“Cooperation is critical to achieving all water-related goals and targets.”
This is the first sentence in the latest UN World Water Development Report (WWDR) of March 2023. The importance of partnerships was also a refrain of the UN 2023 Water Conference. We’ve been hearing for years that water sector stakeholders need to stop working in silos, especially with rising threats from climate change. This is not new. Especially not for those of us managing WRM and IWRM programmes, or developing basin management plans and watershed initiatives, or setting up multi-stakeholder initiatives bringing together public, private, and civil society organisations, like the numerous initiatives already highlighted in the WWDR.
The calls for partnerships are indeed crucial. The fact that they are repeated hints at a deeper issue: effective cooperation is far from easy. No one has the secret sauce, especially for multi-stakeholder or cross-sector partners. Indeed, the WWDR summarises rightly that: “each party invariably comes with its own knowledge, perceptions, interests, positions and objectives, such that disagreements on priorities and strategies are commonplace. While partnerships and cooperation, at all levels, overwhelmingly deliver positive outcomes, in rare occasions, they can institutionalize exclusion, distort resource allocations and encourage fragmentation.”
What can we do about these challenges? How do we make our own partnerships work better for water resilience?
We believe integrity is one key ingredient of the secret sauce. And it deserves more attention for three main reasons:
- Integrity is a way to build trust and develop common ground among different partners
- Where governance structures are fractured, complex, or vulnerable to capture by more powerful partners, integrity can contribute to more balanced decision-making and limit accountability gaps
- There are high integrity risks in water and natural resource management that need to be taken into account directly for partnerships to be effective, serve the public interest, and secure funding.
Integrity can be operationalised in partnerships through the principles of Transparency, Accountability, Participation, and Anti-corruption. There are guidelines to do this in practice for water stewardship initiatives for example, where public and private interests can clash. Other crucial partnerships where integrity is essential are cross-sector partnerships for water resilience, for example those under the WEFE nexus approach.
Cross-sector collaboration: the example of the Water – Energy – Food – Ecosystems Nexus
It is likely that, as climate change threats continue to impact water and therefore lives, livelihoods and energy security, the calls for collaboration beyond the water sector will grow. The Water Energy Food Ecosystems (WEFE) Nexus approach (or Water Energy Food (WEF) Nexus) is a primary decision-making framework for cross-sector collaboration. Its purpose is to balance the different interests that compete for scarce natural resources, prevent and resolve conflicts over their use and exploitation, and secure their long-term availability (Aboelnga et al., 2018).
The WEFE Nexus approach is relevant for partners working in water resource management because it can enable a more integrated and complete appreciation of risks, prevent maladaptation, ensure sufficient leverage for change, and open doors to funding.
It is still very much a theoretical framework however. In practice, there are many challenges, and also integrity risks.
Integrity guidelines for the WEFE Nexus: strong foundations for effective partnership
“The natural resource sectors, including water, energy, food, land and ecosystems, are highly vulnerable to corruption as a result of the significant revenues associated with their exploitation and commercialisation (OECD, n.d.). Corruption in the natural resource sectors is especially high given the role played by governments in the allocation of exploitation rights to private companies. Economic interests and powerful groups on water, energy and food resources can influence decision-making processes to their benefit and away from public interest. Discretionary powers, opaque decision-making processes, and lack of transparency in lobbying activities further exacerbate the risk of corruption affecting the sustainable governance of water, energy, food, and ecosystems.”
– A Guideline to Strengthening Integrity in the Governance of the WEFE Nexus Approach
With support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), and in partnership with stakeholders of the Nexus Regional Dialogues and the Bonn Water Network, WIN has been exploring WEFE Nexus growing pains with a focus on integrity.
Embedding integrity within WEFE Nexus governance and management structures requires the adoption and implementation of measures that support transparency, participation, accountability and anti-corruption. In new guidelines, we defined ways to strengthen WEFE Nexus initiatives with integrity, in four main governance areas:
- Institutions: which centres on the integrity elements necessary for a good governance of the WEFE Nexus institutions and structures.
- Information: which refers to all the necessary measures to support a transparent and evidence-based decision-making process. This includes the production, collection and sharing of good quality data; building capacities of people, institutions and organisations; and ensuring transparency and easy access to all information.
- Investment: which outlines elements to ensure access to long-term funding for WEFE Nexus projects, and the necessary control mechanisms to ensure that funds are not mismanaged or lost to corruption.
- Implementation: which details the controls, monitoring and reporting mechanisms to guide activities within the project cycle. It centres on inclusive participation within the planning, decision-making and implementation processes.
The guidelines can also support practitioners to abide by the WEF Nexus Principles.
Download the guidelines: