Water & Enviroment

Austrian Water Know-How for Uganda

The Uganda Water Umbrella’s Partnership Project launched by IAWD and its partners is focused on capacity development and builds on the work performed by ADC throughout many years.

The incentive to launch this new support programme for Uganda’s urban water management came from the 2010 EU Water Facility Call for Proposals “Partnership for Capacity Development in the ACP Water and Sanitation Sector”, which is addressed to African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The EU Water Facility is a funding mechanism of the European Commission.

The successful applicant, the International Association of Waterworks in the Danube Catchment Area (IAWD), and its Implementing Partners (Vienna Waterworks, Salzburg AG Wasser, OÖ Wasser and ÖVGW) offer their practical support in the framework of the Uganda Water Umbrella’s Partnership Project (UWUPP), which commenced in Kampala in April 2012. The project will cover a period of four years and is intended to raise the performance level of regional water organisations to match Central European standards.

75 % of the overall project costs of 800,000 euros are covered by the European Union, the remainder comes from the Directorate for Water Development of the Republic of Uganda.

The present situation in Uganda is that 65 % of the rural population and 66 % of the city dwellers have access to a safe water supply, and 70 % rsp. 81 % have access to basic sanitation.

The EU had plausible reasons for choosing Austrian companies as Implementing Partners. One reason is that water management in Uganda has the same small-scale structures as Austrian water management. Another reason is that the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) and the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) have performed much groundwork in the country since the early 1990s. Robert Burtscher, water and urban sanitation expert at ADA, proudly points out that many of the improvements in Southwest Uganda’s water supply are owed to Austrian assistance.

Robert Burtscher adds: “Our efforts produced such good results because we laid our initial focus on water supply and wastewater disposal in small towns and rural growth centres with 1,000 to 15,000 inhabitants in the country’s southwest. Despite the limited financial resources, we were able to clearly improve the water supply situation for 650,000 people to date.

Our developmental activities took place in three stages. Even the oldest plants we built are still in operation; the functionality rate is over 90 %!” Much of this success is owed to the conclusion of service contracts with local private partners and the foundation of the first umbrella organisation in Uganda. 

This umbrella organisation is owned by its members, primarily the Water Supply & Sanitation Boards of small regional towns, and is modelled on its Austrian counterparts, OÖ Wasser and the Austrian Association forGas and Water (ÖVGW). Like the latter, it aims to support the small publicly operated water utilitiesin their operation and maintenance and contributes to capacity building. Every public water utility is eligible for membership. Founded in 2001, the umbrella organisation meanwhile runs its own regional lab to assure consistent water quality in conformity with national and WHO standards. It also provides incentives for utilities to operate along sustainability principles. Examples include the use of renewable energies for water pumping and systematic resource protection.

The sanitary situation in the households was improved in such as way that the construction of a water supply system now also involves the construction of a latrine. At the same time, awareness-raising activities are undertaken. In the most recent phase, the South Western Towns Water and Sanitation Project (swTws) was transferred to the regional Water and Sanitation Development Facility (WSDF). As such it is now under national supervision and serves as access point for local councils seeking to submit their projects. The submitted projects are reviewed by the WSDF on the basis of transparent criteria and, if deemed successful, also funded by the latter.

These activities were paralleled by a change in the modalities of the Austrian aid programme. The latter developed into a joint programme support, and regional accomplishments were taken to the national level. This allowed Austria to take a key part in the emerging sector-wide approach.

The funds were allocated to the Joint Partnership Fund founded in 2005 and Austria took part in a sectoral programme in which other donors and the Government of Uganda are involved. The current mix of different support measures was complemented by targeted NGO funding to promote reconstruction activities in Uganda’s north. The progress made is evaluated regularly in the framework of an inter-sectoral reporting scheme. Following the success accomplished in the country’s southwest, in 2009 the Government of Uganda decided to establish and finance three further WSDFs and four additional umbrella organisations to cover the nationwide demand.

The WSFD model has meanwhile also aroused interest in other countries outside Uganda, particularly Ruanda. Robert Burtscher is convinced that the overwhelming success, which clearly exceeds the scope of project financing, stems from the combined effect of all forces acting within an innovative regional approach. “While this approach became possible through support from Austria, its was implemented in practice by an efficient national team. What also helped was the favourable environment of Uganda’s urban water management, which has drawn much benefit from ten years of committed work by several donors.

Burtscher says: “Amidst this positive environment, Austria’s help was consistent and targeted, and this allowed us to make a big impression with only limited financial resoures.”

Despite the progress made so far, the expert does not believe that Uganda will be able to implement the relevant Millennium Development Goals over the short term without any foreign aid. Austria will therefore continue to invest four million euros per year in wastewater treatment and water resource protection. Particular focus will be laid on institutional development and capacity development, which are both necessary for a decentralised implementation of laws and strategies.

“The Uganda Water Umbrella’s Partnership Project (UWUPP) perfectly fits in with this intention,” says IAWD Executive Director and IWA Vice President Walter Kling. “It seamlessly follows up on Austria’s groundwork and tailors all activities to the specific needs of Uganda. The consulting firm hydrophil iC will be essential in assuring continuity. Partly in conjunction with the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, the company gathered valuable experience in Uganda throughout many years. It also presented the UWUPP to us and was instrumental in its development. Thanks to its long experience in Uganda and other parts of East Africa, hydrophil iC enjoys a strong relationship with ADC and ADA and the UWUPP project partners. 

