A growing sense of urgency
Looking back at 2017, dramatic examples of water crises across the globe stand out: from extreme weather and flooding in the Caribbean and South Asia to severe draughts again in South Asia and the Horn of Africa, to acute water shortages in major metropolises…
Such disasters cannot be prevented or controlled but some of the most tragic consequences could certainly have been minimized. There is growing awareness that poor governance is worsening the impact of water crises. Inadequate planning, flouted building codes, poorly enforced regulation, fraud, were oft-cited examples throughout the year of how low integrity in the water sector really plays out and exacerbates disaster.
The latest World Economic Forum has just ended, and again, the WEF’s Global Risk Report lists water crises among the top 5 most significant risks in terms of impact. This has consistently been the case since 2012. What are we doing to address the underlying causes of recurring crises and what are we doing to effectively limit their impact? It’s high time that water integrity is taken on as an urgent concern.
Research highlights complexity of corruption dynamics, pointing to new paths for action
We know water integrity is not an easy matter to bring up or tackle; all the more so because motivations for poor integrity are so varied, the acts themselves are informal, and their impact is so diffuse. It’s crucial to examine corruption dynamics in detail in the water sector to develop better paths away from it.
In 2017, several publications lay down crucial groundwork in this direction (and the newly revamped knowledge hub of Transparency International’s Anti-Corruption Research Network is an additional important resource to get started).
The Water Governance Facility’s report on women and corruption in the sector is a timely and much needed first overview of the links between gender roles and corruption in water service provision. It explores the specificities of how and why women engage in corruption for and over water and brings to the light the issue of sextortion for water. The report follows a groundbreaking study by the World Bank, The Rising Tide : A New Look at Water and Gender, which concludes that interventions in water-related domains are important as means to enhance gender equality.
Wastewater was the mot du jour in 2017: the theme of UN World Water day on March 22nd and of several sector conferences including the Stockholm World Water Week. At the same time, record levels of pollution were reported across the globe. Although not so many of the reports published over the year highlighted corruption or poor integrity, the UN World Water and Development Report 2017 did, clearly and repeatedly, stating that corruption is common and “contributes to ongoing water and wastewater quality problems”.
As a practical example, research by partners in Bangladesh on wastewater management requirements in the garment industry points to typical concerns (poor implementation of environmental laws, poor enforcement further weakened by lack of resources and corruption, fraud in reporting on use of treatment facilities) and shows how different stakeholders play a role. (WIN published several other examples of problematic, as well as good practices, related to water throughout the year, see for example here on wastewater reuse for agriculture or here on citizen action against pollution from wastewater).
In a brief on institutionalized corruption in the irrigation sector in Indonesia, authors Diana Suhardiman of IWMI and Peter Mollinga of SOAS highlighted the limits of an anti-corruption approach focused on lessening the financial appeal of corruption. When corrupt practices are intrinsic to how work and social relations are developed, these institutional and economic approaches are unlikely to have meaningful impact. However more nuanced socio-cultural approaches to reconfigure everyday practices can be more promising, for example starting with changes to how institutions interact with citizens or promote their mission.
Sustainability of rural water service delivery models
Management models for rural water supply generated a lot of discussion this year. In relation to these discussions and although not explicitly pinned to water integrity, we found that the approach of the World Bank for its Sustainability Assessment of Rural Water Service Delivery Models was of particular interest. The study goes beyond decontextualized comparisons of specific management models to examine building blocks of sustainability across the board, identifying issues and good practices.
Several building blocks used in the study are directly impacted by poor integrity (institutional capacity, financing, monitoring and regulation, for example). Looking at underlying issues that undermine service delivery repeatedly and continuously is a big part of how we see the need to look at integrity issues (and how we support the development of tools to improve service).
Utilities on the starting block
When looking at non-specialized press coverage of water organizations throughout the year, unfortunately the bad news seems to outweigh the good. Just for 2017, allegations of corruption are prominent, as are new investigations and independent reviews into water theft, leaking of insider information, scams, fraudulous conduct, job hand-outs, or tenders gone wrong (and this, around the world: India, Tanzania, Australia, Brazil, the US,…). High profile arrests of water company leaders in Malaysia, Rwanda, and Spain made big headlines, as did the trials of water executives from Flint to Durban. The outcomes of many of these processes is still uncertain, but the picture is not overwhelmingly positive.
It’s unfortunate that the examples of better practice tend to stay under the radar and don’t get caught up in the news cycle. Water service providers and water management organizations are key players in the fight against corruption. Many do work to improve standard operating practices and promote integrity as a means to improve performance and improve relationships with customers.
This year, WIN and partners have supported the utility of Khulna in Bangladesh in an integrity-oriented change management process using the Integrity Management toolbox. Water service providers in Albania and across Latin America are also using adapted versions of the toolbox, supported by KfW and IADB, respectively.
Many other water organizations are implementing measures to limit corruption and promote integrity, punishing corrupt acts more strictly (for example in Rwanda), implementing better customer complaint management systems (for example in Sierra Leone), supporting e-payments and organizing public hearings (for example in Kenya), actively managing integrity risks by training staff and controlling and automating meter readings (for example in Zambia). We of course look forward to seeing many more organizations pick up the call for more integrity.
A turning point for more integrity?
The launch of WIN’s new strategy has been a small turning point for WIN in how it supports partner programmes and research, evaluates and documents developments, and promotes tools. We are thankful and excited to see so many partners and water sectors stakeholders who are increasingly keen to also put integrity on the table.
In WIN focus countries, Bangladesh, Benin and Kenya, despite political uncertainty (elections, cabinet reshufflings) much impressive work has been done for water integrity. To cite only a few examples, in Benin, water sector stakeholders are supporting the development of a national water integrity baseline and the implementation of the Water Integrity Charter. In Kenya, water CSOs are proactively monitoring their performance, evaluating the potential impact of corrupt practices, and transparently assessing their contribution to the sector.
In other countries and regions, WIN partners have been assessing integrity risks at all levels, promoting change, supporting capacity development for marginalized communities, monitoring budgets and spending. Many water integrity actors came together to share their experiences, for example in Ethiopia or Nepal, and we’ve been awed time and time again by their commitment and new ideas to bring to light issues of poor integrity and proactively support improvements in organizations, regions, and countries.
We’re eager to see what 2018 will bring.