Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

UK water forum: water equity in the new development era

Time (GMT +01) 10:00 16:30


Event Summary

Discussions around the post-2015 have been hot for some time, with debates primarily revolving around appropriate goals, targets and indicators – in other words, what we should be aspiring to and how to measure it. ‘Water for all’ is certainly a high bar to aim for, but as Roger Calow (ODI) noted in his opening remarks, it is timely to take a step back and think about ‘how’ we will achieve this. The Human Development Report (HDR) 2006 put the spotlight on water equity yet nearly a decade later this remains a critical barrier to the achievement of universality. Moreover, the future holds much change and uncertainty – populations are growing rapidly and becoming increasingly urban, many states remain highly fragile, diets are shifting, the climate is changing – all these drivers will have implication for water availability, access and demand. So how do we achieve equity of access in this new development era?

In her keynote speech, Andrea Ledward (DFID) highlighted the scale of the challenge and emphasised DFID’s commitment in supporting the post-2015 agenda. Andrea posed the following questions for debate:

·         The private sector is a key player, and companies are increasingly recognising the risks that water insecurity poses to their business. How can the development community partner with the private sector to deliver water security at scale?

·         Gender is particularly important for equity – women and girls collectively spend 152 million hours collecting water daily, are at risk of violence when sanitation facilities are insecure, and are more likely to die in a natural disaster. How can they be brought to the fore?

·         The costs of water insecurity are high and take many forms. Can we agree on appropriate targets and how do we ensure that institutions are in place to deliver on post-2015 goals?

“Equity is, in a sense, an old issue. But the terms of the debate have changed” began Kevin Watkins (ODI) in the second keynote. Kevin, lead author of HDR 2006, recognised that water is no longer viewed as a limitless resource - we are now dealing with a global problem, which has landed on the corporate agenda and is often at the centre of political dialogue. Politics and power should be at the heart of the debate – something that was noticeably absent in 2006. How do you deal with the political dimensions that hinder equity (beyond policy to political economy)? Meanwhile, poor sanitation and hygiene remains a serious, often neglected, challenge with severe implications for health and development prospects.

Session 1: At the business end

Prof. Tony Allan (King’s College) kicked off this session with a short history of water development and key trends, emphasising that water consumption is primarily determined by agricultural production – i.e. private supply chains - which in turn are driven by us (demand for food). Although food prices have been dropping over the last 50 years, they do not take account of the value of water. So, we really need to look at the private sector: markets often do the wrong thing extremely well, so there is need for counter-balance from government and civil society.

Representing a large brewing and soft drinks company, David Norman (SAAB Miller) explained that “brewing beer in hot and dry places” raised significant issues in terms of water risks, particularly as the company works with large numbers of small farmers and micro-enterprises – this local rootedness is critical in managing shared risks. The reputational dimension is certainly one element, but the main motivation is risk to profit – the value of the business at stake. This can act as a positive driver of change, David argued, with potential for ‘win-wins’ such as the Bogota brewery example.

A number of challenging issues were raised during the discussion:

·         Beyond agri-business, other private sector activities also have significant implications for water use and sustainability e.g. fracking. How can we engage with these actors?

·         Given the new ‘era’ of development, what new forms of governance are needed for water?

·         How can we ensure that partnerships with the private sector have a high degree of integrity and that processes are inclusive and benefit the poor?

·         We are going through a significant paradigm shift, no one knows what the new era will look like so there are risks involved – some initiatives will fail, we have to accept that we will make mistakes.

·         Strong regulation is needed for farmers as well as businesses to manage risks at the local scale. But how do we deal with societal-scale risks?

·         What role can water law play in ensuring equity?

·         We need rules for reporting on (or accounting for) water use, not necessarily a means of pricing (such as the ecosystem services approach).

Session 2: Universal Access, Global Change

Margaret Batty (WaterAid) was first up to give her pitch for achieving universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene in the new development era. Margaret provided a useful summary of progress in meeting the MDG target, citing the recent JMP and GLAAS reports. Her top priorities were:

·         Sanitation, equity and rights get very little ‘political airtime’ compared to water – these aspects need to be prioritised in terms of finance and governance.

·         The WASH sector should align behind WHO and UNICEF on their post-2015 proposal. There are currently no cross-cutting goals for sanitation, relevant to health, gender, and education.

·         We need to look beyond the big numbers and tackle both equity and sustainability – permanent service delivery to all is the objective.

Sam Parker (WSUP) focussed on the urban dimension of WASH service delivery, describing a number of initiatives to bring services to marginalised (slum) areas. Sam’s priorities were:

·         To help cities and towns recognise all of their customers, and design systems to reach them, our role being to provide affordable technical expertise.

·         Mobilise finances from the private sector.

·         Help development banks ‘rediscover their purpose’ so that their investments benefit those they intend to reach.

A number of challenges were raised by the panel:

Marta Foresti (ODI): We all agree that water is political and that policy engagement is possible – so what does it take?  We risk coming to a dead end, especially where politics are local issues, and we are external actors. There are fundamental questions about the way in which we collaborate. The way we work and are structured makes it difficult for us to be politically savvy and locally led. And what about in fragile states, where opportunities for tapping into a local market may not be present?

Sam Bickersteth (PwC/CDKN): How can development goals around water be achieved in the face of climate change? Has this been factored in to future plans for universal access? We will need to pedal a lot harder to achieve the same goals.

