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Indian firm seeks to manage water supplies in Africa

Indian firm seeks to manage water supplies in Africa
By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, Oct 28 (IANS) India’s state-owned water and power consultant, Water and Power Consultancy Services (Wapcos), is looking to expand its reach in Africa by offering to draw up national plans for integrated water resources management.

Wapcos’s chairman and managing director R.K. Gupta has been a strong advocate of taking his company’s consultancy capabilities to Africa.

“We are projecting that we should have an integrated water resources and management plan,” Gupta told IANS in an interview. “Water should be integrated — upstream and downstream uses taken care of at the same time.”

He has already made this pitch to several African countries.
“We have projected this idea to African countries during conclaves and other meetings. We have offered to build a master plan which will identify a lot of projects, which could generate a lot of business for India also,” he said.

Wapcos was already in serious talks with Ghana, Zambia and Zimbabwe over this concept, said Gupta.
“The advantage is that the country will have readymade projects for borrowing, with which they can approach the World Bank, the African Development Bank or other financial institutions,” said the Wapcos chief, who last week was conferred the SCOPE award for excellence in management among small public sector companies by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

A civil engineer with an experience of over 28 years, Gupta explained the concept of a long-term master plan with phased development plans.

“Phase one is for immediate development plans, phase two caters to middle-term needs and phase three long-term plans. In the initial stage, there can be water harvesting schemes, but for the long term, we need to build multipurpose dams fully taking into concern the environmental aspects.”

The state-owned company is no stranger to Africa, where it has a diverse portfolio. It includes being the first Indian public sector firm to work in Sudan, where Wapcos was part of that country’s emergency transport and infrastructure development.

Wapcos is also involved in an interesting project in Mozambique. “We are working in a low cost sanitation project with Sulabh there, where we are promoting hygiene through information, education and communication. This includes demonstration of different kinds of toilets for women and children,” said Gupta.
He said the main working model was for the “governments to identify projects, prioritise them and request India for a line of credit for a particular project”.

With Africa going through an economic renaissance, Gupta said, there was increased competition not just from Chinese firms but from western firms which had low operating costs as their consultants were based in India.
But Wapcos has a simple line of persuasion. “When we go to Africa, we tell them that we understand them better as a developing country. We have learnt the hard way; so we understand,” said Gupta.
Wapcos has in fact often been a tool of diplomacy for the Indian government’s initiatives to increase goodwill.

It has major ongoing projects for hydropower, irrigation and power transmission lines in Cambodia, Laos, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar.

Wapcos’ biggest challenge right now is the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Salma Dam in Afghanistan, where it has to complete work by December 2010. “It is also our first turnkey project. If we can complete our work in the trying circumstances, it will allow us to bid for similar projects elsewhere,” said Gupta.

The project is beset with security concerns, but Gupta said that with 40 percent of the work complete, the 2010 deadline would still be met.
(Devirupa Mitra can be contacted at devirupa.m@ians.in)

 
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