Strengthening a municipal water utility in Tajikistan
Water utilities in Tajikistan and other post-Soviet countries faced challenges in upgrading infrastructure and modernizing operations. Complementing a World Bank project, officials from a water utility in Dushanbe engaged in an exchange with a utility in St. Petersburg, Russia to learn how it had revitalized its performance. The exchange helped officials revise an action plan for the Dushanbe utility, and the two utilities formed a partnership for longer-term cooperation.
In the post-Soviet era, the Government of Tajikistan had difficulty maintaining its water infrastructure and providing adequate services. In Dushanbe, the water utility – the Dushanbe Vodokanal (DVK) – faced problems in its operation and services, and was not financially sustainable. Since 2002, the World Bank had been providing assistance to DVK and the water sector through the Dushanbe Water Supply Project (DWSP). In 2011, the Bank approved a Second Dushanbe Water Supply Project (DWSP2) to continue institutional reforms and upgrade infrastructure.
In preparing DWSP2, Dushanbe officials undertook a Governance Assessment of DVK. DVK’s managerial accountability, operational transparency, staff incentives, and customer services all needed improvement. In addition, reform milestones in an Operational Performance Improvement Action Plan (OPIAP) for DVK had yet to be met. To help them achieve these milestones, Dushanbe and DVK officials sought Technical Assistance (TA) through the DWSP2 or other sources.
After exploring options, Dushanbe and Bank officials agreed that an exchange with a utility that had faced similar challenges in a post-Soviet environment would be valuable. With support from the South-South Facility, the Bank organized a two-pronged exchange with a counterpart municipal utility in Russia – the St. Petersburg’s Vodokanal (SPVK) – to help DVK improve water services and operations, and possibly identify opportunities for further cooperation.
SPVK was selected because it had managed a turnaround in its water services by addressing managerial, financial, and operational challenges similar to DVK’s. The SPVK was also a seasoned knowledge provider in this realm, having hosted a Regional Water Academy for water utility professionals. It also shared a common heritage and language with the DVK.
The exchange supported a study tour and expert visit, designed in a way to identify opportunities for additional cooperation.
- In May 2012, the Director and senior staff of DVK, along with Bank staff, traveled to St. Petersburg for meetings with SPVK managers, technical experts, and customer service staff. They also visited field operations. Among other things, delegates learned about the strategies, utility reforms, investment priorities, and technologies responsible for SPVK’s turnaround.
- In December 2012, select managers and experts from SPVK visited Dushanbe to learn about DVK’s operations, identify conditions and priority areas for possible mentoring of DVK staff, and assess scope for a longer-term twinning arrangement.
According to the Director of DVK, the exchange program was “eye-opening” and fruitful:
- The Dushanbe and DVK officials enhanced their understanding of the strategies and reforms required to modernize water utility operations in a post-Soviet context, and thereby improve water services in Dushanbe. Importantly, they also disseminated their learning to other stakeholders in water treatment and customer relations.
- DVK officials were able to better articulate their own plan to revitalize DVK’s performance, as demonstrated by new approaches related to managing and delivering customer services that they incorporated into DVK’s OPIAP.
- DVK and SPVK officials recognized the benefit of a longer-term partnership and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Technical Cooperation/Twinning, which is expected to lead to further direct exchanges.
- Knowledge exchanges can be more effective when the knowledge providers and seekers have faced and surmounted similar challenges, and share linguistic, cultural, and historical roots.
- Knowledge exchange can be a useful and even low-cost alternative to traditional technical assistance.
- A weak utility (like DVK) needs sustained assistance from partners and donors such as the Bank to help its staff articulate its needs and access financing for SSKE.
- Developing a long-term learning partnership takes time and effort.
The World Bank helped to broker, fund, and implement this exchange within the context of the DWSP2. The exchange provided targeted TA to DVK to help DWSP2 achieve its outcomes, especially related to service improvements, financial sustainability, and operational performance.
Water specialists at the Bank proposed the SPVK as a knowledge provider leveraging their international contacts. The South-South Facility funded this exchange, which cumulatively cost about US$48,000.
In Tajikistan, the key partners, other than those from DVK, included the Municipality of Dushanbe. The main knowledge providing partner in Russia was St. Petersburg Vodokanal.
Over the longer-term, the exchange and assistance under the DWSP2 helped improve the performance of DVK as well as the coverage area and quality of water services in Dushanbe. This assistance package also increased customer satisfaction, as shown by a December 2013 survey.
The Bank will continue to support reforms in Dushanbe through the DWSP2 and other programs. Activities may include additional knowledge exchanges between DVK and SPVK under the Technical Cooperation Agreement, or between DVK and water utilities in other countries in Europe and Central Asia.
The participants in the exchange program from Dushanbe included
- N. Khairullaev, Deputy Mayor, Municipality of Dushanbe
- F. Isupov, General Director, Dushanbe Vodokanal
- K. Mirzoev, Deputy Director, Dushanbe Vodokanal
- K. Abdulloev, Deputy Director, Dushanbe Vodokanal
- S. Kalandarov, Head of Water Supply Operations, Dushanbe Vodokanal
- M. Ubaidov, Head of Billing Department, Dushanbe Vodokanal
- Z. Najotov, Head of Customer Payments division, Dushanbe Vodokanal
- D. Murodov, Head of Technical Department, Dushanbe Vodokanal
- Z. Nozimov, Head of Project Administration Unit, Dushanbe Vodokanal
Second Dushanbe Water Supply Project
Dushanbevodokanal web site:
St. Petersburg water utility website: