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Daniel Marcovitch


Interview with Daniel Marcovitch,

vice-president National water committee, Paris town council

The first report of the national observatory on public water and sanitation services in France was published during the World water forum in Marseille last March. What are the major findings of the report?

The first report draws up, for the first time, a panorama on the organisation, management and performance of public water and sanitation services in France. Among the many findings, one stands out for me. The number of water services is almost equal to that of townships. The report lists over 35 000 collective and non-collective water and sanitation services and there are 36 711 townships in France. This division into very small services raises the issue of management quality because the quality of service provided to consumers has become a major issue for water and sanitation services in France. They must meet increasingly strict regulations and are confronted with severe financial constraints, for example the investments required to limit water losses. The report is quite clear concerning the latter issue. A full quarter of the water produced and distributed never reaches consumers. A grouping of services is certainly one way to improve service quality and efficiency in that it enables better quality monitoring and sharing of technical skills and know-how.

The observatory started operations in November 2009. Now, almost three years later, what are the results and what difficulties were encountered?

The Aarhus convention established the principle that environmental data and information must be made available to all citizens. In the effort to comply with that principle, the observatory is the primary source of data on French public water and sanitation services and must consequently receive the data. But the entire procedure is voluntary and the main difficulty lies in convincing local governments to participate. One year after its launch, very little information had been received in spite of assistance from State services. Problems encountered concerned the necessary skills, available human resources and perhaps poor understanding of observatory goals in terms of comparisons between services. These difficulties met head on with a major objective, i.e. present the initial results at the World water forum in Marseille. The observatory had been presented at the WWF in Istanbul in 2009 as one of the most innovative projects in Europe and it was important to show some results three years later. That is why State services in the departments were mobilised to collect and check the data. Today, the overall situation is positive. Almost 50 million consumers can access the 2009 data on their drinking-water service and 43.5 million the data on their collective-sanitation service, i.e. 78% and 71% of the French population respectively, compared to 46% and 28% for 2008.

What can you tell us about the observatory for the years to come?

The observatory makes the public data on water and sanitation services available via 40 indicators drawn from the annual reports on the price and quality of services (RPQS), also known as the "mayor's report". It provides the means to better understand the link between service quality and water prices. The observatory will thus become, over time, an operational component in the performance governance of services for each local government. A number of features contribute to this goal. First, interannual monitoring of services and their indicators will enable each service to compare itself to similar services (size, origin of untreated water, etc.). Secondly, a database will be set up in compliance with the "Sapin" law to collect data on organisational and legal aspects of public water and sanitation services to fill out the observatory data. Finally, local governments that enter their data directly on the Observatory site can automatically generate their RPQS. This will facilitate data acquisition.


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