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EU, UN-Habitat launch €9m water partnership scheme


The European Union (EU) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), have signed a €9 million agreement to implement the four-year EU Water Operators’ Partnerships (WOPs) programme.

The initiative piloted by the European Commission, set to kick off this month will finance 25 WOPs over four years with the goal of advancing the operational, financial, social and environmental performance of beneficiary utilities and improving the lives of the communities they serve.

The newly approved EU WOP programme will be implemented by the Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA), an extensive UN-Habitat-led network with more than ten years’ expertise in promoting, facilitating and tracking WOPs. Nigeria is a member of the alliance.


GWOPA is an international network created to support water operators through WOPs, peer support exchanges between two or more water operators, on a not-for-profit basis, with the objective of strengthening their capacity, enhancing their performance and enabling them to provide a better service to more people.

WOPs are peer-support partnerships between water and sanitation service providers. WOPs work by harnessing the skills, knowledge and goodwill within a strong utility to build the capacity and improve the performance of another utility that needs assistance or guidance.

Jointly designed by the EU and UN-Habitat, the EU WOP Programme will begin with the launch of an international call for proposals for North-South and South-South partnerships between utilities. An independent selection committee will evaluate the proposals and select those that best meet programme criteria. Successful utilities will then be funded to implement their WOP over a three-year period with ongoing guidance and support from GWOPA.


Under-performance in a water utility often means unsafe water, frequent cuts, and limited coverage for communities, with women, the poor and other vulnerable groups disproportionately impacted. While the current COVID pandemic has highlighted the extent to which extent resilient water and sanitation utilities can ensure the wellbeing of communitie even during a crisis, many utilities are facing mounting challenges.

Among the different approaches adopted to support them, WOPs stand out because of their emphasis on strengthening local capacity through peer mentoring. By building the local capacity of utilities, WOPs favour more sustainable, affordable and higher quality services over the long-term, and support local achievement of global targets such as SDG6 and the universal human rights to water and sanitation.

Commenting on the agreement, the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, highlighted that, “the EU-WOP Programme comes at a critical time as the world is once again reminded of the importance of water and sanitation utilities, and the enormous potential for them to learn from one another.”


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