Rebooting computer-aided design of water networks in DPR Korea

In Pursuit of Safely Managed Water Services

Kencho Namgyal
consultant with participants
22 May 2018

When people in developed countries turn on their bathroom or kitchen tap, they rarely question whether water will flow out of it, or whether the toilet will flush when they push a button. But for many people around the world, reliable access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a daily struggle. It is estimated that in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) close to half of the country’s population do not have access to safely managed water services. The Humanitarian country teams 2018 Needs and priorities document estimates 10.5 million people in DPRK with ongoing humanitarian needs on food, WASH, Health and Nutrition – a situation exacerbated by recurrent floods and droughts. WASH is a basic need- but it is also essential for achieving health, nutrition & education outcome.  While access to basic water supply is high in DPRK, an erratic power supply and lack of maintenance continue to compromise the quality and quantity of water. 

The UNICEF WASH Programme 2017–2021 supports implementation and intersectoral programme intervention in nine UNICEF convergent counties to meet basic humanitarian needs in WASH; to improve dignity and the quality of life; to prevent diarrhoea and malnutrition; to free women and children from the drudgery of fetching water; and to deliver quality services in health facilities and schools. As part of this programme, UNICEF and the Swiss Development Corporation recently conducted training for water engineers in the design and maintenance of gravity-fed water supply systems.

Because DPRK is mountainous, a 2017 UNICEF evaluation identified gravity-fed systems as the most appropriate and cost-effective technology for the country. They require no electricity, fuel or imported pumping equipment to run but supply can still be erratic if they are not well designed. Since 2006 UNICEF has supported installation of about 45 gravity-fed systems, as well as introducing computer-aided design of water supply networks using hydraulic modelling software, and construction and maintenance training. These measures have helped meet the water needs of almost one million people but high staff turnover and poor management of wastage and leaks meant skills in design and maintenance needed to be upgraded.

Santiago Arnalich – an international consultant who has written several internationally used books on design of water supply networks – was hired by UNICEF to update various manuals and to train water engineers on designing water network using the latest version of hydraulic modelling software . In late March, 40 water supply engineers from the Ministry of Urban Management and all provinces in the country received this training, which will be rolled out to county engineers later this year essentially to capacitate the sub-national local level government and engineers to design and deliver cost efficient and optimal safely managed water services. 

The trainees were eager to learn and grateful for the training, which many found illuminating. For instance, Ms. Pak Su Ok, a water supply designer from Nampo City, said the training means that she can both save a lot of time and increase the accuracy of her design of water supply systems. Many engineers also reported discovering new features of hydraulic modelling that they were previously unaware of, such as the ability to model water quality.

During the course of the year, in addition to the design training, UNICEF, the Swiss Development Corporation and sector partners in DPRK will be providing skills training on the construction, operation and maintenance of water supply schemes to overcome the challenges of supplying basic water needs and to improve the quality of life of all citizens in DPRK, particularly women and children. Through these efforts, it is hoped that they too will no longer have to question whether water will flow out of a tap when they turn it on.