© Khalid Rayhanshawon

Climate change adaptation cannot be effective without good water governance

Lessons learned from the Adaptation Futures 2016 summit

Climate change is partly responsible for a steady increase in in the number of people affected by water-related disasters —already between 100 and 200 million people per year— especially in urban areas. It is essential to take action and communicate transparently about our plans to reduce the impact of disaster. Without transparency or when action is hindered by corruption, trust is eroded. Each catastrophe is a costly and dreadful reminder of a failure to act appropriately.


Water integrity and climate change adaptation go hand in hand

‘The effects of climate change are mostly felt through water-related disasters.’ confirmed Peter Glas, Chair of the OECD Water Governance Initiative, at the Adaptation Futures 2016 summit in Rotterdam, during a session on building trust and engagement for climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. He continued: ‘Integrated water management and climate adaptation cannot be effective without good water governance. So, good water governance is key to developing resilience and should be prioritized.’

And, water integrity, trust, and engagement are fundamental to good water governance. The ways in which countries move forward to increase integrity —for example by using the OECD principles on water governance— are important lessons for our network of water integrity practitioners.


In practice multi-stakeholder engagement and communication make a difference

‘Investments [for climate change adaptation] run in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Most of these are water-related. Trust and engagement are key factors if we want to spend these sums of money effectively, efficiently and equitably.’

Peter Glas, Chair of the OECD Water Governance Initiative, at the Adaptation Futures 2016 summit in Rotterdam, May 2016

At the summit session, we looked at examples of adaptive water governance programmes and reforms in several countries. Participants acknowledged that  it can be difficult to get all stakeholders around the table at the right time. Time and budgets are often limited and engagement can appear to be costly. Still, they all highlighted real multi-stakeholder engagement as a condition of success. We need a change of attitude towards engagement. We need to make sure local solutions and citizen perspectives are consistently taken into account, despite the challenges.

For example, multi-stakeholder engagement contributed to the development of effective strategies for climate adaptation and resilience in flood management programmes in which GWP was involved, in urban areas in Namibia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan.

A combination of bottom-up and top-down approaches can be effective. Roles and responsibilities must be defined. Information must be centralized and shared. Participants agreed that trust is built primarily through transparent communication.

In South Africa, authorities are establishing Catchment Management Agencies. These agencies have the advantage of better involving local communities in the decision-making processes. They also create clearer accountability by separating policy, regulation and implementation functions.

The GOWIN programme in Ethiopia aims to structurally include water integrity in sector development. The programme pushes for the establishment of a national dialogue process on water governance. It encourages communication and knowledge sharing on the subject of water integrity, and supports local water suppliers to initiate integrity change processes within their organizations.

Water sector institutions in the Netherlands at different levels are developing the National Flood Protection programme with the OECD principles on water governance at its core. They have already implemented successful engagement and awareness-raising campaigns. The way the programme reflects the OECD principles will now be assessed in detail, using a new methodology that is currently being developed.

This type of assessment is an important tool to address one of the weaknesses we have seen in many country cases of water sector reform. Often, good practices are not followed-up or examined for sustainability. Information is patchy and tracking results is difficult. Monitoring must be strengthened. The OECD Water Governance Initiative is pushing to develop indicators and collect more good practices on the long term. WIN will continue to take part and learn from these developments.

What can you do?

You can take simple steps to launch an integrity change process. Here are the tools to help you.

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