Oldenburg sewage treatment plant becomes a model for reconstruction

OOWV launches solidarity partnership with Ukrainian water supply and sanitation utilities

The visitors from Ukraine and OOWV employees met at various OOWV sites. This group photo was taken at the Brake sewage treatment plant. | Photo: Barbara Ghariani/OOWV

In north-western Germany. Here the focus is on reconstructing parts of the critical infrastructure in Ukraine: The Oldenburg East Frisian Water Association (OOWV), and municipal water supply and sanitation companies from the cities of Chernihiv and Sumy in north-eastern Ukraine, are collaborating in a solidarity partnership.

Four guests from the crisis region that borders Russia and Belarus visited OOWV for a few days in November. During this first face-to-face meeting in a larger group, they visited waterworks, sewage treatment plants and the Cascade Museum. They had a lively professional exchange with OOWV employees on site.

The project, which is initially limited to one year, is funded entirely by Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. '100,000 euros are available per city,' reports project manager Meike Lenzen. She works in OOWV's Department for International Cooperation and Water Innovation Networks.

The solidarity partnership focuses primarily on the supply of materials. Following an extensive needs analysis, among other things three well pumps and an inspection system for sewers will be delivered to Ukraine next year.

The first contacts were made in May at a trade fair in Munich, says Meike Lenzen. 'Since then we have had regular online exchanges,' adds her colleague Tammo Janssen. Olaf Sonnenschein, regional manager of the OOWV in the Wesermarsch and Cuxhaven districts, was there at the time. Now he was also the one who took close care of the visitors during their stay in north-western Germany. 'We hope to be able to continue the partnership beyond the one-year time limit,' he said during a joint visit to the cascade in Diekmannshausen.

Everyone looks back fondly on those days. The Ukrainians felt the same way: 'My profound appreciation for your professional team,' reads an email sent from Chernihiv following their return. 'I enjoyed the time together, would like to strengthen our relationship and look forward to meeting you again.' Important lessons were learned, the author writes, and gets specific: 'We are planning to rebuild our sewage treatment plant following the example of your sewage treatment plant in Oldenburg.'

During the stay, the language barrier was no obstacle. Interpreters, also from the ranks of OOWV, ensured a fluent dialogue. 'It was a queasy feeling to let our partners go back to Ukraine after the days we had spent together', says Meike Lenzen looking back. According to her, the Ukrainians' videos, photos and reports on the destruction in their homeland contributed to this. For the time being, no return visit is planned. However, Tammo Janssen reports that the invitation has already been extended.

OOWV is thus expanding its international cooperation. A utility partnership was launched this year with Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality in South Africa. The aim of the cooperation is for both sides to learn from each other, and thus find joint solutions to the challenges of these times. Financed by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the pilot project has been implemented since July 2019 as a joint undertaking of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Engagement Global’s Service Agency Communities in One World. The Utility Platform is being developed and implemented in cooperation with the Association of Local Utilities (VKU) and the German Water Partnership (GWP). This also includes the solidarity partnership with the cities of Chernihiv and Sumy, which has now begun.

OOWV supplies more than one million people with drinking water every day, and disposes of wastewater on an environmentally sound basis in 39 municipalities. The association's territory stretches from Lake Dollart to Lake Dümmer, and to four of the seven East Frisian Islands. By area, OOWV is Germany's largest water supplier. OOWV employs around 850 people, making it one of the most important employers in the north-west. The Chairman of the Association Meeting is Sven Ambrosy. The Managing Director is Karsten Specht.