Water is very different from other services such as information, data, telephone lines. In those cases, infrastructure can be shared by third parties – as long as the light goes on it doesn’t matter where electricity comes from. But water comes directly into our bodies, so I don’t think this should rely on an infrastructure which third parties and private entities have access to.
The priority has to be to ensure the delivery of safe and pure water and that must be a public goal. I think public water utilities can also help by thinking about water in a more integrated and holistic way, seeking to address broader issues such as poverty-alleviation and adapting to climate change.
I have worked in the public water sector since 1980, but it wasn’t until 2006 that we eventually established a public water utility to deal with the whole water cycle, from supply to collection to treatment and control of groundwater. Previously all these areas had been organised in a fragmented way.
A year later, we also established the World Waternet foundation, whose aim was to share know-how with other utilities in the world, building capacity and expertise. This sought to build on a long history of international cooperation that dated back to a partnership with Jakarta, Indonesia in 1967.
Staff from TNI came to visit us to learn about this holistic approach of water cycle management and our solidarity work with other public utilities and it was soon clear we shared a similar vision and mission and became friends and partners.
I learned a lot from TNI staff and they learnt a great deal from us and our approach to sharing our public know-how. We have both become ambassadors of public-public water partnerships. Waternet helped to found the Global Water Operators Partnership Alliance (GWOPA) and has been on the steering committee with TNI. We have also actively set up many partnerships in Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia, South Africa. Even so we still could do more to reach the many people still without clean water and sanitation.
But I am hopeful that we have stimulated and inspired other water utilities to share their know-how and to collaborate with other utilities in other parts of the world so that we can all have access to good drinking water, properly-treated waste water and the safety of living without risk of floods.