In Stuttgart, participants from seven partnerships and six countries spent two days keenly discussing possible solutions to current issues in municipal water supply.
Municipal water utilities are key actors for providing people with water supply and sanitation at the local level. This is why it is important to make water utilities efficient and effective, especially in poorer countries, and to reduce high water losses due to dilapidated pipes, for example. One relatively new instrument in this regard is the utility platform launched in 2019, involving institutional partnerships between water utilities in Germany, and those in partner countries such as Zambia or Ukraine.
The energy contained in the partnerships was also evident at the network meeting of the utility platform at the end of May. The experts worked in specialist groups on topics such as water loss reduction, energy efficiency and water treatment. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the delegates from the various utility partnerships had initially had to make do with digital formats for two years. In the meantime, however, the partners have intensified their institutional partnerships by making regular trips.
More than 60 representatives of all partnerships met live and in person at the Impact Hub in Stuttgart, a co-working space and event venue, on 30 and 31 May. They met to network beyond the partnerships, identify formulas for successful operator partnerships, and exchange views on hot topics in their sector. In addition to the six partnerships funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), two partnerships to be funded by the Global Water Operators' Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) were also represented. All partnerships with German involvement will be supported in their implementation by the utility platform, regardless of the source of funding.
'If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.' This African proverb was quoted by Gerlinde Sauer from the BMZ right at the beginning of the event, thus succinctly summarising its purpose. As quickly became apparent during the two days in Stuttgart, the participants had no intention of viewing the event as a mere exchange of ideas. Instead, they got right down to business: in workshops and peer-to-peer consultations, the delegates from the water utilities in South Africa, Jordan, Tanzania, Zambia, Ukraine and Germany played out real challenges from their daily practice, and looked intensively and collaboratively for solutions.
Linda Engel, Project Manager at the Service Agency, had already emphasised this practical approach of the utility platform at the beginning of the two-day event. The partnerships are very practice-oriented, she said, and technical issues are in the foreground.
Ms Engel also emphasised that the unusual format of the utility platform was much more than an event where the Global South learns from the Global North. Rather, she explained, it was about peer-to-peer dialogue from which both sides would benefit. As the group work showed, the establishment of the partnerships is already bearing fruit.
This is because the dealings between the representatives of the partnerships, for example between Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality in South Africa and the Oldenburgisch-Ostfriesischer Wasserverband (OOWV), are cordial and trustful. This foundation enables them to immediately address technical questions, without having to dwell on cultural or personal uncertainties.
'We can rely on each other,' said one delegate from Buffalo City during a workshop to identify the strengths of the partnership and find a metaphor for them. In the case of Buffalo City and Oldenburg, they agreed on an elephant: because it is a family animal, lives long, is loyal and reliable, and has a good memory.
One participant from the Zambian Lukanga Water Supply and Sanitation Company emphasised that their cooperation with the German partner company (Gelsenwasser AG) not only opened up many new perspectives, but also made their own company more attractive to potential donors and gave their own staff a motivational boost. In Africa itself, there is also a need to establish more networks to give each other impetus, he continued.
Beyond the partnerships, interesting synergies emerged. Participants from Ukraine, Jordan and Zambia, for instance, found that they face the same challenges on the ground as their counterparts. One example is the fact that water charges do not cover the costs of production and maintenance, resulting in a funding gap that utilities have to fill.
It was precisely these synergy effects that Heiko Heidemann from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), as project manager, had hoped for when he called on the participants to think 'out of the box' during the workshops, i.e. outside their own box. This appeal took on a particularly fruitful form on Day 2, when the peer-to-peer consultations were held. The delegates from one company first presented a specific challenge from their day-to-day work.
In a second step, the other participants could then ask questions about it. After a twenty-minute group brainstorming session, possible solutions were presented, from which the representatives of the company with the problem could then choose a suitable solution. This session was particularly intensive, and even if an ideal solution was not always found, new perspectives opened up for everyone.
In keeping with the consistently practice-oriented character of the network meeting, a field visit was finally scheduled for the afternoon of Day 2, which took the participants either to Stuttgart's largest water tank in the western inner city district (capacity: 25 million litres), or to a teaching and research sewage treatment plant at the University of Stuttgart.