Dr Letitia A Obeng, GWP Chair speech

Posted: 2009-12-05

Dr Letitia A Obeng, GWP Chair speech at the 5th High Level Session of Ministers with responsibility for water was co-convened by GWP-Caribbean and the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association's (CWWA's) in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands on 5-6 October 2009.

OPENING – High Level Session, October 4, 2009, Letitia A. Obeng, Chair, Global Water Partnership

Honorable Ministers, Distinguished Members of the head table, Distinguished Participants of the High Level Session, Fellow Water Professionals, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure for me to be here with you this afternoon at the opening of the 5th Annual High Level Ministerial Session.

First of all, I would like to thank our hosts for their hospitality and the organizers for all their hard work in preparing this High Level Session. It is always challenge to be the last speaker in an event such as this, when the previous speakers have said it all. I will try and highlight some other aspects of this important issue.

I note that the objective of this High Level Ministerial Session is: to consolidate past efforts and work towards developing and adopting strategies and plans that will ensure that the Caribbean is a water secure region.

I am pleased that around the table, we have participants from different sectors. It is important that we work together on tackling this issue of sustainable water management. I will come back to this topic later.

I will speak briefly about some of the challenges that you are facing today, share with you relevant aspects of GWP’s work and finally make some recommendations for you to consider in the discussions tomorrow.

Water Security

The drive for water security has been a part of the development arena, from time immemorial, basically because of the crucial role that water security plays in life. Here, let me define water security as the availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks to people, environments and economies. It is a natural instinct: societies have always sought to establish themselves near water bodies or alongside rivers as a first reaction towards survival.

Water as we all know, impacts every aspect of life, for good: health, nutrition, gender equality, job creation, human security, ecosystem health - the list is endless. Indeed, water has so many positive uses – domestic consumption, waste disposal, irrigation, energy, recreation, tourism, power generation, industry, etc. – all things that both rich and poor countries need to support social development and economic growth.

Unfortunately, economic growth and social development are constantly being challenged, because water also has a negative impact on life. Floods, hurricanes and droughts, landslides, desertification, pollution, water related diseases, and disputes cause havoc and create shocks to economies. Here in the Caribbean, you know the negative impacts only too well, as hurricane season comes each year. I understand, for example, that Hurricane Ivan’s impact on Grenada cost over 200% of GDP. The damage costs to economies from both too much or too little water across the world is very real.


Now too, the world has to deal with climate change, and again, small island states are expected to bear much of the brunt of the impact. I know that addressing the impact of climate change is a priority for you in the Caribbean. I mention it briefly here, in the context of the role that water plays in adaptation to climate change. Water is a principal medium through which people, ecosystems, and economies will experience climate impacts.

While climate change mitigation will be achieved by transforming the way we produce and use energy, effective adaptation will come about, in part, by transforming the way we manage and use our water resources.

Adaptation responses to climate change must therefore converge on the goal of water security for all. Water security provides a focus for adaptation strategies and a framework for action. The path to a water secure future requires governments to move water higher up the development agenda to support the adoption and promotion of appropriate integrated water management strategies. For those that have not achieved a reasonable level of water security, climate change will make it harder to do so. Those states that have enjoyed significant levels of water security may find that climate change makes it harder to sustain.

There are precious few development issues that can be talked about without reference to water, whether it is poverty reduction, food security, health, energy, environmental management, industry or tourism. Achieving water security therefore has to be front and centre.

Sustainable Water Management

The IWRM approach is a means to that end. It is an approach that reflects the need to achieve a balance among the three E’s: Economic efficiency – to make scarce water resources go as far as possible and to allocate water strategically to different economic sectors and uses; Social equity, – to ensure equitable access to water and the benefits from water use, between women and men, rich people and poor, across different social and economic groups both within and across countries. This involves issues of entitlement, access and control; Environmental sustainability – to protect the water resources base and related aquatic ecosystems and, more broadly to help address global environmental issues such as climate change adaptation and sustainable energy and food security.

The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development resolved that all countries should draw up integrated water resource management and water efficiency plans. Many countries around the world have, although implementation remains slow. Many others have yet to begin working on theirs.

Many of the countries in the Caribbean represented here are already working on or have their IWRM and WUE plans. Others are further back along the path. At this time, when there is increased focus on adaptation plans in response to the impact of climate change, it is actually very important that you integrate your sustainable water management and adaptation processes related to water – engage the sectors or ministries responsible for the adaptation agenda and work together. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, duplicate efforts, or spend limited resources creating new institutions to tackle this issue.

Working together

All countries around the world face one consistent issue when it comes to sustainable water management. Because water is so important to all aspects of development, there is a danger that every sector would try to manage it independently to serve their own development objectives.

Water management therefore may fall under several different groups in a given country; Agriculture, Environment, Utilities, Public Works, Energy. For the very reason that so many different sectors, rely on this medium of water, it is important that there is an integrated approach for its management.

Furthermore, development decisions about sustainable water management need to be taken at the highest possible levels of government and not by a single ministry, because of the potential impact on so many sectors and a country’s economic and social development. Get the ministers of finance or planning involved: this is key! High level policy makers can guide decision-making about sharing and allocation of water resources to different uses in support of overall socio-economic development.

