Water and sanitation companies must be socially responsible

By Marco Antonio Cevallos*

The Public Water and Sanitation Company of Quito, EPMAPS Agua de Quito, has been providing water and sanitation services to Ecuador’s capital for 57 years. Today we serve more than 2.4 million residents of the Metropolitan District of Quito, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In doing so, we apply rigorous quality processes, something that has been recognised by the Ecuador Bureau of Standards, INEN. EPMAPS is the only company in the country to have obtained the INEN quality seal, after complying with 69 parameters of the institution’s Standard 1108.

I have had the good fortune to work for this pioneering company for 31 years, in many departments and projects. This has been personally and professional enriching, but nothing is more satisfying than to know that I’ve been able to contribute to improving the quality of life for my fellow residents.

In that time, we have experienced many challenges such as risks related to a possible eruption of Mt. Cotopaxi, climate change, and flooding, and seen many changes related to the city’s high population growth.

EPMAPS’ business model has Good Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility practices at its heart, and we combine this with short-, medium-, and long-term planning. This model is the foundation for our three pillars of service: sustainability, efficiency and quality. These are supported by one additional pillar: continuous improvement.

When I was appointed as General Manager my priority was to continue the company’s institutional reinforcement. This particularly focuses of governance, planning, ensuring best practices are followed, and striving to identify how and where we can continuously improve. We also focus strongly on delivering a solid Social Responsibility strategy that contributes to the water and sanitation section of the Sustainable Development Goals.

It was this vision that helped us became the first company on the planet to be evaluated using AquaRating. An international standard, AquaRating offers a comprehensive focus on the challenges water and sanitation utilities face, evaluating their performance through indicators and management practices, and providing a framework for improvement. The results can hopefully be replicated in other companies in the country and region.

Potable water and sewage networks serve 99 percent and 93 percent, respectively, of the Metropolitan District of Quito’s residents, an area that includes urban, suburban and rural districts. Since 2010, we have worked hard to reduce the the service gaps between the urban and rural areas, reducing them to 3 percent in potable water and 12 percent in sewerage coverage, in comparison to 7 and 20 percent seven years ago.

Behind these statistics are real people. Today, 371,371 more people have access to water and sewage services than in 2010. This decrease in service gaps has been achieved by pursuing our goal of providing services to the most vulnerable groups in the city, to improve their well-being and overall quality of life. Our success has been made possible by taking an approach that places greater emphasis on engagement with the community’s that we serve, resource stewardship, and investment decisions that consider the social, economic and environmental costs.

As a water professional, being able to share in the joy of the people we serve, having the opportunity to change lives for the better, is reason to feel a profound satisfaction even as we strive to achieve more.

*Marco Antonio Cevallos is Director of EPMAPS, the public drinking water utility in Quito, Ecuador.