Leveraging Knowledge Exchange to Improve Water Utility Performance

Key Contact
Sally Zgheib
Start Date
End Date
Funding Amount
$ 47,828
Knowledge-providing Countries
Knowledge-receiving Countries


The national water utility in Djibouti faced significant challenges with insufficient human capacity, degraded infrastructure, and out-of-date operations. The Ministry of Finance recognized the need to improve the utility’s performance, and with World Bank support prepared a knowledge exchange with the water utility in Tunisia, which had strengthened its performance. The exchange led to an action plan for Djibouti and a long-term cooperative partnership with Tunisia.


Djibouti’s public water utility, ONEAD, had been faced not only with water scarcity but also with weak performance and uncertainty about the practical aspects of modernizing and improving its infrastructure and operations. It had insufficient human capacity at both managerial and technical levels. The level of water losses in ONEAD’s distribution system was estimated to be above 50 percent, generating a major constraint for expanding access to those unconnected (70 percent of the rural population did not have access to potable water). Djibouti ONEAD was directed toward a peer-to-peer exchange with the SONEDE utility in Tunisia, which is known for being among the best-performing water utilities in the MENA Region. Furthermore, Tunisia shares many similarities with Djibouti, including language (French and Arabic) and a French civil law-inspired legal framework. The countries share similar hydrological conditions in parts.


Djibouti ONEAD was new to the knowledge exchange experience. With support from the World Bank and the South-South Facility, the exchange was designed around two study visits along with presentations on specific aspects of operations. One visit was by Tunisian experts to assess the situation in Dijbouti; the second visit was with a delegation of 5 high-level ONEAD officials to visit its selected knowledge provider, SONEDE, the Tunisia water facility. SONEDE had the advanced experience relevant to the knowledge-seeking Djibouti since it had been providing universal access to potable water in all urban areas of the country. SONEDE’s operational performance has been remarkable by regional standards, with continuous 24/7 water services provided to all its customers, and an overall level of water losses in distribution at 26 percent (compared to 50 percent or more in most MENA countries).

This two exchange activities were designed to evaluate the current water situation in Djibouti, followed by a study tour to witness and learn from the success of the Tunisia water experience. From May 15 to 30, 2015, SONEDE management and technical experts carried out a broad assessment of the current situation of potable water services in Djibouti. The assessment focused on documenting the current operational situation, identifying the key challenges and bottlenecks, and proposing practical actions to help ONEAD improve its performance in the short term. These experts worked with assigned technical persons from ONEAD to develop the assessment report.  From May 31 to June 6, 2015, the study tour to Tunisia allowed the Djibouti delegation of 5 ONEAD officials to gain exposure to the good practice approaches at SONEDE at the operational, managerial, and institutional levels; and identify those experiences which were most relevant to their current situation. At least 30 specialists from 10 departments at SONEDE participated in the exchange and also worked with the ONEAD delegation to develop an action plan for the water sector in Djibouti by building on the SONEDE experience.


The knowledge sharing by the Tunisian peers and their assessment of the ONEAD situation had allowed for a better understanding of the existing challenges and the solutions needed in Djibouti. Solutions were clearly observed by the Djibouti delegation when they saw and heard first-hand what was working so successfully for SONEDE in Tunisia. The delegates participated in drafting and providing comments on the Tunisian assessment and prepared an action plan and in turn shared their experience with their staffs.  The delegates prepared three reports in connection with the exchange. Their final report in particular included a list of priority measures and identified the next steps and follow-up actions among Djibouti entities. In addition, e-mail exchanges between the directors of both utilities took place after the exchange. A partnership and a new network of water practitioners had been created between the two utilities.  

Lessons Learned

Knowledge exchanges can be more effective when the knowledge providers and seekers have faced similar challenges and speak the same language.

  • A weak-performing utility needs sustained assistance from partners and donors such as the World Bank to help its staff articulate its needs and access financing for South-South knowledge exchange.
  • The results generated in a knowledge exchange can be observed directly through the new skills learned by the knowledge seekers. However, developing and maintaining a long-term learning partnership takes time and effort and a dedicated budget.
  • Knowledge exchange can be a useful and even low-cost alternative to traditional technical assistance.
  • The knowledge exchange allowed for collaborative work between both utilities that worked for the first time together.

World Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank helped to advise, fund, and implement this exchange between the two utilities. The Bank team proposed SONEDE as knowledge provider, leveraging their international contacts. The team followed up closely with both utilities. The country management unit was supportive during and after the exchange. The South-South Facility funded this exchange, which cumulatively cost about US$47,827.50.


  • The Mauritanian Ministries of Livestock; Economic Affairs and Development; and Trade and Industry.
  • National Employers Union, Mauritania.
  • Rural agro-pastoral livestock associations, Mauritania.
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Zambia
  • Zambeef Products PLC, Zambia

Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment & Development is the sponsor of the red meat project feasibility study requested by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development of Mauritania. The agency has recruited an international firm for the study and has been working closely with various national and international partners to mobilize interest in the project.

Moving Forward

There were no ongoing World Bank projects in Djibouti in the water sector when the knowledge exchange took place. This exchange provided Djibouti, a country that is facing one of the world's most extreme water scarcities, with a clearer understanding of how it could manage an anticipated increase in bulk water.


The General Director of ONEAD addressed an e-mail to his peer at SONEDE Tunisia after the exchange and said: "It is for me to thank you for taking the time for your visit as well as your staff in your second country Djibouti. I also thank you for agreeing to provide us with your experience and expertise, which were very valuable for us. I also thank the Bank for making possible this exchange, and I strongly encourage as always to support this kind of approach."
The ONEAD team who participated in the 2 exchange activities included:

  • Mr. A. Ebo Adou, Accounting Manager and Head of Delegation, ONEAD
  • Mr. I. Ali Ahmed: Responsible Engineer studies, ONEAD
  • Mr. A. Aboubaker: Operations Manager, ONEAD
  • Mr. M. Brahim: Sales Manager, ONEAD
  • Mr. Y. Ahmed Youssouf: Responsible for production to DETE, ONEAD

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