SHUKALB’s 2020 Year in Review – Message by Elisabeta Poçi, Deputy Executive Director

As we’re counting the last hours of this unprecedented year 2020, we want to wish to all of our members, supporters and friends, a Most Happy, Joyous and Healthy New Year in 2021! This year has tested and challenged all of us, in ways that we probably have not imagined before. On the other hand, it has made us reflect more and appreciate more certain things.  One of those things being the value of partnerships and the strength that comes from people you work with. While we have barely managed to meet and gather as usual, as part of our activities, we have been immensely encouraged by the virtual contact and exchange with our members. We are grateful and proud in particular, to the resilience shown by our member water utilities, which despite the lockdown and the difficult circumstances, maintained the delivery of reliable and safe water supply and sanitation services to the population of Albania.

The expression “No Man is an Island…” fits well to organisations as well, and in that regard SHUKALB is not an island either, and we do not stand alone.  While we have always acknowledged the support we have received through all the years from our partners and stakeholders, this year we have even more reason to do so.  We are grateful that in this particularly challenging year, we have had great partners and friends to rely on, who with their support helped us deliver on our mission, and made 2020 feel much easier.

This year marked also the 20th anniversary of SHUKALB. We are growing, and with that grow also our responsibilities towards our members first, and all of our partners and stakeholders, for continuing to be a significant and positive force contributing to the improvement of the water sector in Albania. While we could not celebrate this significant anniversary, as we had planned to, we are grateful that we have marked our anniversary with resilience, expertise, and compassion. The following paragraphs provide a summary of some of the highlights of the major activities and events that SHUKALB undertook this year, as part of its different activity areas and projects.

As a quick response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Albania, in early March 2020, SHUKALB reacted quickly by being in continuous contact with its member WSS companies and keeping track on the progress of the actions taken by its members while in the same time sharing valuable relevant information with them.  SHUKALB created a dedicated page on its website with information concerning the water supply and sewerage sector in regard to COVID-19 pandemic.

During April 2020, SHUKALB conducted an online survey addressed to water utilities and other water sector organizations in Albania, in order to measure the initial impact of the pandemic and actions being taken to manage risk and plan for contingencies.  During May 2020, SHUKALB organized successfully two webinars to discuss the impact of COVID-19 pandemics on Water Utilities in Albania.  Both webinars had a wide participation from various stakeholders of the water supply and sewerage sector from Albania, the region and beyond, such as water utilities, donors, LGUs, central government, financial institutions, academia, foreign embassies in Albania, private companies, as well as other professionals in the water sector.

In the framework of its Training Program, SHUKALB delivered 5 training courses, 3 of them delivered online, attended by the staff of 13 water utilities across Albania covering topics such as financial statements, management, asset management, and sampling and laboratory procedures.  For 2021 we are committed to continue our efforts to offer and deliver training courses and capacity development programs that respond to the needs of our member water supply and wastewater utilities as well as the broader water sector, using our own resources as well as part of partnerships with ongoing regional activities.

In the framework of the Regional Capacity Development Network (RCDN) Project, SHUKALB delivered the trainings on “Introductory Integrated Asset Management” and the “Capital Infrastructure Investment Projects in the Water Sector”, which was delivered online.  The trainings were attended in total by the staff of 14 water utilities, 7 municipalities, National Agency of Water Supply, Sewerage and Waste Infrastructure (AKUM) and the Albanian Water Regulatory Authority. In addition, SHUKALB delivered 2 peer exchanges on “Successful Infrastructure Waste Water Collection and Treatment Projects” attended by the staff of 16 water utilities, AKUM and municipalities.  Furthermore, SHUKALB has organized activities to discuss and gather feedback from its member on key advocacy topics.

During 2020, SHUKALB has implemented the second phase (GOLD LEVEL) of the “Asset Management in Water Supply and Sewerage Utilities of Albania” Project, which consists in the maintenance management for improving productivity and efficiency of the maintenance function and service delivery as well as for registering maintenance problems for further use in Rehabilitation/Maintenance Planning, for 11 Albanian water supply and sewerage utilities. In addition, SHUKALB has implemented the first phase, asset registration and network data management, for 8 new Albanian water supply and sewerage utilities who joined the Project, totalling a number of 19 water utilities.

In the framework of the “Asset Management in Water Supply and Sewerage Utilities of Albania” Project, and in the context of COVID-19 pandemic, GIZ Open Regional Fund for South-East Europe – Modernisation of Municipal Services (GIZ ORF MMS) in coordination with SHUKALB, distributed packages with disinfectants and protective equipment for 19 Water Utilities in Albania.

In partnership with SHUKOS, we continued and delivered successfully for the 6th round the Utility Benchmarking Program for Albania and Kosova, in the framework of Danube Learning Partnership (D-LeaP).

In line with its efforts to provide support to its member water utilities in facing the COVID-19 pandemic, SHUKALB received financing for a Project Grant titled “ORF MMS – Providing Support to Municipalities and Public Utilities Managing the Covid-19 Crisis in Albania”. The grant is commissioned from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and is administratively embedded in the GIZ Project “Open Regional Fund for Southeast Europe – Modernization of Municipal Services (ORF MMS)”. The Project is also supported and coo financed by the International Association of Water Utilities in the Danube River Catchment Area (IAWD).  In implementing this Project, SHUKALB will be using the existing D-Leap Water Safety Plan and Crisis Management (WSP&CM) Program, which has been adjusted for coping with the influence of the COVID19 pandemic.

This year the Annual Balkans Joint Conference and Exhibition was organized for the first time as a virtual event on 4, 5, 6 November 2020. Despite of the unusual circumstances, the virtual Conference attracted over 200 water professionals representing water utilities, donor’s community, private companies, academic institutions as well as other central and local government institutions from 15 different countries. Participants at the Conference had the opportunity to visit the first virtual Exhibition organized through a virtual platform where the exhibiting companies presented their products and services through pre-recorded videos, images, brochures and other relevant information.

Regarding our Outreach Programs, SHUKALB has successfully completed the World Water Monitoring Challenge (WWMCH) Program for the 8th grade students and the High School “Science Fair” program for the 11th grade students, implemented under an agreement and in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth of Albania. Both programs were implemented with the precious support and in collaboration with the “Customer and Performance Oriented Drinking Water and Sanitation Services” program, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

The World Water Monitoring Challenge Program included 18 elementary schools from 6 coastal cities, Shkoder, Lezhe, Kavaja, Durres, Vlora and Saranda, involving about 1,300 children, while the High School “Science Fair” program included 5 high schools from Shkoder, Lezhe, Kavaja, Durres and Vlora, involving 100 students.

On October 14, 2020, SHUKALB signed a Letter of Intent with the Rotary Club of Haifa in Israel, Hi-Teach, and Rotary Club of Tirana International for organizing the Rotary Hands Across Waters (RHAW) innovative STEAM educational program for the high schools in Albania. SHUKALB will implement this program under the umbrella of its existing High School Science Fair Program, and in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Youth of Albania.

All of these achievements are the result of the hard work of SHUKALB’s staff, the support of our Board of Directors and the commitment of our members.  We look forward to continuing to build on these past achievements in the New Year 2021, with a refreshed vision and energy.