The first ever international forum on water integrity dubbed Water Integrity Forum, takes place in Delft, the Netherlands from June 5, 2013 to June 7, 2013.
Co-organised by the Water Integrity Network (WIN), Water Governance Centre (WGC) and UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, the three-day conference is meant to address the need for extending the reach of water integrity action.
Specifically, the main objectives of the forum are to take stock of progress in addressing corruption issues in the water sector, share knowledge, approaches and experiences, and build alliances to address integrity challenges in the water sector.
It is expected to bring together co-convening partners and various important stakeholders such as policy makers/regulators, investors, private sector, NGOs and other water professionals from different continents and with different backgrounds.
According to the organisers, participants will share theories, approaches, cases, tools, lessons, views and ideas about improving water integrity and also engage in sessions, working groups, round-tables and an open-space.
The outcomes of the forum, the organisers say, will be the basis of a publication on Water Integrity, and will feed into other processes and events on the road to the World Water Forum in 2015.
Speaking to what informed a conference on water and integrity, the organisers in a statement said, “Water will determine what world the future generations will live in. Water is essential for people, food security, energy, environment, and for social and economic development. It underpins progress in health, equity, gender equality, well-being and economic progress in developing countries but also in the world’s most developed countries. But this precious resource is underpinned by bad governance and lack of integrity. If we want tomorrow’s generation to have sustainable access to this resource, we need to come together now.”
The three organisations jointly putting together the forum, believe that by improving governance, the world will ensure that there is a sustainable and equitable use and distribution of water, and that access to water supply and sanitation is safe.
“In most countries shortcomings are not due to shortage of water resources but due to governance failures, such as institutional fragmentation, lack of coordinated decision-making, corruption and low levels of transparency and accountability,” according to Water Integrity Network (WIN), Water Governance Centre (WGC) and UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.
“The result is that governance systems are often not able to prevent or even provide incentives for unethical behaviour and poor professional practice. Corruption is moreover all pervasive and affects all aspects of the water sector – from water resources management to drinking water services, irrigation and hydropower , it occurs in all phases – from design through construction to operation and maintenance – and it is a major factor in the global water crisis,” they maintain.
The organisers also opine that integrity issues are often at the core of conflicts around water, which are arising at local, country and international levels, adding, “Corruption is also identified as one of the major barriers towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.”
While tools have already been tested and applied such as strengthening procurement systems, consumer redress and influence, increasing accountability and transparency in water programming, public expenditure tracking, strengthening capacities and awareness among water managers, regulators, and decision-makers, the organisers see it as critical to promote evidence-based water integrity measures, hence the forum, to bring all the knowledge and experience together, as well as make space for new innovative methods to fight corruption.
Sharing his expectations and thoughts on the upcoming Water Integrity Forum, Daniel Valensuela – OIEau (International Office for Water), who is a co-convener in one of the Work Streams at the Forum and has also worked with the Global Water Partnership (GWP) Secretariat for six years, said: “this forum can clearly put the concept of integrity (and in more details, corruption, participation, transparency, information) at a high level in the agenda of future events (maybe something to think about for the General Assembly of INBO (International Network of Basin Organisations) in Brazil, Fortaleza 11 – 17 August 2013 for instance) and particularly help to put INTEGRITY in the agenda of the Korea World Water Forum – in my opinion the next WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) should not focus only on technical aspects.”
Touching on specific actions that could promote participation and transparency in the water sector, he called for the development of a handbook on practical/concrete actions, which can help governments and all bodies to go towards more integrity in water sector in different scales, as well as a set of training sessions about it and implement at least one session in every region.
Also commenting was Esther Lowe, an experienced consultant in rural WASH in Sub- Saharan Africa, who has been actively involved in the development of Work Stream 3: Rural Water Sanitation and Hygiene (Rural WASH) and Integrated Urban Water Management and Services at the Water Integrity Forum.
She believes the forum can help increase water integrity, through exchanges on new tools, best practices and learning from each other, in how accountability, transparency and integrity in the sector can be improved.
“Link the different agencies to learn from each other, as well as to make a stronger voice to deal with these matters and not focus too much on technologies and outputs, as none of them will be sustainable (both in terms of environment as well as financial) if corruption is not tackled,” she added.
On specific actions that could promote participation and transparency in the water sector, Esther Lowe suggested third party analyses, public audits, development and follow up of procedures that address inclusion, equality, transparency and accountability among others.
Speaking to current and future challenges that affect the reduction of corruption in the water sector, she said: “In many of the countries where I work, corruption starts at the top, at the national level, and goes all the way down through the system. And it goes much beyond the WASH sector, but is almost a way of living,” adding that the issue of where to start and how to make a lasting impact were factors that need attention.
Answering a question on how the forum can help increase water integrity, Aziza Akhmouch, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and also a speaker at the upcoming forum said: “First, through the identification of what works well, what does not, and critical governance obstacles hindering integrity and transparency in the water sector; Second, through the scaling up of good practices that exist on the ground; third through networking across a wide range of stakeholders to identify synergies, complementarities and build solid partnerships.”
On the specific actions that could promote participation and transparency in the water sector, Akhmouch stated: “OECD’s work is policy-driven. We produce evidence-based assessments, analytical frameworks and tools, and international comparisons to help guide decision-making and support reform processes. We have access to high profile policymakers, at different levels, in different countries and we provide a neutral and independent platform to build consensus on needed reforms and take active role.”
He mentioned concrete actions carried out by OECD to promote participation and transparency in the water sector as: Carrying out specific country reviews (as done in Mexico, Netherlands, and soon Brazil) and hosting policy fora to share experience, good practices and ways to address challenges, saying the OECD Water Governance Initiative launched on 27-28 March 2013 plays this role as a multi-stakeholder network gathering public, private and not for profit actors.
Other concrete actions were listed as development of benchmarks across countries, cities based on statistical data and evidence-based analysis such as the OECD 2011 and 2023 reports on Water Governance (across 17 OECD and 13 LAC countries) and developing policy tools and soft law (guidelines, principles, codes of conduct, checklists) and supporting their implementation.
On current and future challenges to reducing corruption in the water sector, Aziza Akhmouch said despite a variety of hydrological and institutional settings, a majority of countries share similar governance obstacles to water integrity and transparency.
“They include, but are not limited, to weak economic regulation and poorly drafted legislations which do not provide the necessary incentives or specific rules to encourage responsibility and ethics; a lack of information sharing and insufficient performance measurements that prevent integrity risks evaluations; and a lack of public concern and citizen involvement in water issues which hinder accountability and transparency,” he enumerated.