Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directlyinvolved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.
Water ChampionM A M S L Attanayake: Innovating an Institution
Knowledge Management Officer
ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Mr. MAMSL Attanayake is the Deputy General Manager for the Regional Support Centre- Central of Sri Lanka’s NationalWater Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB), the principal authority providing safe drinking water and facilitating theprovision of sanitation in Sri Lanka.As a young engineer fresh out of college, he worked on a water resources development project for the Mahaweli Ganga,Sri Lanka’s longest river at 320 kilometers. Barely 2 years into the sector, he realized that his real interest lies indomestic water supply and sanitation. In 1984, he joined NWSDB as project engineer for the Colombo sewerage project.Mr. Attanayake rose from the ranks, working on various water supply and sanitation projects for Greater Colombo andthe Kandy district.By 2002, Mr. Attanayake became Deputy General Manager (DGM) of NWSDB’s North Central Regional Support Centre. NWSDB establishedregional support centers to decentralize its operations and improve its productivity. Each center is headed by a Deputy General Manager.In addition to daily operations, the centers manage projects to expand water supply services to villages and towns within their jurisdiction.In May 2007, he moved to the Central Regional Support Cente, again serving as DGM, and managed several reforms that are currentlyproducing positive results for NWSDB. Among these reforms are the establishment of quality circles, implementation of a customer charter,benchmarking and twining programs, adoption of innovative human resources practices, improved cost recovery, and more.During his 27 years in the field, Mr. Attanayake also was instrumental in founding the country’s Lanka Rainwater Harvesting Forum andRural Water Collaborative Group, successfully developed a low cost water treatment technology for iron removal, and served as trainer onsustainability issues.
Why did you choose to work in this sector?
As a child, I used to livein a small village calledAmunugama, which wasclose to the MahaweliGanga, Sri Lanka’slongest river. We’d havewater springs in ourbackyard during the rainyseasons but dry spellsmeant walking long milesto the river so we canbathe and wash clothes.On the other side of the river was the Kandy municipality,where everyone enjoyed piped water throughout the year. Ithought, if that’s possible for Kandy, why not for the rest of us?
How does the Government deal with the water supplyand sanitation situation in Sri Lanka?
In 1980, 40% of diseases in the country are water borne.Only 32% of the populace had piped connections.Urbanization and industrialization also created manysettlements outside the urban centers, leading to health andenvironmental complications. These prompted Sri Lanka toinvest heavily in the water sector.The Government prioritized water in its nationaldevelopment framework and even established last year aseparate ministry dedicated to water supply. We expandedthe water supply system in urban and semi-urban areas,upgraded the treatment process, introduced rural watersupply schemes, and launched catchment protectionprograms to ensure that we were addressing the watersituation in an integrated manner.
How does NWSDB prep itself to fulfill its mandate?
We keep introducingreforms meant toimprove our ability toserve.Considering that we werea highly centralizedorganization, perhaps ourmost progressive reformwas the decentralizationof operations to 12regional support centers(RSCs), which became responsible for managing watersupply projects in their jurisdiction. NWSDB assigned seniormanagers to head each center, and this facilitated decisionmaking closer to the customers.Another innovation was our customer charter, whichguarantees minimum service standards to the customersand ensures value for their money. We also built thecapacity of our employees, not just technically but also fordesigning innovations and effective decision making. We didthe latter through quality circles and new human resourcespractices.Currently, we are piloting the design and implementation of a Total Management Plan, a tool that will hopefully make ourfire-fighting management style obsolete since it forces us toproactively think about the factors threatening our watersupply and sanitation systems.