May 9th 2022 marked GWOPA’s official office inauguration in Bonn, Germany, after two years of pandemic restrictions. The GWOPA Secretariat moved to Bonn from its former host city in Barcelona, Spain, following Germany’s successful response to an international call for hosting in 2019.
The Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) was founded by UN-Habitat in 2009 following UNSGAB’s recognition of the WOPs mechanism as a cost-effective approach to building the capacity of water and sanitation operators. GWOPA has since mobilized a global WOPs movement that has seen over 400 partnerships benefit local utilities. GWOPA facilitates and fosters these not-for-profit water and sanitation operators’ partnerships (WOPs) to boost the capacity of public utilities, on which the majority of the population worldwide relies to get access to water and sanitation.
The day began with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the GWOPA offices in Langer Eugen tower, the UN Campus in Bonn. UN-Habitat Executive Director and United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, thanked the German government, the host city and all German partners for their continued support and joint vision as GWOPA helps service providers globally achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation for all.
Accompanied by the Deputy Mayor of Bonn, Dr. Ursula Sautter, the Director of Global Health, Resilience and Equal Opportunities of the Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation, Dr. Tania Vorwerk, Toily Kurbanov, Executive Coordinator of UNV and Ambassador Dr. Günter Sautter, Director General for International Order, the UN and Arms Control, of the Federal Foreign Office, Ms. Sharif concluded by expressing that “being here today once again demonstrates our common objective and joint work towards achieving clean water and sanitation for all (…) Bonn is more than a city. It is a key sustainable development hub and we are proud to be a part of this family.”
Lord Mayor Katja Dörner mirrored Ms. Mohd Sharif’s sentiments saying “GWOPA is a perfect addition to our UN Bonn family and Bonn as a sustainability hub and is a highly welcome addition to the network and to our international community in Bonn”.
Taking its Lead from Operators
The same day, the 14th Annual GWOPA International Steering Committee (ISC) meeting took place in Bonn for the first time, and, as a hybrid event, was attended by more than 25 members. The Steering Committee which guides the strategic direction of the Alliance, is made up principally of public utilities and includes diverse stakeholder groups such as civil society organizations, and labor unions. The meeting focused on ways for GWOPA to strengthen its efforts from its solid new home in Bonn.
Among the Steering Committee recommendations were to increase the prominence of WOPs within the upcoming UN 2023 Water Conference and to seek more support on the diplomatic level for these utility-to-utility partnerships. The ISC Members also encouraged GWOPA to engage more civil society organisations for WOPs support and to include the Australian Water Partnership and other WOPs in the Global WOPs movement.
Mr. Guillermo Saavedra, President of FESAN Chile and member of the GWOPA ISC was also present. He gave an insightful speech during the GWOPA Press Conference held during the day: “The problems faced by front-line water and sanitation service providers are very similar. And so are the solutions”. Mr. Saavedra spoke of the invaluable role GWOPA plays as the unique UN platform that allows utilities worldwide to connect and work in solidarity-based partnerships.
Mr. Saavedra also spoke about the importance of GWOPA including rural operators within its global and inclusive alliance. He referenced the WOP between FESAN and ADECOR, in San Martín Jilotepeque Guatemala, between 2017 and 2018, as proof of what a sustainable rural water operators management model can achieve. Rural operators in San Martín are now providing inclusive and sustainable drinking water for 6,000 indigenous people.
Julie Perkins, Officer in Charge of GWOPA, presented the GWOPA Secretariat’s 2021 highlights and shared some of the progress that had been made and how the outcomes of the previous Steering Committee Meeting had been implemented.
It was also reported that GWOPA has ramped up its advocacy efforts by being present during several events including Bonn Water Dialogues, COP26 Water Pavillion, SWWW and EauMega. In line with this, GWOPA’s Membership Campaign was recently kicked off as the team continues to build on its institutional and individual membership to engage more public utilities from rural and urban areas globally.
Sanitation-focused WOPs, SWOPs, are also a key area of operation for GWOPA. Moving forward, GWOPA plans on focusing on a public service approach for all with a range of technologies and service models for diverse needs, developing Information Management Systems to support the improvement of services and investment decisions and the mainstreaming of sanitation services in multisector national and subnational policies and legislation.
It was reiterated that the WOP practice is a trusted and cost-effective way to achieve local and global objectives such as the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda and Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. With 8 new WOPs in 2021 and 27 in 2022 and a total of 39 WOPs currently on-going, the WOP community continues to grow. GWOPA is planning its 5th Global WOPs Congress which will take place on 23 – 25 May 2023 at the World Conference Center Bonn.
High-level Seminar: Global Cooperation for Local Action
UN-Habitat’s Executive Director keynoted a High-level seminar titled Water, Sanitation and Urbanization: Global Cooperation for Local Action to Implement ‘Our Common Agenda’ to discuss the localization of the water and sanitation elements of the Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of strengthening local public service providers and the role of solidarity-based networks.
The seminar was held with the objectives of discussing current tools and strategies for localization of the SDGs and the inter-linkages between water, cities and climate. The discussion focused on how solidarity-based networks can provide better pathways towards sustainable development and help deliver on the UNSG’s ‘Our Common Agenda’, particularly in the context of rapid and unplanned urbanization and increasing demand for urban services. A point of focus was the role of public utilities in bringing forward local action, and the potential of solidarity-based networks between them to equip utilities with the required capacity. “We need to reclaim the public nature of water and sanitation services and restore the duty and primary responsibility of the State to provide”. said Mr. David Boys, Deputy General Secretary at Public Services International (PSI).
The eventful day ended at the Bonn Old City Hall where the Lord Mayor of Bonn, Ms. Katja Dörner and the Foreign Federal Office hosted Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif for a reception.