Håkan Tropp
Oriana Romano
Antonio Canamas Catala

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20 March 2018
Implementation of Water Governance Makes a Difference
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
story highlights

The OECD is launching a report dedicated to supporting the implementation of improved governance as set out by the OECD Principles on Water Governance.

The OECD Water Governance Indicator Framework seeks to assess the state of play of water governance policy frameworks.

The Water Governance Initiative has collected more than 50 evolving water governance practices that facilitate peer-to-peer dialogue and learning.

Good water governance is critical to sustainable development because of its pivotal role for economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. An increasing number of countries, developed and developing countries alike, are facing mounting challenges to manage too little, too much and too polluted waters, and to sustain universal coverage of drinking water and sanitation services.

The effects of climate change, economic growth, urbanization and growing populations, among others, continue to drive water resources demand, availability, and quality, now and in the future. Accessible and high-quality freshwater is a limited and highly variable resource in space and time. Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD) projections show that 40% of the world’s population currently lives in water-stressed river basins, and that water demand will rise by 55% by 2050. Over-abstraction and contamination of aquifers worldwide is posing significant challenges to food security, the health of ecosystems, and safe drinking water supply. In 2050, 240 million people are expected to remain without access to clean water, and 1.4 billion without access to basic sanitation, despite global efforts to tackle these shortages.

The role of water governance for improved water policy design and implementation is now undisputed and will be key in addressing water challenges. Water runs across all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and addressing water challenges of too much, too little, or too polluted water will be critical for achieving them.

At the World Water Forum in Brasilia, Brazil, on 21 March, OECD is launching a new report dedicated to supporting the implementation of improved governance as set out by the OECD Principles on Water Governance. The report, titled ‘Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator framework and evolving practices,’ presents two tools to be voluntarily used by governments and other stakeholders to promote water governance implementation.

Assessing the state of play of governance to identify needs for change

Assessing the water governance system in place is key to identify what works well, what can hinder effective water policy design and implementation, and what can be improved towards more efficient, effective, and inclusive water governance, as argued by the OECD Principles on Water Governance.

This is not an easy task since there is neither a unique way to measure the complexity that the concept of water governance entails, nor a finite number of indicators that can capture the variety of water governance dimensions, along with the diversity of political, historical, legal, administrative, geographic, and economic circumstances.

With the aim of supporting interested countries, regions, basins, and cities with the implementation of the Principles, the OECD Water Governance Indicator Framework seeks to assess the state of play of water governance policy frameworks (what), institutions (who) and instruments (how), and their needed improvements over time.

The OECD Water Governance Indicator Framework is composed of 36 water governance indicators and a checklist containing 100+ questions on water governance.

It is conceived as a voluntary self-assessment tool grounded on a sound, bottom-up and multi-stakeholder approach. It aims to stimulate a transparent, neutral, open, inclusive and forward-looking dialogue across stakeholders on the current water governance systems in place and future priorities and actions. The OECD Water Governance Indicator Framework is intended to be applicable across governance scales (local, basin, national, etc…) and water functions (water resources management, water services provisioning and water disaster risk reduction). It is composed of 36 water governance indicators (input and process), and a checklist containing 100+ questions on water governance. It is complemented by an Action Plan for discussion on future improvements over the short, medium, and long run.

Sharing water governance stories: Learning on what works

Water governance practices or stories help policy makers, practitioners and other stakeholders learn from each other and identify pitfalls to avoid when designing and implementing water policies. Learning from practices is about gaining insights from real examples, looking at what works (or has worked), and seeing how others have dealt with challenges. It can also be about learning what does not work, and what successful stakeholders do differently.

With the aim of supporting countries with the implementation of the OECD Principles on Water Governance, the Water Governance Initiative has collected more than 50 evolving water governance practices. These are meant to help policy makers, practitioners, and other stakeholders learn from each other and identify pitfalls to avoid when designing and implementing water policies. As such, they are a vehicle for peer-to-peer dialogue and learning and can help governments and stakeholders move from vision to action.

These practices illustrate how developed and developing countries are attempting to design and implement effective, efficient, and inclusive water governance systems. They were analyzed to showcase how water governance works in practice across geographical contexts (across five continents), scales (international, national, regional, basin, local), time frames (from less than a year to more than ten years), the type of water stakeholders involved and water functions. Three critical elements are common to the success of all these practices: stakeholder engagement, financing, and political will. The practices show that improved water governance generates positive welfare effects on social and environmental well-being and sustained economic growth.

Governments and stakeholders are invited to make the most of the proposed indicator framework for collectively identifying policies and strategies that can better manage water challenges. Although much remains to be done to propose a comprehensive framework for assessing water governance, these tools provide a first, concrete achievement that contribute to the development of better water policies and consequently, better lives.

Information on the pilot studies of the indicators, and access to all the water governance stories can be found here.

The co-authors of the ‘OECD (2018) Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator framework and evolving practices’ also supported this article.


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