F for finances or friendship? German-Ukrainian partnership in water and waste water management

Water and waste water management is one of the most underrated activities completed unseen by most citizens. However, proper or improper management of water, ponds, rivers and wastewater can significantly affect the quality of life and even the health of future generations. Damage to water and sanitation facilities did not get the same recognition as the damaged energy infrastructure, even if both is essential to survive. Nevertheless, this is a crucial point for the German-Ukrainian partnership and the exchange of ideas.

Christoph Weith is a civil engineer at Cologne Municipal drainage company (Stadtentwässerungsbetriebe Köln). He participates in the pilot project “Utility Platform for Strengthening Partnerships of Municipal Utilities Worldwide” and shares compelling insights about international partnerships during the pandemic and the war. How did the project start? What are its benefits for parties? Why is this important? Mr. Weith kindly answered these and more questions.

Asset management is about processes and communication based on technical facts.

Christoph Weith, civil engineer at Cologne municipal drainage company

As widely known, international cooperation is essential to ensure high standards and comprehensive services in every field. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) initiated a program to unite colleagues internationally with no financial benefit. “Although wastewater treatment is the same (at least it should be), the people and their experiences were different and that became our main focus,” says Christoph Weith. In 2019-2020, Cologne joined the project, whereas the global Covid-19 pandemic had already intruded on business and personal lives. The Cologne Stadtentwässerungsbetriebe has been cooperating with Lvivvodokanal and being responsible for asset management. Despite the project’s main goal – to unite colleagues internationally- the Cologne colleagues did not get opportunities to meet Ukrainian employees face-to-face. 

The convoy with humanitarian aid. Source: Utility Platform

So what did companies do exactly? The short answer to this is communication about assets. Lots of communication. Considering Christoph Weith’s description, the meetings resembled a meeting of old friends, who share their problems, exchange ideas and news, and look for solutions. As specialized in asset management, it significantly facilitated long-term investments and planning. Christoph Weith says, “Ukraine will have money for reconstruction after the war. But where to invest it best?” Areas of concern include sanitation, fresh water supply, and many other municipal services. Communication in advance is the key as it stimulates thinking and pushes one party to make a balanced decision and do strategic planning. One vivid example of technical emergency help is supplying Ukrainian facilities with diesel-powered energy generators to maintain the wastewater treatment, water pumping stations, and general infrastructure.  

However, technical benefits were only one of the drivers of the project. Instead, the people itself were main. “Asset management is about processes and communication based on technical facts,” claims Christoph Weith. What I took away from our conversation is that international diversity broadens the worldviews and provides new perspectives. For instance, Ukraine and Germany may have different corporate relations, but they all work on the same problems. Instead, the Ukrainian institutions taught the Cologne colleagues a lot about measures and practical achievements, and the colleagues from Cologne contributed their knowledge so that both sides could learn from each other. The Ukrainian colleagues even attended meetings the day after the Russian invasion to make a certain decision instead of postponing it.

Volodymyr Bilynskyiv, Deputy Chief Engineer of Lvivvodokanal, with the picture of his daughter. Source: Utility Platform

Volodymyr Bilynskyy, Deputy Chief Engineer of Lvivvodokanal, went further and described the how partners turned into friends. In his comment, he mentions that two years of the partnership have been fruitful, and the parties have managed to develop ways of working together. “Our German partners became our saviors after the full-scale invasion. They supported us every day,” shares Volodymyr. The German party reacted quickly and supplied Lvivvodokanal with diesel generators to meet the water needs of Lviv citizens after the missile escalation. “Besides, we received other essential aid (transformers, cables, electric motors, overalls for workers) for the maintenance of the plants,” says Volodymyr about technical help from German partners. But it is not the most important thing. Volodymyr has a message, “We are sincerely thankful to our German colleagues, whom we can proudly call friends.  After defeating the enemy, I believe we can expand our cooperation even further and welcome German guests in Lviv.”   

Although the German-Ukrainian partnership faces challenges, experiences and ideas can be exchanged under all conditions. The underrepresented water and sanitation sector needs recognition, mainly due to countries’ efforts to improve quality of life. Nowadays, our priorities are to make employment in such facilities prestigious and educate society, especially young generations, about sustainability. Internal impressions from the project confirm that communication is possible under any conditions, and no energy cutouts or drone attacks can intrude on this.  

The pilot project “Utility Platform for Strengthening Partnerships of Municipal Utilities Worldwide” is financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Engagement Global/the Service Agency Communities in One World have been implementing it since July 2019. The utility platform is being developed and implemented together with the German Association of Local Public Utilities (VKU) and the German Water Partnership (GWP).

Iryna Nykoriak

Published 24.02.2023

Updated: 24.03.2023


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