I recently had the opportunity to fulfil the role of Water Governance Young Rapporteur on the Stockholm International Water Institute’s Scientific Program Committee for World Water Week 2019. The statements and arguments presented below represent my account of the information and views shared by presenters in the seminar series. Further detail regarding conclusions drawn in this seminar and World Water Week more broadly can be found in SIWI’s Overarching Conclusions document. My reflections have been inspired by a popular Swedish phrase Alla goda ting är tre (meaning ‘all good things come in threes’).

Supported by the Global Water Partnership, Asian Development Bank, SIWI Water Governance Facility and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the wider Scientific Program Committee, I coordinated, organised and delivered a seminar series titled Water Governance with and for all: Is it working? The seminar objective was to examine the complexities and requirements of inclusive water governance architecture: from design and development to delivery of water policy (3Ds), including social, economic, administrative and political dimensions of water management and use.

The seminar in Stockholm revealed that there is a widely held view that inclusive water governance is desirable, as appropriate representation and inclusion of all relevant stakeholders contributes to better decisions, innovation and the delivery of improved outcomes. However, it was also made clear that there is a lack of awareness of what’s currently being done, what’s working, and how we can adapt lessons learned in other contexts to our own situations. While the seminar brought some of these lessons to light, it also illustrated that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

A significant portion of seminar participants felt that current water governance arrangements are only ‘minimally’ working and inclusive water governance is ‘not at all’ or only ‘minimally’ achievable (42% and 44% respectively) within the 2030 SDG agenda timeframe. It was clear that some communities and individuals:

  • do not feel like they are being accounted for in decisions on water governance
  • do not feel like they have contributed to the design and development of the policies that dictate how the water sources they rely on are managed, and therefore lack awareness or understanding of what these policies are, how they work and the objectives they aim to meet
  • do not have confidence or trust in the governance system or those that run it because they have not been engaged in the process that created it.

As a result, systems sometimes fail to effectively serve those they intend to.

The seminar stressed the importance of social accountability and civil society involvement in ensuring the sustainability of water governance arrangements. According to data presented by the World Bank, many countries have water governance frameworks or legislation in place, but often these frameworks have not been tailored to the context or appropriately designed. Implementation and enforcement are often lacking. It was recognized that a major contributing factor to this failure in many contexts is insufficient relationship building, communication, dialogue and trust at the local level. Through the seminar, it became increasingly apparent that the global water crisis is mainly a crisis of governance, in which the balance of equity, efficiency and enforceability (3Es) plays an essential part. The need to consider the role of robust water sharing systems for equitable allocation of water resources resonated strongly. It was noted that efficiency often follows equity in the long term. Finally, the seminar revealed that targeted action at the community level, recognition of social values, and appropriate use of political tools through dialogue and cooperation can greatly contribute to improved water governance, and, ultimately, to achievement of the SDGs.

Thank you to all those who participated, presented and contributed to engaging discussions in this seminar and throughout World Water Week. And a special thank you to the entire Scientific Program Committee team for their commitment, creativity and cheerfulness (3Cs). I thoroughly enjoyed learning from you all and I hope to continue to take these conversations forward. Given the level of attendance, interest and passion in this seminar, I’m optimistic of the progress we can make as a sector and globally in the decade to come. Yet, to achieve the SDGs, these conversations must be taken forward not just at conferences and among industry professionals, but out in the communities that we seek to serve.

For a copy of the timetable for the Water Governance Seminar, click here.

A highlight film of World Water Week 2019 can be found below.