Debbie Potts (African Cities): Let’s be careful when we talk about success – the data are often very dodgy. When it comes to urban water, we need to recognise that poor households may spend more on water per unit, but consume very little in total – so there are limits to their capacity to buy (i.e. to be a viable market). Let’s also think about which models work for different cities, areas of cities, or groups in terms of service delivery? There is no blueprint for success.

Session 3: Strengthening the contribution of the private sector to water equity: disclosure, standards and integrity

Returning to the theme of private sector engagement, in this session three key initiatives were presented:

The Water Integrity Network seeks to establish a practical framework for ensuring high levels of integrity in multi-stakeholder water stewardship initiatives, and to develop management processes to improve impacts and effectiveness of such partnerships. The aim is more equitable water management, free from discrimination and corruption. Janek Hermann-Friede highlighted some of the complexities in trying to implement integrity standards in practice, providing interesting insights from South Africa, Peru and Tanzania. Power imbalances were one significant challenge.

Several initiatives emerged in 2007-8 in different parts of the world, which then came together as a Water Stewardship Alliance to avoid multiplicity of systems. Sabine von Wiren Lehr explained that the most tangible outcome of AWS to date has been a common set of standards, which help to translate complexity into practical approaches e.g. facilitating risk analysis, or assessing performance. There are four main principles: sustainable use (quantity and timing), water quality, preservation of biodiversity, and water governance.

The Carbon Disclosure Project is designed to leverage the power of the markets to drive corporations and cities to behave more responsibly in terms of environmental impacts. The CDP water programme is intended to catalyse action towards good water stewardship. Cate Lamb reeled off some impressive figures - 573 investor signatories currently, representing SD 1.3 trillion in assets and USD 1.3 billion purchasing power (through their supply chains). Performance is assessed in terms of quality and robustness of the company’s risk assessments, and policies and procedures in place to safeguard water resources.

Presentations were followed by a critical panel discussion with additional questions from the audience:

Chris Brown (Olam): It is very difficult to engage with lots of individual farmers on water issues – companies need to work with government, communities, regulators, etc – integrity in partnerships is important. Water (compared to carbon) is very challenging. CDP needs to motivate the investment community and make sure the data is meaningful for them. Are we gathering the right information? Do they really understand the complexity of risk associated from water?

Suvi Sojamo (CWRM): Investments are needed for implementation. Who is responsible? Do they have the capacity? How do you verify corporate actions on a continuous basis? How do you ensure local ownership, especially in developing settings, and not only contributing to standardisation burden affecting small-scale farmers without providing any real benefit? Water stewardship is a useful to demonstrate that efforts are being made, rather than pushing farmers outside of the supply chains because they don’t yet have the capacity to meet the right standards.

Peter Newborne (ODI): To what extent are the company Boards following these issues? Is there interest in water stewardship at that level? Figures show a heterogeneous landscape – different companies or countries respond differently.

Session 4: Managing water to support equitable and sustainable growth

This session was an opportunity to explore the ‘water for livelihoods’ dimension of water security and to hear some practical examples from the NGO community on implementing (equitable) water resources management (WRM). Katie Spooner presented some of CAFOD’s work in Peru, facilitating consultation between a traditional farming community and nearby hydro-power plant to ensure that both needs are considered in dam operation. (There are now two padlocks on the door to the gate controls – one owned by the community and the other by the plant.) Although the WRM approach being used is not new, there are still challenges e.g. knowledge fragmentation and data sharing, the changing political situation and power inequities.

Meanwhile, although traditionally a WASH agency, WaterAid have also recognised the need to support communities to monitor ongoing threats to their water supplies and play an active role in managing risk, Vincent Casey explained.  However, community-based WRM is not focussed just at local level – this should be complementary to national processes and strategies, engaging with higher level stakeholders responsible for IWRM, and strengthening relationship between communities and government. Not all will be as responsive – the approach needs to be tried and tested elsewhere.

Cat Moncrieff (WWF) emphasised the importance of rivers for equity and sustainable growth, which provide essential ecosystem services. We are facing a crisis of water resources governance – dealing with complex problems where there is much uncertainty and disagreement, distributed capacities (in terms of power, mandates, interests and objectives) and trade-offs, which have to be carefully managed. Yet there is little evidence about what works. In the Rufiji basin, Tanzania, WWF is taking a ‘social dialogue’ approach to facilitate co-learning and action.

Issues raised in the discussion include:

·         How do we address the intermediate and trans-boundary scales? Scale matters as interventions in one place or at one level could negatively affect people at others.

·         How do we get business involved and engaged in sustainable WRM? There is a need for well thought out business models and plans - tools for companies to use to assess and compare priorities, and manage trade-offs.

·         Working with local government can be challenging due to high staff turnover. Strong multi-stakeholder relationships are needed for continuity.

·         It is important to engage with those individuals who hold the power to make the change, at local and higher levels; the effectiveness of river basin organisations is limited.

·         There are good laws and policies in place in many countries, but things are not improving. In Tanzania, Water Witness International is trying to generate evidence that implementation is poor, in addition to supporting citizen agency to hold government to account. Helping people to understand what the law says and what they can demand is a promising area – getting governance to work, rather than solving people’s problems for them.

·         Communities are not homogenous, how do you ensure equity, given local power dynamics?

·         Where there are implementation challenges, but no significant private sector presence, what other options or levers are there?