During project execution, the partners deliver their contribution in the form of manpower or in-kind contributions and are reimbursed for their investments through the EU Water Facility. The aim of the UWUPP is to support the five umbrella organisations, which are in different stages of development, and through these the small towns and rural growth centres. The end beneficiaries are about 80 local communities with in all 800 settlements.

The initial focus is on water supply.” The UWUPP differs from other projects in the way that the EU’s capacity building strategy usually is to award a timely limited contract direct ly to a consultant. With the UWUPP, the European Commission stresses the relevance of authentic and widespread practical information.

This is also reflected in the line-up of participating partners. The Vienna Waterworks and Salzburg AG Wasser are water utilities of different size, OÖ Wasser is a consulting association and ÖVGW is a special interest group; together they represent the high level of excellence of Austrian urban water management.

The project partners are all familiar with the transfer of know-how at provincial level (OÖ Wasser), national level (ÖVGW) or Danube Region level (IAWD and its members, the Vienna Waterworks and Salzburg AG Wasser). The only objection might be raised by ÖVGW’s own members with regard to the association’s involvement in a cross-border project. This can be countered by arguing that such involvement in the UWUPP would not result in an additional burden because the know-how is already available.

A driver for the development of the UWUPP was the fact that international donors, particularly the World Bank, but also Germany and France, are already successfully engaged in the build-up of infrastructure in conurbations. The paranational, privately operated Uganda National Water & Sewerage Corporation (UNWSC) has also sufficiently developed as a carrier of know-how so that it does not only service the country’s water sector but, through its own consulting company, also that of other African states. The rural areas, however, have remained largely unserviced to date because of their different background conditions and needs.

Yet the backlog is highest in the rural areas, as Gerald Eder, CEO of hydrophil-iC, points out. “The UWUPP is generally concerned with the build-up and maintenance of centralised supply structures, the development of generally applicable national standards, standardised employee education and training programmes, and the regulation and optimisation of private sector participation (and consequently the appointment of a regulator for the rural areas). It also aims to improve the economic performance of small water utilities, reduce water losses, optimise the size of supply networks, solve logistic challenges and increase the number of house connections to central supply (and disposal) systems. Ultimately, the Austrian know-how carriers shall analyse the developmental status of urban water management in small towns and market centres and, building on the results, support stakeholders in Uganda in reorganising and restructuring this sector. To this end, the public administration, regulatory and funding sectors as well as the role of the private sector shall be examined closely without any dogmatic preconceptions. The principle of resource protection will also be communicated.”

According to Eder, it is also important to overcome the vicious circle of poor payment morale with respect to fees and the resulting lack of investment capital, and to establish a fair subsidising scheme for small water utilities. The five regional umbrella organisations will not only be able to improve their services to small water utilities through the UWUPP. They will also become more professional, and this will upgrade their status as a source of reference for state agencies as well as strengthen their lobbying power to assure an efficient urban water management. Gerald Eder also suggests to develop the existing small secretariat which coordinates the work of all umbrella organisations at national level into an Ugandan association which is modelled on the example of ÖVGW.

The UWUPP also opens up a wide field of activity for the wastewater sector. Gerald Eder comments on the initial situation: “Many larger rural communities already possess a central sewage disposal system which ends up in a reed bed facility.

The highest backlog is found in the decentralised disposal of urine and faeces. This raises questions as to what size a settlement should have to build a local sewage collection system, to what standards latrines must conform to avoid groundwater contamination, and the revision of national planning standards.”

Following the official kick-off meeting in June, the UWUPP commenced its practical execution in early August. Representatives of all project partners had travelled to Uganda to take part in a multi-day study tour to the project areas to get an idea of priority needs. The study tour opened with a meeting with Dominic Kavutse, the Commissioner for Urban Water and Sewerage Services in the Ministry of Water and Environment. Talks with the local WSSB and site visits at four water supply facilities offered valuable insights. The information gathered, in conjunction with brainstorming results, formed the basis of a one-day workshop. From these inputs the following conclusions were drawn: l Umbrella organisations need to enhance their continuing support of the WSSB and standardise and optimise such support in terms of content and logistics. As a professional training institution, ÖVGW would prove the ideal theme guide. l The relationship between the WSSB and the private sector is not always as it should be. To improve the situation, measures in the fields of contracting, reporting, data management and technical excellence are required. Salzburg AG will assist with adequate know-how.

l The role of the umbrella organisations shall be further strengthened. To this end in-house organisation and member relationship management need to be improved. OÖ Wasser will act as the technical service institution. l IAWD will remain in charge of coordinating the different project components and overseeing project communication at a superior level. Walter Kling concludes: “The UWUPP is now entering a phase where work schedules in individual project areas need to be developed and harmonised.

Preparations are also underway for the presentation of the UWUPP at the IWA Water Safety Conference to be held in Kampala in November. In spring 2013, the first Ugandan partners will travel to Austria to gather first-hand information on Austria’s water management.” 

(Source: , Christof Hahn)

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