Working together regionally

Small island states face similar water resource management issues although there isn’t one solution for all. Much can be learned in applying a common regional framework to addressing sustainable water management issues. I believe it is partly because of this that last year that COTED issued its decision on water management. This was an attempt to have a regional approach to sustainable water management, to provide a common framework in support of countries working on developing and implementing IWRM plans. The report of the regional ad hoc working group among others, noted the importance of developing these plans in line with the outcomes of the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit and mainstreaming these plans into national development planning processes;

Among other things, the report approved the process for the development of the Common Water Framework for the Region and urged that this be completed in the shortest possible timeframe.

It further mandated the Ministers responsible for Water, Environment, Agriculture, Tourism and Health in particular, to provide the highest level political support to advance the initiation of national IWRM development and processes where they have not yet commenced, and to continue to support ongoing development and implementation of IWRM and related Plans, Regionally. The report included several other mandates for the CARICOM Secretariat, crucial to the development of a water secure region. The speakers before me have both discussed this issue from their different perspectives.

Working together regionally provides a huge opportunity to avoid ad hoc approaches and facilitate coordinated support by donors. Furthermore, a Regional approach can assist countries with less resources and ability to undertake IWRM planning on their own to have access to regional resources and technical assistance for creating national plans. Working together regionally is also an opportunity to ensure effective coordination with respect to all sectors that are closely connected to water.

Let me use the example of Agriculture to explain one reason why I believe that this is important. In July this year, the, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community at their Thirtieth Meeting in Liliendaal, Guyana, renewed their commitment to pursue a strategic approach to transforming the agriculture sector into an internationally competitive sector with increased capacity to contribute to the sustained economic development of the Region, the economic livelihood of entrepreneurs, the rural sector and to food and nutrition security. They committed to provide the necessary financial and other resources to ensure sustainable development of the agricultural sector, and food security. They also acknowledged key binding constraints to the development of the agriculture sector and food security. One of these was water distribution and management systems. In order to sustainably remove this constraint, an integrated approach to water resources management is needed. One cannot achieve sustainable development of agriculture, if there isn’t sustainable management of water.

The presenters before me both discussed CARICOM’s handling of the water issue. Whether CARICOM makes water a special theme on its own, or a sub theme, the important thing is that all the water use sectors must work together with those responsible for water management on this issue. It cannot be handled by one sector alone.

GWP/GWP Caribbean

In GWP, we have an extensive network, experience in supporting countries to use the IWRM approach for the development of water management strategies and plans, an extensive toolbox of support materials and very experienced and talented technical specialists across the partnership whose work underpins our knowledge products. There are great opportunities for our 13 Regional Water Partnerships to collaborate and share knowledge related to sustainable water management. For example, you already have the Joint Caribbean Pacific Program for Action on Water and Climate. Your Regional Water Partnership can connect with our East Asia Regional Partnership to learn from each other and to facilitate the advancement of the agenda on climate and water management.

Last year, we in GWP prepared our strategy for 2009-2013. Our vision is for a water secure world. Our mission remains the same: To support the sustainable development and management of water at all levels. We are now implementing our strategy, focusing on four key goals:

GOAL 1: Promote water as a key part of sustainable national development. This goal focuses on improving water resources management, putting IWRM into practice to help countries towards growth and water security emphasizing an integrated approach, good governance, appropriate infrastructure and sustainable financing.

GOAL 2: Address critical development challenges. This goal focuses on contributing to and advocating solutions for critical challenges to water security, such as climate change, growing urbanization, food production, resource related conflict and other challenges as they emerge.

GOAL 3: Reinforce knowledge sharing and communications. This goal focuses on developing the capacity to share knowledge and to promote a dynamic communications culture, so as to support better water management.

GOAL 4: Build a more effective network. This goal focuses on enhancing the network’s resilience and effectiveness through stronger partnerships, good governance, measuring performance to help learning and financial sustainability.

Each of these goals has a series of expected outcomes. GWP Caribbean will be working closely with you at country and regional level, in fora such as this one, focusing on our mission. They have already supported a wide range of activities within the Caribbean including:

- Workshops on water financing

- Participation in the IWRM Working Group ( COTED report)

- Support to national water policy development in Grenada

- Support to the application of the Dublin gender principles in Haiti

- Support to work on addressing environmental degradation in Jamaica.

Let me conclude with a few recommendations for consideration in the discussions tomorrow:

• Move the work began under the COTED Consortium on IWRM along; develop a common platform (and possible funding support) and next steps for the States of the Caribbean to begin/continue working on their sustainable water management issues.

• Work to ensure high level political support to engage all key water use agencies/sectors together with water managers, at the regional level through CARICOM; effective integration is needed to achieve sustainable development goals of these water using sectors.

• Connect the IWRM planning processes to the work on adaptation to climate change, given that water management will be a major part of that work. The HLS could be a focus for engagement.

• There are other initiatives in the region where water plays a key role. Link up with them, engage the non-water management, water using world. Building a water secure region requires country action but also requires regional coordination to build synergies, and support for those needing it for their development agendas.

I hope that your discussions tomorrow will result in a way forward for Caribbean states to move closer to being water secure. GWP and in particular, GWP Caribbean is ready continue its support to you and to participate in the work ahead.

Thank you.

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