Water governance

How to make sure that water security reach everyone? Water governance is the key to sustainability and peace among all users and stakeholders around a vital element of life, like water.

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IWRN promotes a special Dialogue on Water Governance. Experts from all over the world met in Fortaleza, Brazil to share experiences and frontier knowledge on ways to reach institutional arrangements for water management.

The Dialogue on Water Governance 2015 (DWG 2015) was organized by the Inter-American Water Resources Network (IWRN), in conjunction with the Water Research Commission of South Africa (WRC), the National Water Agency of Brazil (ANA), the Brazilian Geological Survey (CPRM), the Brazilian Energy Regulatory Agency (ANEEL), the Ceará State Secretariat of Water Resources (SRH), the Organization of American States (OAS), UNDP Cap-Net, the United Nations University – Institute for Water, Environment, and Health (UNU-INWEH), the Water Center for Latin America and the Caribbean (CAALCA), the Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (AIDIS), and the host, IHAB - Instituto Hidroambiental Águas do Brasil.

The DWG 2015 was held in Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil, on November 23-26, 2015, as an event within the O2 International Encounter for Nature, organized by IHAB - Instituto Hidroambiental Águas do Brasil, a renowned NGO in North-East Brazil that focuses on the promotion of sustainability and adaptation of social and economic processes to the realities of the arid and semi-arid regions in Brazil. The first three days, the DWG 2015 will host a discussion on six (6) themes and a plenary panel discussion on Water Governance and Security. Finally, on November 26, there will be a Regional Consultation on Water Security for Latin America and the Caribbean facilitated by the UN-Water Task Force on Water Security.

Under the main theme of “Water security: Equity in Water Governance in Semi-Arid regions”, the DWG 2015 focused around two central issues in water governance: Equity and water security, pertaining mostly to semi-arid regions in both developed and developing countries. The aims are, first, to create robust dialogue related to fresh water governance; and second, to define and frame the level and context of issues in the local and international debates; and third, to raise the level of awareness and discussions at the local and international levels to mobilize partnerships to develop comprehensive research programs covering different aspects of water governance.

The DWG 2015 was structured around six (6) seminars addressing the following themes:

1. National development planning and institutional reforms needed for a water-secure future;

2. The role of water pricing in achieving equity and water security;

3. Sustaining environmental flows for water, food, and energy security;

4. Equity and water tenure in water allocations;

5. Water security and regional cooperation;

6. Capacity development and networks for improved governance leading to water-energy-food security.

Each seminar highlighted diverse experiences with contributions from experts from around the world. The main premise in these seminars is that equitable allocations can ensure a secure water future in scarcity conditions and increased competition for water, while promoting gender and inter-generational involvement, and equity in allocation.

The DWG 2015 is a follow on to the Freshwater Governance Conference held in South Africa 2012 and the Seventh Inter-American Dialogue on Water Management (D7) held in Medellin, Colombia, in 2011.

In 2012, the Freshwater Governance Conference gathered more than 500 scientists and practitioners representing 29 countries from five continents, and who converged around the topic of freshwater governance for sustainable development. The conference was conceptualized and hosted by the South African Department of Water Affairs (DWA) and the Water Research Commission (WRC), and included 64 paper presentations, 16 workshops, and 3 water law debates.

The Inter-American Water Resources Network (IWRN) and the Government of Colombia organized the Seventh Inter-American Dialogue on Water Management (D7) in Medellin. It gathered more than 1500 water management stakeholders ranging from government officials, private sector leaders, civil society and water users organizations, as well as multi-lateral financing entities and international organizations from the UN and OAS systems coming from all the countries of the Americas. These stakeholder groups held a week-long interactive discussion around the inter-generational compromise needed to manage water sustainably, including topics of governance, water, food and energy nexus, reflecting on commitments and agreements regarding water management in a changing environment, and consolidating the proposals and regional positions presented at the World Water Forum to held in France (2012) and the Rio+20 World Summit in Brazil. Likewise, the D7 formulated proposals to establish a network of observatories on different topics related to water management in the Americas.

