ISO standards and the Protocol on Water and Health

2009-April-20

The Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards (ABBS) is presents this week's article by Roger Aertgeerts, World region, Health Organization, and Pierre Studer, Chair Task Force on. Indicators and Reporting under the Protocol on Water and Health. The article entitled ISO Standards and Protocol on Water and Health focuses continues the thought on water and more specifically the role that standardization plays in ensuring that it safe for human use and consumption. Mr. Aertgeerts and Mr. Studer say thus:

"Step-by-step approach

ISO 24511 and ISO 24512 are service standards, proposing a step-by- step approach, from defining the components and the objectives of the utility (including users' expectations) to establishing performance indicators, with a loop back to the objectives and to management following performance assessment- They are consistent with the principle of the "Plan-Do-Check-Act" (P-D-C-A) approach.

These standards provide a checklist for assessing water and wastewater services for bodies responsible for water services and their operators, and also for other stakeholders - relevant authorities, users and citizens. They do not provide "ready to use" performance indicators, but do provide tools and methods for facilitating dialogue between stakeholders, enabling them to jointly develop locally-adapted objectives, and tools to assess performances against objectives.

With respect to users' needs and expectations, the objectives For the service include:

  • access to water services;
  • provision of the service (time to establish new service connections, planned and unplanned repairs, price of service, quantity of drinking water, quality of drinking water, pressure, continuity of drinking water supply, etc.);
  • contract management and billing (availability of a clear service agreement, accuracy and clarity of billing, response to billing complaints, methods of payment, etc.);
  • promoting a good relationship with users (written contacts, telephone contacts, visits to the user, complaints and requests, notification of restrictions or interruptions, availability of service information, participation of users, etc.);
  • protection of the environment (sustainable use of natural resources, wastewater treatment, environmental aspects);
  • safety and emergency management.

The objectives covered by ISO 24511 and ISO 24512 include protection of public health, protection of the environment, sustainability of the water utility, provision of services under normal and emergency situations, users' needs and expectations, and promotion of sustainable development of the community.

For each objective, the standards describe some possible actions to attain it. For example, regarding "access to drinking water quality", some possible actions are to ensure equitable and affordable access (such as grants, loans, social tariffs and subsidies), and to ensure that all users have access to enough water to meet basic human needs.

The corresponding assessment criteria include quantity of water available to users, affordability of the water supply and wastewater services, and access of low-income households to drinking water and wastewater services. Examples of associated performance indicators are included with these assessment criteria.

A sustainable approach

As mentioned in the introduction to the standards, water is considered a "social good", so it is logical that the management of water utilities should be transparent to, and inclusive of, all stakeholders. The standards consider governance aspects such as legal requirements, information on the performance of the service (transparency, accountability) and involvement of all stakeholders (participation of users, community activities).

The aim of water utilities is to offer services under economic, social and environmental conditions that are acceptable to the users and to the utility. The standards address the sustainable development issues included in the working draft of the future ISO 26000, providing guidance on social responsibility. Some examples of issues covered are:

  • human rights (such as access to water services);
  • labour practice (for example, health and safety of personnel);
  • environment (such as the sustainable use of natural resources, wastewater treatment, environmental impact of the service);
  • consumer issues (fair price, availability of a clear service agreement, methods of payment and protection of public health);
  • social development (through access to water services, which may contribute to economic development and promotion of the sustainable development of the community).

Web site and field testing initiatives

The publication of the standards does not end the process, but initiates a new stage: the standards should now be implemented and applied in order to assess their usefulness. For this reason, countries, local governments and international or regional organizations have been encouraged to promote and test these standards.

In order to provide tools and an appropriate platform for communication, a public Web site devoted to promotion and managed by the ISOITC 224 Secretariat has been launched (http//www. afnor.org/isotc224/water services). An initiative for testing these standards started in Africa in 2007. A similar project may be undertaken in Asia. These initiatives will give an opportunity to assess the application of the standards, and will help in preparing tools adapted to the local context. These tests will also contribute to a possible review of the standards in 2011.

The United Nations declared 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation, in order to make this key issue a priority for governments, organizations, civil society and private partners worldwide - about 2.6 billion people around the world live without access to even a toilet at home. These ISO standards can be expected to contribute to improving governance in water and wastewater services. "

For more information about Accreditation, Laboratory Accreditation and metrology kindly contact the Antigua and Barbuda Bureau of Standards, Corner Redcliffe Street & Corn Alley, P.O. Box 1550, St. John's, Antigua (W.I.) or Telephone 462-2424 or email: abbs@antigua.gov.ag.

 

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