Integrated water governance

We believe that good integrated water governance can help to successfully respond to the water challenges we face now and into the future. We believe there is always positive role that water managers can play.

What is water governance?

The OECD define water governance as “… the set of rules, practices, and processes through which decisions for the management of water resources and services are taken and implemented, and decision-makers are held accountable.” The SIWI Water Governance Facility have a very similar definition“ [water governance]… refers to the political, social, economic and administrative systems in place that influence waters use and management. Essentially, who gets what water, when and how.”

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the same can be said for water governance. OECD has developed a good water governance framework considering 12 principles individually and together. Water managers need to understand that if even one governance principle is not considered, water systems can fail.

Figure 1. OECD principles of water governance (OECD, 2015, OECD Principles on Water Governance)

Why governance matters?

The planet is under an unprecedented level of water stress, which is expected to get worse. Currently 40% of people live is water stressed basins. This is expected to increase to 55% by 2050. Billions of people do not have access to clean water and sanitation and many that do are supplied by aging infrastructure. Further, unsustainable overuse and pollution of aquifers is common globally. All the while climate change is expected to make conditions hotter and drier, and extreme climate events, such as floods and droughts, will become more frequent and intense. Water governance will become more important to ensure everyone receives basic water and sanitation services in line with their human rights.

Even with this bleak outlook, studies indicate that water crises throughout the world are often crises of governance. The water sector intrinsically is a quagmire of stakeholders and interfaces each coming with their own political, social and economic nuances. Water governance needs to integrate different levels of government, consider the nexuses between the health, environment, food, energy, spatial planning, and regional development, manage cross boundaries water bodies, and consider different types of water, including potable water, irrigation, sanitation, hygiene, recycled water, storm water and environmental water.

Further, engaging with community and stakeholders is a key principle of water governance and vital to ensure everyone has agency with their water services in line with their human rights. More and more, poor water governance will more be highlighted and can no longer be accepted.

Who cares about good governance?

Globally, different service delivery models exist in different circumstances, varying in the level of central government control. An approach that would work in the public utilities of the US may not work in the private utilities of the UK. This spectrum, though not quite as broad, also exists in Australia.

We recognise the differences, but also the similarities, between the community governance approach applied to state owned utilities and the regulatory approach applied to private water sectors. In short, water governance and good water governance principles are crucial for the delivery of water services in any circumstance.

Outcomes of water governance

When it goes well

We are proud to be a partner in the Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO). The AWDO monitors the water security in 49 Asian and Pacific countries across five key dimensions. Through the AWDO, we have been able to show that better water governance leads to better water security.

And when it doesn’t

The heavily publicised Cape Town water crises in South Africa was a period of severe water shortage in the Western Cape region, mostly affecting the City of Cape Town. While the water crises in Cape Town was catalysed by a drought, poor water governance clearly played a role in delaying any emergency response and significantly exacerbated the impact to Cape Town and the agricultural economy.

Figure 2. Water security and governance (Asian Development Bank, Asian water development outlook 2016: Strengthening water security in Asia and the Pacific, Mandaluyong City, Philippines: Asian Development Bank, 2016)