Bonn, Germany, 12 June 2020 – The world’s water and sanitation organizations have come together to share challenges and solutions in webinars organized by the UN-Habitat-led Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA). While some have rapidly mobilized resources, draw on expertise and responded effectively, most have faced challenges keeping staff safe, maintaining service quality, and ensuring services for vulnerable communities.
Commenting on the impact of the COVID-19 emergency, representatives from utilities in Colombia, Indonesia, Italy, Palestine, Philippines, Spain and South Africa among others shared the solutions they had found effective with their peers. These included: establishing crisis units, tailoring emergency strategies, adopting adaptation measures, halting cut-offs, and procuring protective gear for staff.
During the three webinars (Lessons from Beyond the Curve, Slowing the Spread in Slums, Crisis Management), over 400 participants highlighted that partnerships and solidarity are essential for utilities to fast-track solutions and avoid costly errors. According to the Ednick Msweli from eThekwini, South Africa, a utility that serves 595,000 inhabitants, “there is always something to learn. It helps for utilities to work together because you can’t have all the answers by yourself.“
During the discussions, utilities representatives and experts from the water, sanitation and hygiene sector underlined that although the pandemic is slowing in some regions, emergency measures bring about secondary challenges such as a shortage of cash flow which must be addressed sooner rather than later. However the ‘silver lining’ according to participants was that huge numbers of previously unserved people now have access to some kind of basic water and/or sanitation service.
GWOPA, which aims to facilitate peer support and learning between utilities, created the #UtilitiesFightCOVID campaign and webinar series to ramp up peer learning during this crisis. Outcome documents from the webinars as well as their recordings are available on www.gwopa.org and a webinar on sanitation and COVID-19 is taking place on 16 June with GIZ.