On 2 January, 2019, I stepped into the WIN offices in Berlin, and into my new role as the Executive Director of this important network. I am very excited to have joined the WIN team and to be able to contribute to the efforts to improve integrity and reduce corruption in the water sector across the world. I step into this role as someone with over twenty years of experience in the water sector, in government, as a consultant, and in the NGO sector. Throughout all of those roles, my commitment to addressing issues of water governance has been driven by the question: How do my actions benefit Mrs Mkhwanazi?
Mrs Mkhwanazi is a middle-aged woman, living in rural KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. She looks after a number of children – some her own, some grandchildren without parents, or with absent parents – with little to support her except a piece of land and her own hard work. There are other women, just like her, in Myanmar, Ecuador, India – poor women struggling to make ends meet and to look after their families. Mrs Mkhwanazi is my lodestone – is what I am doing in the water sector making her life better?
On 28 July 2010 the United Nations General Assembly recognised the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. In 2015, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 6 focuses on water, which also contributes significantly the successful achievement of a number of the other goals, including those pertaining to Zero Hunger (2), Good Health and Well-Being (3), Sustainable Cities and Communities (11). At that time, 844 million people did not have a basic water service, and 2.1 billion people did not have access to water on their premises, available when needed and free from contamination (what is called ‘safely managed drinking water’). The sanitation figures were far worse. Now, demand for limited water resources continues to grow, and in many areas, water pollution is also growing.
Corruption and lack of integrity in the water sector have enormous negative impacts on our ability to deliver on the SDGs and to meet the human rights to water and food across the world for poor women and men. The impacts come through, amongst other things, public funds being siphoned off into private hands; water authorities turning a blind eye to over-abstraction of water and high levels of pollution, encouraged to do so through ‘gifts’ and political pressure; capture of water regulators by powerful vested interests; collusion, particularly in the construction sector, to push up prices; delivery of sub-standard services in order to increase profit, and demands for payments, including sextortion, for people to access water and sanitation services.
Corruption and lack of integrity in the water sector benefit those with enough power and money to bend the rules. Mrs Mkhwanazi is the one who bears the cost.
I am delighted that one of our themes for 2019 is gender. It is important that we understand better the different impacts of corruption and lack of integrity on poor women and men, and on other particularly marginalised groups such as people with disabilities.
In my short time with WIN, I have understood the remarkable range of partners that we have across the world, from big, global players to country specific NGOs. I have met and been impressed by the small, passionate team based in Berlin, some of whom have been around for a while, some of whom are relatively new to WIN. I have begun to understand the excellent work that has been done by the WIN team and its partners over the past decade, and the size of the challenges that still remain.
Currently we are in the third year of the implementation of our 2017 – 2022 strategy. 2019 will see us conducting a mid-term evaluation which will enable us to refocus our work in the second half of the strategy period, looking at how, from the strong base that we now have, we can build the reach and impact of the network. This requires us to enhance the work that we do in conducting research on integrity issues in the water sector, raising global awareness of the impacts of corruption and lack of integrity, developing tools to address the challenges, understanding better the impacts of corruption, including through a gender lens, and working on the ground with our partners to build capacity amongst civil society, government and the private sector. I have no doubt, from what I have seen so far, that we are well-placed to do so.
I hope to have the opportunity to get to know all of our partners and donors in the coming months, to support the creation of new partnerships, to build on the current programme of WIN, and to see how, together we can grow our impact in the water sector. Mrs Mhkwanazi is counting on us, we need to do more. In the meantime, I invite you to be in touch with me as I come up to speed on the most pressing issues and on the opportunities that lie ahead of us.