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Working on an integrated approach

Gerard Rundberg | 01 November 2011

I truly believe in the Water Operators’ Partnership (WOP) concept. But there are always buts. Waternet has lots of experience in the international cooperation in the water sector. It appears to be hard to see a fruitful solution to fight poverty; a global mindset is not in sight yet. And that’s why I want to introduce a new and more comprehensive approach to WOPs.

In this world at this time we have so many i’s already, like the iBook, iPhone, iTunes, iPad, iLife and even iAMsterdam. But we are missing an important one: the iWOP.

What is the iWop? The i stands for international operating water utilities. Working together on capacity development, based on solidarity. That sounds familiar, but the i stands for much more.

Like an integrated approach to improve the total water cycle, including drinking water, sewage, waste water treatment, ground water control, surface water management, protection of water resources, flood risk management, sanitation, solid waste and waste to energy.

That implies interdepartmental and multi party partnerships, in which public and private utilities, NGOs, knowledge institutes, and labour unions are actively involved. That is complex and difficult, but needed for a sustainable change.

I will give an example of this total approach. A spatial planning for the three development areas World Waternet is working on in the Suriname. In our integrated approach we have started our partnership in this part of Suriname by drawing such a spatial plan, supported by all stakeholders and the national government. The spatial planning includes housing, administration buildings, shopping areas, schools, transportation, agriculture, forestry, tourism, drinking water, and waste water, all in a safe water environment. So we implement water utilities in a much broader spatial plan to guarantee success and acceptance.

And it’s not only paperwork. This year the three development areas in the interior of Suriname become reality. People in the surrounding will come and move to this area, children and youngsters get education.

The i stands also for interregional dissemination that is a North-South-South partnership. Dissemination through capacity building or central training centres through our partners in the south who become mentors themselves.

The i stands for interactive transmission of know how and innovative technologies and techniques which fit in local circumstances. More and more tailor made and low cost technologies have to be developed and to be researched.

And there is another but. Transfer of know how only will not be sufficient to improve water and sanitation for all. We need to integrate investment for infrastructure. The capacity development through WOPs must start before the implementation of infrastructure. In this way WOPs can safeguard a sustainable absorption by the recipient utility to operate and to maintain the implemented infrastructure in a well performing manner.

Perhaps the most important thing is a substantial increase of the number of WOPs. Nowadays the number of water utilities working with WOPs are limited. That has to do with limited financial base for WOPs. In the Netherlands and France we have the 1 percent rule in which public water utilities are allowed to invest one percent of their turnover for international cooperation. But it is time for an EU and even global support for such rules. That will give at least some more financial support for WOPs.

To increase the number of WOPs I consider a process of interregional dissemination should be started in the North in Europe, but why not in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the US?

Photo credit main picture: Photo by mira66