energy and that they would consider scaling up the project

CHALLENGES

A number of challenges were experienced on this project. The challenges experienced and the mitigating actions taken are set out below.

Challenge Mitigating action
Two nominated builders had a poor attitude to the project and a lack of skills In one case additional training was provided while in the other case, the builder was replaced
Large rocks were found in some areas when digging holes for digesters by hand In one case the hole position was changed while in the other, additional mechanical equipment was hired
A lack of water for building and testing of the digester was experienced at some sites In some cases water tankers from ilembe municipality were used while in other cases where access was poor, water was pumped from rivers up to one kilometre from the site
Additional engagement with multiple amakhosi structures was required Additional time for this activity was set aside

QUALITY ASSURANCE

All work was checked and tested under the supervision of dave alcock, a biogas specialist with over 20 years' experience. No builder was paid until the completion certificate was signed off by the technical manager. Aftercare and mentoring was also provided for a three month period.

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Cato Manor Green Street retrofit

Cato manor green street retrofit

Funding was provided by the green building council of south africa with key contributions by the british high commission and the australian government.

Khanyisa Projects was asked to assist with project management and community and stakeholder engagement on the country’s first “green street” upgrade in a low income area. The first phase of the project was completed ahead of the COP17 international climate change talks in late 2011.

In Phase 1 and phase 2, a total of 56 low cost houses in a small road in the historical township of cato manor benefited from the upgrade or retrofit.

The project aimed to demonstrate the range of socio-economic, health and environmental benefits which are possible from the implementation of resource-efficient interventions in low income houses while keeping the country on a low carbon path.

Key interventions included:

  • Solar water heaters
  • Insulated ceilings
  • Insulated cookers
  • Energy efficient lighting
  • LED street lights
  • Rainwater harvesting and food gardens
  • Clean-up and rehabilitation of water courses in the area
  • Awareness and advocacy
  • Small business development

Post intervention assessments and measurement illustrated the potential energy and carbon emission savings if the project was extended to all the RDP houses in the country.

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4. Cato manor green street retrofit

Khanyisa Projects was asked to assist with project management and community and stakeholder engagement on the country’s first “green street” upgrade in a low income area. The first phase of the project was completed ahead of the COP17 international climate change talks in late 2011.

In phase 1 and phase 2, a total of 56 low cost houses in a small road in the historical township of cato manor benefited from the upgrade or retrofit. The project was initiated by the green building council of south africa and received the majority of its funding from the british high commission (phase 1) and the australian government (phase 2).

The project aimed to demonstrate the range of socio-economic, health and environmental benefits which are possible from the implementation of resource – efficient interventions in low income houses while keeping the country on a low carbon path.

Key interventions included:

  • Solar water heaters
  • Insulated ceilings
  • Insulated cookers
  • Energy efficient lighting
  • LED street lights
  • Rainwater harvesting and food gardens
  • Clean-up and rehabilitation of water courses in the area
  • Awareness and advocacy

Phase 2 interventions included a solid waste recycling audit, alternative ventilation and insulation solutions and entrepreneurial and skills training for community members.

Khanyisa Projects demonstrated its ability to engage effectively with community, council and departmental stakeholders which allowed the project to progress smoothly, providing the greatest benefit for the local community. Khanyisa also ensured that the project stayed within the programme and budget.

Key findings from the intervention included;

  • Hot water from SWH was the most popular intervention
  • Households saved up to 75% of the electricity costs from the range of interventions
  • Peak temperatures on summer days dropped by 4 – 6 degrees

Other benefits included:

  • Better safety and security through safe wiring
  • Economic opportunities through training and mentoring
  • Improved nutrition from food gardens
  • Improved health through reduction in use of paraffin, coal and wood for fuel
  • New building skills providing for economic opportunities

The green building council calculated that if green retrofits were undertaken on the country’s 3 million low cost houses, the estimated electricity and water savings could be up to r3 billion per year.

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