The first ever forum on integrity in the water sector jointly organised by the Water Integrity Network (WIN), UNESCO – IHE Institute for Water Education and the Water Governance Centre (WGC), has found that water shortages in most countries are not due to resource scarcity but due to governance failures.
In a statement issued after a three-day forum on water integrity in Delft, The Netherlands from June 5, 2013 to June 7, 2013, the over 100 participants from 60 organisations cutting across all continents, agreed “Fragmented institutions obstruct accountability in a sector with high investment and aid flows, making it particularly vulnerable to corruption.”
According to the participants who included policy makers, regulators, investors, researchers, the private sector, non-governmental organisations amongst others, the lack of water-related integrity incurs huge cost for societies, in lost lives, stalling development, wasted talent and degraded resources.
Citing the report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the 6th World Water Forum, participants agreed they both linked effective governance to integrity and control of corruption, adding that the five transformative shifts identified by the High Level Panel can only be achieved with good and equitable management of water resources and the services these provide to all societies.
Held with the theme “Extend the base, Increase the pace”, the forum also agreed eliminating corruption in the water sector and building integrity into related policies and action plans will be essential to the ambitions in target 6 and its sub-targets a-d as stated in the High-Level Panel’s report.
After taking stock of water-related integrity issues during the three days, the forum affirmed that water integrity includes, but extends beyond, control of corruption – “It encompasses the integrity of water resources, as well as the integrity of people, institutions, and processes.”
Participants were also unanimous that integrity challenges come in many forms, involving financial transactions, manipulation of knowledge and information, gender discrimination, illegal or irresponsible water abstraction and waste discharge, as well as biased institutions, rules and processes that favour power and short-term interests over equity, fairness, societal welfare and long-term sustainability.
While agreeing water management is complex, capital-intense and often involves monopolies, providing systemic incentives for corruption, participants at the forum also identified that decision making is dispersed across policy domains and jurisdictions, thus allowing rampant exploitation of loopholes.
“These characteristics create the need to actively promote integrity across all levels, local, national, regional and global. Free public access to relevant, reliable and consistent data and information, including legal documents, is recognised as key. Clear and comprehensive results frameworks combined with transparency form the basis of accountability and stakeholder participation,” the jointly issued statement stressed.
Participants further agreed promoting water integrity requires expanding the base, recognising the fundamental interconnectedness between water, food production and energy supply; between water, sanitation and human health, especially in rural areas; and between infrastructure, resource quality and poverty in urban areas, while expanding the base also refers to more inclusive water management.
Also, that multi-stakeholder approaches are crucial to ensuring water integrity, bringing the debate to weak stakeholders such as the poor, the strong but often disengaged business community, and including the environment and future generations as the ‘silent’ stakeholders.
The forum stressed that promoting water integrity also requires increasing the pace, recognising that complex new challenges posed by fast population growth, urbanisation, rapid destruction of productive aquatic ecosystems and climate change, all threaten to overwhelm existing structures.
Emphasising that large-scale funding becoming available to pay for climate change adaptation and ecosystem services creates additional integrity challenges, the forum stated that increasing the pace includes efforts to scale up systems to provide data and evidence on water-related integrity, establishing effective regulatory bodies and overcoming institutional fragmentation.
“It also requires building trust between stakeholders, raising awareness through credible information and developing professional capacity based on clear codes of conduct,” the forum’s statement said.
By Edmund Smith-Asante, back from The Netherlands