GWP Chair calls for a change in the way water is used and managed

The High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) was set out to raise the profile of water in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), says Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren, Chair Global Water Partnership Organization (GWPO).

In a speech read on her behalf by Mr. Alex Simalabwi, Executive Secretary, GWP Southern Africa and Head Africa Coordination Unit, to the 13th Meeting of the “Sherpas”/Advisors of the High Level Panel on Water in Cape Town, South Africa, Dr. Sanjaasuren said that achieving the SDGs will require governments, societies, and the private sector to change the way they use and manage water.

She noted that the legacy of the HLPW will be measured in terms of the extent to which the global effort on achievement of SDGs embed water and sanitation as a key part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

“Today, water governance decisions and actions are fragmented across United Nations (UN) agencies, national line ministries and water authorities and in this regard, discussions around the global water architecture – to strengthen the UN system wide effort on coordinated and conceited water actions – are progressive,” said Dr. Sanjaasuren.

She highlighted that GWP believes that water problems are usually due to problems with management or governance: water policies, legal frameworks, and institutional capacity. Even if all water problems are local, the solutions are similar: high political commitment, increased finance for water, cross-sector cooperation, informed stakeholders, reliable information, competent institutions, fair decision-making, and benefit-sharing.

This was confirmed by several stakeholders during the Valuing Water Consultations. Governance and decision-making, alongside planning, dominated the conversations. In contexts where transboundary waters are a significant amount of the regional and/or national water resources, it played a critical role in discussions.

The GWPO Chair said that data and capacity development were some of the key thematic areas that did not emerge in the consultations, but are pertinent to the discussion around valuing water. She said GWP was pleased that the HLPW through Australia is leading an initiative on water data.

She highlighted water pricing as another important issue. “It was difficult at times, especially for certain stakeholder groups, to avoid thinking about valuing water in strictly economic terms. This will always be a challenge. Pricing was and continues to be a sensitive issue.”

Dr. Sanjaasuren noted that as the Panel considers its final outcome package, GWP looks forward to the findings and hopes that this will build on previous work by others, including the High Level Panels on Water and Peace, Water and Disasters, and others.

She also called on the HLPW to consider flagship regional and national initiatives that will serve as mechanisms for implementing the outcomes of the Panel and actualise water and sanitation as a centre piece of SDG implementation.

She said in addition to supporting the valuing water consultations, GWP stands ready to continue as a friend of the Panel and support the HLPW agenda even after its mandate expires in March 2018.

She said the legacy of the Panel is a key issue that merits consideration and deeper reflection. Today, she added, many countries were experiencing recurrent water challenges. Dr. Sanjaasuren said that Cape Town, the venue of the meeting, was facing an unprecedented drought crisis, never-seen-before, the worst drought in 100 years.

“According to city officials, there was no way to anticipate the severity of this drought. The city’s dam current water levels stand at 35 per cent, with useable water at 25 per cent. Water rationing is underway. The city has approved bumping water restrictions up to level six from January 2018, meaning residents will only be allowed to use water for cooking, drinking, and bathing,” she noted.

She said that desalination plants were being hailed as a possible alternative, but according to the city there is no way these could be built to scale quickly enough to compensate for such a drought.

The Chair mentioned that in Africa, there was ongoing support by GWP to the South African government on the HLPW and the support will continue. “GWP is pleased to announce that through our GWP Africa Coordination Unit in Pretoria, South Africa – working closely with other African members of the HLPW – Mauritius, Senegal, and others will be supported to follow up on the recommendations of the HLPW and implement an Africa legacy initiative: The Africa Investment programme on Water, Job creation and SDGs implementation. This will build on ongoing GWP support to South Africa on the HLPW and other related work on Water, Climate and Development with the African Union (AU)and African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW),” she noted.

She stated that while the HLPW deliberates on its outcome package, the water crises, such as the one being experienced in Cape Town and other cities around the world, rage on. She said the challenge of providing water and sanitation for the millions of people was huge. Women, youth, and children are the most impacted, hence the need to have water solutions that enhance gender and social inclusion.

Partnerships, collaborations and Partnerships again are essential, including with others outside the HLPW. She noted that GWP was honored to have been associated with the HLPW and supported its work. From May to September 2017, GWP supported the HLPW to conduct consultations on the Valuing Water Initiative, an initiative of the Netherlands. Working closely with the HLPW, the Netherlands, and host governments, six regional and national consultations were convened in Bangladesh, Jordan, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, and Tajikistan.