The Regional Consultation on Water Security conducted by the UN-Water Task Force on Water Security aims to achieve a better understanding of the concept of water security and identification of priority water security issues in the specific context of Latin America and the Caribbean; identify linkages between water security in the Latin America and Caribbean region, the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda; provide recommendations for UN-Water on how it might assist the countries of the region in addressing key water security issues; and to formulate recommendations for the countries of the region to help them address key water security issues.

The DWG 2015 will involve academics, policy makers and water management implementers and networks to engage in discussing contemporary approaches, lessons learned and the framing the new questions for the 21st century challenges in water security with a special emphasis on semi-arid regions. These Dialogues should allow for new ideas that go beyond academic exchange for a future that we dream of, nurtured and developed through a water lens capable of bringing all related issues to its protection, management and use.

Simply put, governance is defined by the political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place, and which directly or indirectly affect the use, development and management of water resources and the delivery of water services at different levels of society. Importantly, water is part of broader social, political and economic developments affected by decisions outside of the water sector.

Equally, Water Security according to the UN-Water Analytical Brief which serves as foundation for a consultation process is defined as: “the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability”. The Brief also emphasizes the key role of water governance as “essential to achieving water security, and requires well-designed and empowered institutions (…) institutional, legal and regulatory support and capacity for change, adaptive management structures, new forms of relationships, and multilayered models capable of integrating complex natural and social dimensions. Governance structures must be adapted to local conditions and needs, applied at various levels so that they mutually reinforce and complement one another. It also shares the vision of the Focus of the Water Governance and Security Dialogues since it looks at water security as encapsulating “complex and interconnected challenges and highlights water’s centrality for achieving a larger sense of security, sustainability, development and human well-being”.

In semi-arid regions, freshwater resources are a limiting factor for development. In such regions, the allocation of water resources between competing users is a fine balancing act for ensuring water security and hence the need for an integrated approach, known as Integrated water resources management (IWRM). Equitable allocation of water resources needs to be defined in national priorities. While many countries already recognize water management as a priority, there are numerous other drivers in practice that determine how water is distributed; infrastructure capital, development imperatives that might not allocate water to the highest value, job creation, among others.

At the interface of economics, politics and environmental protection efforts, the management and distribution of water resources is one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century. Scarcity of and inadequate access to water are exacerbated by external pressures such as population growth, urbanization, expansion of economic activities, and climate change. These sources of stress pose severe risks for the livelihood and economic security of many segments of society now and in the future, especially the poor, despite numerous efforts implemented towards recycling, reusing and conserving water in many of its applications in industrial processes, energy generation, and agricultural water use.

However, the escalating demand continues and is already exceeding the available supply of resources in some areas. Although innovative technologies exist to enhance the availability of fresh water sources like rainwater harvesting, desalination technologies, fog harvesting as well as large transfer schemes from water rich parts of the same country or between countries to the drier parts, these options come at high social, environmental and economic costs.

Despite this clear scarcity, decisions around access to water are largely dependent on how these resources are governed and consequently managed. Governance systems, determining who gets what water, when and how, and deciding who has the right to water and related services. Who makes these decisions and at what level, who pays for it and who decides how much, what systems are in place to ensure equity and fairness in these allocation decisions and who is responsible for putting these systems in place and ensure compliance and recourse. These role players are not limited to ‘government,’ but include local authorities, private sector and civil society. They also relate to a range of issues intimately connected to water, from health and food security, to economic development, land use and the protection of the natural ecosystems on which our water resources depend.

Centralized decision-making, fragmented policies and jurisdictions for managing water, disjuncture between the policies and lack of monitoring and compliance with them, the overlap and unclear mandates of different role players, unfair pricing and lack of transparency are some of the common symptoms of bad governance.

These dialogues will be with and between different scholars, policy makers and implementers dealing with different aspects relating to equity, water allocation and water security.

IWRN issues a call for hosting the Dialogue and other events from time to time. Please contact the IWRN Secretariat if you or your organization is interesting in partnering with IWRN to host an event or meeting that is important in your region or country.


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