By 2050, up to 3.4 billion people could be living in water-stressed environments in Asia.
A survey of 48 countries in the Asia-Pacific region assessed the state and characteristics of water governance in the region.
The OECD intends to elaborate on its Water Governance Initiative by establishing a methodology to “measure the impacts and results of good governance on water management and socio-economic related outcomes”.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published a policy paper on the growing challenge of water security in the Asia-Pacific region as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the lack of access to water and sanitation, expanding inequalities between communities.
The authors of the paper, which is titled ‘Water Governance in Asia-Pacific,’ also note that the region is expected to experience a rise in water demand stemming from economic development, demographic trends like urbanization, and climate change. The publication reports that by 2050, up to 3.4 billion people could be living in water-stressed environments in Asia.
Bringing light to good forms of water governance, the report finds that managing trade-offs is positively correlated to water-related disaster resilience.
To address these challenges, the report draws attention to a set of principles for water governance devised in 2012. The OECD Principles on Water Governance explain that governance could be either progressive or regressive for water security, depending on its approach. According to the principles, “governance is good if it can help to solve key water challenges,” in particular by combining bottom-up and top-down processes. However, the principles caution, water governance is considered “bad if it generates undue transaction costs and does not respond to place-based needs.”
Based on three overarching pillars – effectiveness, efficiency, and trust and engagement – 48 countries in the Asia-Pacific region were surveyed to determine the state and characteristics of water governance in the region. The findings indicate that all 48 countries are equipped with a water policy framework, and 73% of those countries have a clear, dedicated water law in place. In addition, 81% of countries in the region have initiated a River Basin Organization, a form of water policy coordination that ensures cooperative water management among multi-level stakeholders. Within 77% of countries surveyed, evidence of vertical coordination exists, and 79% of countries surveyed had horizontal coordination mechanisms in place for water-related policies.
The survey also uncovered gaps. For instance, a lack of funding weakens implementation of water-related policies. The limited resources allocated to water-related policies are especially concerning given the need for water and sanitation to control the spread of COVID-19, placing individuals with lack of access to safe water and sanitation at an elevated risk.
The survey also found that only a few countries within the region are using water policy instruments to manage trade-offs. For instance, 79% of the countries surveyed did not have a policy instrument in place for groundwater extraction monitoring or allocation. The authors note that seven of the world’s largest groundwater abstractors are from the Asia-Pacific region, and they predict that the region will represent 86% of groundwater extraction by 2050, highlighting the urgency of effective policy instruments.
Bringing light to good forms of water governance, the report finds that managing trade-offs is positively correlated to higher water-related disaster resilience as well as high rural water security. Their findings reveal that countries exhibiting the highest score for disaster resilience as it relates to water have adopted ground water extraction allocation and monitoring schemes. Another example of good governance, the adoption of mechanisms that facilitate water finance, is linked to higher instances of water security in urban regions. Countries that have developed and implemented charges directed towards abstraction and pollution demonstrated high scores of water security in urban regions. Moreover, countries that integrated key performance indicators into their governance approach to monitor and assess sanitation and water services performances demonstrated a higher score in urban water security.
The OECD intends to elaborate on its Water Governance Initiative by establishing a methodology to “measure the impacts and results of good governance on water management and socio-economic related outcomes.” With the proposed methodology, a clear connection can be made as to how water governance can actualize ideal water management and desired socio-economic outputs.
The policy paper was produced in March 2021 as a contribution to the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2020. The report was launched during the OECD Water Days. [Publication: Water Governance in Asia-Pacific] [OECD Water Governance Programme]
This article was authored by Rukiya Abdulle, Generation 2030 and SDGs Student Associate, IISD.