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Water, the Great Enabler

This story is part of IPS coverage of World Water Day, observed on March 22

Girls by well. Credit: GWP

Girls by well. Credit: GWP

STOCKHOLM, Mar 21 2017 (IPS) - I listened to a Haitian farmer share solutions with neighbouring water users on how best to allocate scarce water resources. I learned about the resolution of inter-village water conflicts after sitting in a longboat for hours on the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh. On the dry floodplains of Ethiopia, I heard how local solutions benefitted women and outperformed ‘imported’ ones.

These experiences taught me that one person’s water problem can’t be solved without involving others. I learned that poor water management is a barrier to development. I began to understand that water problems require not just ‘hard’ solutions such as infrastructure but also ‘soft’ ones such as community participation, unbiased information, and strong institutions. I also became convinced that research and knowledge contribute to smart policies and practices.

What can you do to make water an enabler of development? Assert your role as a stakeholder, advocate for an end to fragmented responsibility for water, insisting on an integrated approach to water management across all sectors – agriculture, energy, tourism, education, transport, health, etc.
Every March 22nd is World Water Day, when people are made aware of the urgent need to provide clean water to 800 million people who lack it and sanitation to 2.5 billion people who have inadequate facilities. It is a day when this violation of human dignity is, rightly, thrust into our faces, urging us to make water resources a top development priority.

My experiences taught me that solving water problems – whether floods or drought or overuse or scarcity – require more than technical fixes. Water problems are usually problems of management or governance: having (or not having) water policies, laws, financing, and institutions that are transparent, accountable, and integrated across sectors. Without inclusive governance processes, there will be little if any agreement on how to solve the problems.

There isn’t a global water crisis; rather, there are multiple water crises around the globe. Water problems manifest themselves in local communities and need to be solved locally. But the solutions are similar no matter the locality: stakeholder inclusion, cross-sector cooperation, institutional capacity building, reliable information, transparent decision-making, benefit-sharing, and, of course, technical expertise and financial resources. These are governance solutions.

Fortunately, this is recognised in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” Aside from the targets for safe water and adequate sanitation, other targets include water quality, water use, a cross-sector (integrated) approach, ecosystem protection, and even transboundary cooperation.

Those targets require massive changes in the way we manage water resources. If we keep doing it the way we always have – usually a fragmented approach with each sector acting unilaterally – then SDG 6 and all water-dependent SDGs risk not being achieved. Water is a key enabler to reach the ambitions of the SDGs.

How is the global community held accountable to deliver on the SDGs? Who is the global community if solutions are mostly local? Surely different levels of government are involved. But so are other actors such as civil society, including faith-based organisations that work at the grassroots, and the private sector.

Rudolph Cleveringa, Executive Secretary, Global Water Partnership

Rudolph Cleveringa, Executive Secretary, Global Water Partnership

What Global Water Partnership (GWP) wants to say – after 20 years of improving water governance – is that one of the single, most effective ways to hold governments and society accountable is to build broad, diverse, influential multi-stakeholder partnerships. These partnerships are vital to the large-scale transformational change required by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a fact recognised by SDG #17: “Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”

One essential component of those global partnerships must be a ‘bottom-up’ mechanism for ensuring that local communities and businesses are heard at national, regional, and international levels. Stakeholder inclusion is paramount to managing water for sustainable economic growth. GWP has consistently called on governments to invest in water by strengthening institutions and financing infrastructure. Foreign aid alone cannot do it. The billions of dollars raised pale in comparison to the trillions needed. Fortunately, the business community is beginning to answer the call of mobilising investment finance.

What can you do to make water an enabler of development? Assert your role as a stakeholder, advocate for an end to fragmented responsibility for water, insisting on an integrated approach to water management across all sectors – agriculture, energy, tourism, education, transport, health, etc. You can also call on your political leaders at all levels to deliver sustainable water management now that the SDGs have made it a political priority.

There’s enough water for the world’s growing needs, but only if it is managed well. That’s why GWP created the SDG Preparedness Facility: to mobilise our partners to support countries in the implementation of water-related SDGs.

Good water governance is the foundation for achieving food and energy security, poverty reduction, creating social stability, reducing disaster risk, and promoting peace. With empowered, active, multi-stakeholder partnerships that are passionate about contributing holistic and lasting solutions, we will get to water security. Join us to get there!

Rudolph Cleveringa is Executive Secretary at Global Water Partnership

 
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