If we are to survive, the Earth’s water resources must be protected, conserved, shared and valued – by everyone, for everyone.

The world depends on freshwater for health, nutrition, well-being and economic progress, but fails to protect it. Over-abstraction and contamination challenge food security, ecosystems and safe drinking water and put the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at risk.

Water integrity is a measure of the health of the sector and necessary to address low capacity, corruption and lack of joined up thinking. It promotes decision-making that is fair and inclusive, transparent, accountable and free of corruption.

There is no victim-free corruption. It is a crime against all of humanity and especially affects the poor and disadvantaged: women, children, minorities and those who rely on land and water for their livelihoods.

Failing to meet needs

Water integrity can be seen as the equivalent of good health for the sector. Just as good health is more than the absence of disease, an ethical approach to the sustainable use of water resources is more than the absence of corruption.

Currently the human rights to water and sanitation are not being met. In 2015, there were 633 million people without an improved drinking water source, while only 37 per cent of the population in the least developed countries had access to improved sanitation.

Water for agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of global water withdrawals. Agriculture feeds the world, but it also pollutes water and the cost is borne by downstream users.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), water consumption for energy production is rising four times more rapidly than water withdrawal, partly due to biofuel production. Hydropower development has been associated with unethical decision-making; many communities have lost their land to dams and not been adequately compensated.

Governance needs strengthening

The human stewardship of water requires a quality without which there can be no trust and no common progress. That quality is integrity.

The capacity of governments and institutions to resolve water problems is hampered by fragmented responsibilities. Water is considered to be a ‘sector’ but water for food, for energy and for human consumption fall under separate mandates.

The Delft Statement on Water Integrity, adopted in June 2013 by the Water Integrity Forum, declares water to be a fundamental resource for sustainable development, and essential to eradicate poverty, secure water, food and energy and maintain life-sustaining ecosystems. The primary cause of water crises is not resource scarcity but governance failures, while lack of integrity is a cause of lost lives, stalled development, wasted talent and degraded resources.

Improving governance and reducing corruption are therefore critical to meeting global commitments, notably the human rights to water and sanitation and the SDGs. These also encompasses river basin management and environmental concerns; subsectors that are vulnerable to corruption and in need of protection.

The OECD has adopted a set of principles on water governance to improve water policy, design and implementation and these have been endorsed by 70 public, private and non-profit organizations.

The private sector also needs to address governance issues. The UN has established a CEO Water Mandate as a public–private initiative that commits companies to transparency and disclosure in order to hold themselves accountable. It includes guidance for companies on measuring water performance, assessing river basins where they operate, and understanding water-related risks, impacts and opportunities. By December 2015 the mandate had been endorsed by 144 companies worldwide.

Good governance in the water sector involves the informal as well as the formal sector; the public, the media and civil society have a vital role in monitoring the protection of water resources.

There is a need to raise awareness so that citizens understand the extent of the damage that corruption causes in their lives and for future generations. Building a consensus within countries to promote integrity and expose corruption is essential to protect the environment and ecosystems, build safe and sustainable cities and ensure that freshwater is available for all its many uses for generations to come.

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Key Messages

  • Water integrity is a measure of the health of the sector.
  • Corruption undermines the global ability to provide food, water and energy security, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and to adapt to climate change.
  • Corruption most harms children, women, the poor and the powerless and can be seen as a crime against all of humanity.
  • Failures of governance are responsible for most water crises globally.
  • Water governance with greater integrity will achieve transparency, accountability and participation– and address corruption.

Recommendations

  • Explicitly recognize and address the lack of integrity and the presence of corruption as major concerns in water governance and management. Attempts to improve water governance and management will fail if these concerns are not addressed. Water integrity requires deep social, political and economic changes and therefore needs to be tackled explicitly, systematically and over long periods, by taking into account the root causes of corruption.
  • Strengthen water integrity in order to support the implementation of the SDGs and ensure the fulfilment of the human rights to water and sanitation. Integrity in water governance is a prerequisite to achieving not only the SDG water goals but also those to end hunger, promote sustainable agriculture, achieve gender equality and develop reliable sustainable energy sources. It is essential for building safe and sustainable cities and for protecting the environment and ecosystems. The OECD water governance principles, resulting from an inclusive multi-stakeholder process, can support this. They specifically highlight the need for integrity and the importance of TAP as essential elements of more effective and equitable governance that builds trust and engagement.

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