Twinning – a strategy that needs nurturing

For a long time now, it has been realised that to improve the water and sanitation services in the Asian region, twinning is an important strategy.

There are some water utilities in Asia that are performing very well in the midst of thousands that are not. If some way could be found for the better-performing utilities to mentor the poorly-performing ones, then the performance of the entire region could be invigorated.

Thus, the Global Water Operators Partnership was founded to develop structured programmes of cooperation between water operators. Many agencies are involved in this programme – Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), US Agency for International Development (USAID) and International Water Association (IWA) to name a few.

By forming water utility networks such as Southeast Asian Water Utilities Network (SEAWUN), it is hoped that alliances will form between utilities. This will enable the exchange of knowledge and in turn help to build capacity. However, it is not easy.

“One of the biggest challenges in the water sector is enabling regional and international cooperation,” said Bert Diphoorn of UN-HABITAT during the World Water Week at Stockholm recently.

Often, the better-performing utilities are too locally focussed and do not see any great benefit in sharing their expertise with weaker utilities, so they need quite a bit of cajoling by international agencies. As for the poorly-performing utilities that are in majority, their motivation is very low for a variety of reasons which can all be traced back to poor governance in the region.   

Even when twinning arrangements are put in place, there is no guarantee they will lead to improvements of substance in the weaker utility. “The problem with twinning is that many of the mutual visits are only benefitting the cause of tourism,” says Roland Liemberger, a well-known water loss expert. According to him, unless the owner of a water utility is genuinely motivated to incorporate best practices and has the means to do so, twinning is a superfluous exercise.

However, this seems to be a chicken-and-egg situation. Without twinning, there might be no motivation and without motivation, twinning does not work.

The international organisations are certainly putting their weight behind regional partnerships. USAID, IWA and ADB have just signed an agreement to establish an Asia-wide partnership called WaterLinks which will facilitate twinning as well as organising workshops, conferences and training events. A web portal http://www.waterlinks.org is being developed, which will serve as a knowledge hub.

On paper, there appear to be some interesting twinning programmes between Davao City Water District (Philippines) and Ranhill Utilities (Malaysia), between Cebu City Water District (Philippines) and City West Water (Australia) and between Binh Duong Water Supply and Sewerage Company (Vietnam) and Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority (Cambodia). In South Asia, Sri Lanka’s National Water Supply and Drainage Board has been paired with India’s Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company Limited.

Someone once said it is not love which makes the world go around but “mutually supportive alliances”. The world of water certainly needs such alliances.

One thought on “Twinning – a strategy that needs nurturing

  1. An excellent article that should be an eye opener & a catalyst for poor performing water utilities in Asia.

    The twinning strategy is certainly a good beginning but many of the Water utilities in Asia are not even aware that they are performing far below normal standards.

    It is unfortunate that the laid back attitude of both consumers & suppliers of water is the cause for this decay in service. Possibly, the governing & water authorities should no longer encourage subsidies in water distribution & the consumer courts should be given more powers to punish the parties whenever there is laxity in service.

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