Dr. Jürgen Wummel: Water, life’s elixir – a basic element and economic factor!

Sachsen Wasser GmbH has been enjoying success for the past ten years as an international consultant and works manager in currently 28 countries. A 100 per cent sub­­sidiary of the KWL-Kommunale Wasser­­werke Leipzig GmbH, the communal waterworks of Leipzig, it specialises in the commercial and technical services for the drinking water/wastewater sector. Since the very beginning, Sachsen Wasser GmbH has been involved in regions affected by both drought and water shortages, as well as in areas experiencing political crises. In such regions, helping locals to help themselves is what is needed most. That is the case in Afghanistan, where clean drinking water and the purification of wastewater are not yet a part of everyone’s everyday life.

For the Leipzig-based company, global commitment has come to mean becoming active wherever a shortage of structures, organisation, qualified personnel, technology and money is a fact of daily life. Wherever there are extreme water short­­ages, life, health and the nutrition of the population are in severe danger. Sachsen Wasser GmbH sees its core competence in the restoration of a clean drinking water supply, the sustained protection of water re­­sources and the reduction of water losses.

Improvement of the supply and disposal situation in the Near and Middle East has constituted the focal point of the company’s international project work for many years – besides Afghanistan, the company has been active in Egypt, Kuwait, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

Water for the Hindu Kush. Afghanistan is among the poorest countries in our world – the remnants of 30 years of war are present everywhere. Building a sound infrastructure is a fundamental requirement for reconstruction. Only an exceptionally small, privileged portion of the people in Kabul is connected to the central, but sporadically functioning drinking water network. Most of the nearly four million residents are dependent on the approximately 300 springs in the city. In addition, the 2,500-year-old city does not have a wastewater network.

Supply shortages, hygiene deficiencies, and water losses are the principal results of the neglect of the maintenance, up­­keep, care and repair of water management facilities in areas experiencing poli­­t­­ical crises – and it is precisely here that the activities of the Leipzig company start: “The centrepiece of our commitment was improving the supply situation in Kabul. We shared our technical and commercial competence in matters concerning drink­­ing water with our colleagues in Kabul,” explains Dr. Jürgen Wummel, CEO of Sachsen Wasser GmbH.

Establishing the prerequisites for a sus­­tained drinking water supply – that was what Sachsen Wasser GmbH and its partner firm, Rodeco Consulting GmbH, saw as their paramount objective. From 2006 to 2009, the joint project team, under contract to the Authority for Water Supply and Sanitation Afghanistan (AWSS), supported the water supply company Kabul Water Supply (KWS) as an on-site adviser and works manager in their efforts to strengthen that institution. .

“During our work on-site, it was important to focus again and again on the special circumstances in order to achieve long-term success. Since some of the technicians and craftspeople could not read or write, it was sometimes very difficult for our experts to pass on even the simplest concepts. That is why they developed some unusual training and advisory methods: they created a manual on pump control with graphics and coloured (green-yellow-red) guidelines,” reported Jens Liebelt, project manager for Sachsen Wasser GmbH. The project, which was financed by the KfW Bankengruppe (KfW Group) incorporated contracts total­­ling 1.5 mil­­lion euros.

Instandsetzungsarbeiten an Wasserpumpen.

Instandsetzungsarbeiten an Wasserpumpen.

Development and transformation. The experience of the KWL Group in connec­­tion with modernising water management facilities is in great demand in the inter­­national supply sector. This experience was gained during the transformation process, when the organisation was con­­verted from a government-controlled ope­­r­­ation of the former East Germany – without pressure to cover costs – to a market economy and customer-oriented group of companies. This knowledge is part of what is being transmitted today to international contracting authorities that are experiencing similar changes.

The communal background of Sachsen Wasser GmbH, its regional integration and its contacts with commercial and political commissioning authorities and decision-makers were also regarded highly by its Afghan project partners. The advisory backing of transformation processes within the KWS forms one of the principal fields of activity for the on-site Leipzig experts. Alongside the return to operational status of the commercial water facility and its maintenance, the presen­­tation of training courses for engineers and managers are also valued.

The services of Sachsen Wasser GmbH included:

  • the support of company manage­ment while coping with the transformation process from a centralised, hierarchical structure to a decen­tralised, market-oriented system,
  • advice in the areas of organisational restructuring, personnel, corporate gov­­­­­­ernance and compensation structures,
  • advice and further training for personnel on subjects in technical management, including measurement and meter operations, water loss reduction, electrical systems for water management facilities, water quality and quality management,
  • advice and training of personnel on subjects of institutional reinforcement: among them, strategic business plan­­­­ning, and management information systems,
  • improvement of facility management regarding works management, maintenance of the water complex and the water network, including   advanced training of the technical specialists,
  • the monitoring of technical perfor­­m­­ance parameters, including the creation of a report of performance indicators,
  • the technical feasibility analysis for extending the pipe network,
  • the organisation of educational trips for the executive boards of CAWSS, KWS and representatives of the Afghan Ministry for Cooperative Devel­­op­­ment to Jordan and Germany.

Qualification and experience. In November 2007, the company organised a practical workshop in Leipzig for senior represen­­t­atives of KWS, AWSS and the Afghan Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA). The programme included seminars and facility inspections. The instructors from KWL and Sachsen Wasser GmbH discussed aspects of facility, groundwater and customer management, quality testing as well as various privatisation models with the participants.

The training programmes that took place in Kabul conveyed organisational know-how in works management with emphasis on cost accounting and efficiency increases to the KWS’ technical and commercial specialists. The courses that were offered were very well received. The interest in the expert knowledge of the German partners was extraordinarily high. The train­­ing results were put into practice with dili­­gence and ambition very soon after training.

Cooperation and services for general interest. For the duration of the pro­ject, Sachsen Wasser GmbH maintained their own office in Kabul. The pro­­fessional skills, an adaptable ap­­proach to the special circumstances of the location, such as regional differences, respect for specific religious aspects and unfamiliar cultures formed the basis for the successful imple­­men­­­ta­tion of these projects. This is not only true in Afghanistan, but also in other countries.

The protection of water resources, which are so essential for human life, and a suitable and efficient water management are of vital importance in the long-term, economical, environmentally conscious and social development of war-torn regions like Afghanistan. The commitment of  private companies to these and other tasks plays a decisive role for the long-term success of reconstruction.

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The author has been the CEO of Sachsen Wasser GmbH, headquartered in Leipzig, since its founding. Prior to that he was the authorised representative of the KWL-Kommunale Wasserwerke Leipzig GmbH, responsible for corporate technical plan­­ning and corporate development of the KWL Group. Professional responsibilities in Cologne, Dusseldorf and Essen prece­­d­­ed his transfer to Leipzig.