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Water Integrity: What's It All About?

Julia Bucknall's picture
June 5-7 saw the first ever international forum dedicated to Water Integrity, dedicated to promoting transparency, accountability and participation across the entire practice of water.  The Water Integrity Network and UNESC IHE were the main organisers, but more than 60 organizations were involved. The rooms were awash with ideas about how corruption or lack of accountability affect different aspects of water and how those issues can be addressed. At the end, the conference generated this statement, which they are feeding in to the SDG consultation process.  

I believe that the need for accountability increases as countries face increasingly complex water challenges. This is illustrated in the figure, which schematically illustrates development of water management and services.  Start at the bottom of the chart, at the beginning of any country's water programs. The challenge here is to bring water to people and fields and protect from floods. Here the primary requirement is  *engineering*. Once the systems begin to be developed, the challenge becomes maintaining the systems and making sure services meet consumers' needs. The main requirement is *institutions* that can operate the infrastructure well , maintain it, expand service and find ways to make sure the poor can access services.  However, as water scarcity grows or water quality deteriorates, the challenge becomes one of efficiency. Countries or basins have to find efficient ways of allocating water in a way that meets some agreed priorities or of curtailing pollution in a way that is fair and at minimal economic cost and meeting increasingly complex demands for services. For this *accountability* matters more.  

Why do I say that accountability matters more at the "efficiency" stage than at the other stages?  Certainly corruption is a huge problem at the "engineering" and "institutions" stages.  This paper finds that bidders routinely colluded to add around 15% to all bids for water and sanitation contracts in South Asia. It also reported that contractors who had paid government officials between 1 and 6% of the value of the contract for assistance winning tenders. At the conference, a participant told us about an official he had met in East Asia who carried a laminated card giving the going rate for assistance with different types of contract. Countries at all levels of income struggle with issues of this kind.  

But on issues of allocation are at their heart political challenges, because they involve sharing scarce resources and imposing costs on different parties. When water is scarce, if one party gets more water, another will get less.  If one party wants the river cleaned up, another will have to pay.  If one group of farmers wants pressurised irrigation and another doesn't hard choices have to be made. Those challenges require accountability in everything they do.  All parties need to have the best and the same information. The right stakeholders must be part of the bargaining process and have equal voice.  And the decisions must be clearly explained and properly implemented.  We cannot have water integrity when information is kept secret, when some parties are excluded  from a bargaining process, when the rules are not clear or when rules are not consistently applied.   

Comments

Accountability definitely comes from transparency, and I believe it's the citizens of the world that must push for that transparency always. Our water supplies are too important to be left to bureaucrats that forgot that the people should be in control. Well written...thank you!

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