The World Under the Road

December 18, 2012, 2 AM, Villa Maria del Triunfo experienced a flood. The main water pipe burst causing incalculable damages.

“I heard a commotion coming from outside. I jumped out of bed; the icy water captured my feet.” One witness recalls.

“What was going on? I rushed outside; there was water in every corner. The walls had fallen apart and most of my belongings were ruined. Everything was destroyed; not only my home, but me as well. I buried my face in my palms, sobbing as my son reached for my hand. He whispered in my ear “What are we going to do now?” I had absolutely no idea. “

This isn’t an isolated case; in the days that followed, there were many more bursts that kept coming along swiping away people´s homes. Not even a month had passed, and in January 13, eight homes were flooded in Carabayllo. Four days later, again, another pipe broke in Villa El Salvador, near the km 17.5 of the Panamericana Sur.

Leaking pipes are a problem that haunts the community and government of Lima. Not only that but it´s the main contributor to water waste in the city. Considering that, 35% of potable water in Lima is lost due to leakage in water pipes, if the government doesn´t start replacing these pipes for new ones, Lima is most probably going to run out of water by 2020.

This has caused great controversy amongst politicians and citizens alike: if this is such a big concern, why isn’t the government addressing the problem? And it´s indeed a legitimate question since Sedapal, the national water and sewage company, is a governmental company. According to Guido Valdivia, advisor to the Peruvian Chamb­er of Construction (Capeco), the budget that the government gives Sedapal to rebuild or maintain the pipes, is not sufficient. And as most of the governmental companies, it has poor management. The architect Jorge Ruiz de Somocurcio also highlights the inefficiency in planning due to poor policies and bureaucracy.

Even though the government is the cause behind Sedapal´s deficiencies, this company is the main contributor to this chaos.

Apart from that, Sedapal provides low quality customer service; after five hours had passed in the Villa Maria del Triunfo incident, Sedapal supplied them with only two pumps for the motors, providing little help, while the neighbors of VMT requested more experienced personnel. These limitations demonstrate ineffective planning coming directly from Sedapal.

The water and sewage company also doesn´t have maintenance for the pipes due to the insufficient resources. Sedapal has proposed rates to be enlarged by 12.41% to increase economics and therefore increase budget. Though it´s not the first time this happens. It’s a story that repeats itself every so often: in 2010 Sedapal requested to increase rates by 10.26%, but then the regulator only accepted 3.2%. The National Superintendent of Sanitation (NSS) does not allow Sedapal to raise water rates due to it´s ineffectiveness, meaning the disorganization of Sedapal towards addressing the determined budget. Also not providing feasibility studies and project profiles that were to be implemented.

Jose Luis Patiño, manager of users in the NSS, claims that Sedapal has not executed investments to which they committed to in the optimized principal plan (OPP) for 2010–2015. For instance, in 2011 the budget was of 790.1 million soles, but the actual investment was 433.1 million soles. These unfulfilled commitments show an incorrect administration of the budget, so, why ask for a rate increase?

In 2012 the potable water in Lima increased to 94.6% and sewerage coverage reached 89.9%, due to Sedapal. Though there are still 700 thousand citizens with no access to water. This breach would be able covered with a higher rate. The issue being that the company has prioritized the expansion of water services in the city, which is good, but simultaneously neglected the renewal of water and sewer networks. These shortcomings caused by poor management. The poor management was led by the lack of professionals in key positions, and faulty policies, all this then reflecting in the pipe bursts that have been happening this past months.

So, Sedapal should be replacing the pipes in the city, but is it actually feasible? Experts have indeed revealed that it is possible to replace them, though it would generate several complications. The NSS also claims that 20 million soles will be required to compete this task. Though the government would be willing to invest, as president Ollanta Humala states “To solve these problems that are emerging and that obviously bother people, you have to renew them, and that means money, we will not go to complain about it… and people care that it’s resolved in a quickly manner.” Even Sedapal has actually replaced 270 kilometers of pipes. This modern method that was used for the renewal of pipes, not only reduces the interruption of streets and other public services, (covering the main limitations) but reduces impact on the environment as well, they also are ideal for seismic areas as Lima, and have an ensured life of 100 years.

It´s in the people best interest to replace the pipes, though Sedapal avoids taking accountability for solving this problem, stating a lack of economic conditions for this to occur, though they don´t even use the whole budget given. They neglect taking this type of complex decisions that require responsibility, which companies as inefficient as Sedapal can´t take.

But what conditions does a company need to address a task so fundamental as to ensure correct water supply and drainage? What economic conditions should the poor expect to be able to drink potable water and use the bathroom as human beings? Why even after the Villa Maria del Triunfo disaster, which endangered thousands of people´s lives, Sedapal hasn´t been proactive? To what extent will this continue?