© Pablo Alfredo de Luca

After the World Water Forum: Where Does Water Integrity Stand Now?

Notes from Korea on the OECD water governance initiative and the way forward for water integrity

Putting water integrity on the agenda at the WWF7

There was a significant shift in how water governance and integrity were presented at the World Water Forum in Korea this year.

The Marseilles Forum of 2012 enabled a big step forward in presenting technical and policy solutions to water issues and in developing coherent and ambitious targets for the water sector. This year, many stakeholders acknowledged the significant hurdles the sector still faces in implementing solutions on the ground, and pointed to water governance as a key culprit for these hurdles.

More importantly for us, Transparency, Accountability and Integrity are now mentioned as integral aspects of better governance. And, stakeholder engagement is specifically emphasized as a critical element of a solution.

Here are two major developments and examples.

I was pleased to learn about the signature of the Lisbon Charter by 85 governments which attended the Ministerial conference of the Forum. The Lisbon Charter was developed by the International Water Association and the Portuguese Water and Waste Services Regulation Authority. It outlines principles and provides guidance for the development and implementation of regulatory frameworks for water services. Its second principles states that “the provision of services should enshrine accountability and transparency”. The Charter then further details the responsibilities of different stakeholder groups to uphold the principles in developing and implementing policy.

The OECD Water Governance Initiative published a set of 12 Principles for Water Governance, developed to frame “the design and implementation of tangible and outcome-oriented public policy based on the mutually reinforcing dimensions of [effectiveness, efficiency, trust and engagement.]”. The principles related to trust and engagement refer specifically to the mainstreaming of integrity and transparency in policy and governance (principle 9), engagement with stakeholders (principle 10), equity (principle 11), monitoring and evaluation (principle 12).

The principles are the direct accomplishment of promises made in Marseilles to follow up on the targets that were agreed on then and are the result of two years of intensive work by a task-force of over 300 stakeholders, including WIN and several WIN members. Aziza Akhmouch, Head of the Water Governance Programme of the OECD, played a decisive role in moving the principles forward.

At the World Water Forum in Korea, the OECD Secretary General, Angel Gurria, spoke very strongly and positively in support of the principles at an opening session of the work stream on effective water governance. He expressed his expectation that the principles will be adopted by OECD member States in June and closed his speech by exhorting us to be “bold and ambitious in developing together the ‘implementation roadmap’ [for these principles] leading up to the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia in 2018 and beyond”.

And indeed, I echo his view that “when it comes to policy-making, ‘what to do’ is only the beginning; ‘who does what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ are just as important”. This practical implementation roadmap is what we must focus on now for the principles, especially in mainstreaming integrity. We can then hopefully extend our reflections and conclusions to the implementation of the SDGs on water and the inclusion of integrity as an indicator of success.

 

Policy implementation for better governance, the who, why and how

Fortunately, the Forum also contributed some first paths to answer these difficult questions. We now have to explore these in more detail and continue documenting our progress.

 

Who

Stakeholder engagement is one tool to minimize policy capture. I believe it is vital.

Many panel members of sessions on water governance highlighted the need for multi-stakeholder involvement. This was a welcome recurrent theme at the Forum and was re-emphasized in the latest OECD reports, The Governance of Water Regulators, which concludes “that best practices in water governance favour bottom-up, inclusive decision-making that involves a broad range of protagonists and stakeholders” and Stakeholder Engagement for Inclusive Water Governance, which delves into how local, national and international interests can link up.

With the recognition of a universal Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, users and sector stakeholders are bound to play an increasing role as rights-holders and not only passive service recipients. WIN will continue to support this evolution and encourage stakeholders to participate. This will reinforce the change from government-driven governance models to multi-stakeholder engagement and will have an impact on the demand for more integrity.

 

Why

This demand for more integrity, which would push forward implementation of related policy, is very contextual. It depends on local culture and behaviour, policy shifts and political arrangements in place. It is not easy to directly act on it but I see first signs that it will evolve. Challenges and problems can trigger demand. The World Water Forum, but also the latest World Economic Forum and numerous reports in the last two years, only confirmed a looming water crisis and the urgency of an effective response.

The public as rights holders, including the private sector, will also demand more integrity as they become increasingly uncomfortable with corruption and its impact. New ICT tools and evolutions in how information is made available and shared are changing the “governance climate” and can accelerate this process.

 

How

A first approach to facilitate policy reform and its implementation and to achieve our water targets with more integrity, is to learn from good practices and ongoing experiences. During the Forum session organized by WIN on Integrity and Transparency for Successful Water Policies: Challenges and Progress, we learned about three examples of how integrity can inform successful policy and sector reform, from China, Ethiopia and the Middle East.

In China, a reform of agricultural water pricing is designed to encourage water saving and promote the sustainable development of agriculture by strengthening the monitoring framework, clarifying roles of stakeholders, differentiating pricing depending on local conditions, and increasing public participation. In Ethiopia, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation is involved in a new initiative with WIN and other partners to integrate integrity principles in sector reform as the country faces serious challenges due for example to soaring urbanization and industrialization. In the Middle East, IUCN and SIWI are leading a capacity building programme to raise awareness on integrity and build links between different levels of government intervention.

This last case points to the importance of capacity building as key to ensuring successful reform. Raising awareness on rights and responsibilities and on possible tools and methods to promote integrity will play a major role.

There are many more examples we can learn from. I look forward to seeing the country cases that the OECD Water Governance Initiative will publish in the coming months. I also look forward to seeing how the new IRC and WSUP initiative on public finance for WASH will evolve. WIN will also continue documenting the most relevant experiences to learn from.

 

A second approach to support policy reform and implementation is better indicators and monitoring taking into account integrity. Developing the right indicators is a difficult exercise. As discussed during the World Water Forum session, Counting what Counts: Getting Indicators Right for Better Water Governance, there are many types of possible indicators, each with advantages and disadvantages. I believe process indicators for planning and monitoring are needed and they require commitment to water integrity at the highest political level to be useful and used.

 

Finally, honest and regular communication to stakeholders and the public about policy implementation and budget use is an important element to establish and maintain trust and engagement. Balancing communication between long-term governance challenges and addressing problems to which users can connect is a challenge, but communication, combined with clear explanations and capacity building, are essential for people to understand and accept the necessary limitations policy implementation will have to be realistic.

 

After the World Water Forum in Korea, we continue to fight corruption in the water sector, just as we fight for a situation where bringing transparent information to people is more appreciated than empty promises.