Boosting Governance & Integrity of the water sector in MENA, session organised by GWP-Med during the 2017 Arab Water Week

More than 70 participants attended the session “Water Governance & Integrity under change in the MENA: how to boost up implementation efforts?” that took place on Sunday 19 March 2017, during the Arab Water Week 2017 at the Dead Sea, Jordan. The session was organised by GWP-Med and supported by Sida, through the UfM-labelled project “Governance & Financing for the Mediterranean Water Sector” implemented by GWP-Med and the OECD. It was organised in synergy and close coordination with the “Water Integrity for the MENA” project implemented by the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI.

Mr. Khaldon H. Khashman, Secretary General of ACWUA that organised the Arab Water Week, greeted the session and welcomed the participants.

The session opened with an introductory speech by Ms. Yosra Albakkar from Sida who stressed that Sweden aims to be a leader in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, both domestically and through its support to other countries. Regarding the MENA region, she noted that the Swedish government has adopted two new development strategies for 2016-2020, one for MENA in general and one specifically for the Syria Crisis, with a combined financial commitment of 420 million USD. Among the top priorities in the MENA strategy is the sustainable management of water resources in the region. She praised GWP-Med for its cooperation and hard work and in the context of water governance she noted that the decisions and implementation of water and sanitation services need to be inclusive, transparent, accountable and non-discriminatory, ensuring important input from women who are actually the ones working with water.

Then Ms. Anthi Brouma from GWP-Med and Mr. James Leten from SIWI gave brief presentations on the current status and key outcomes of the two Sida-funded projects.

This introductory part of the session was followed by a moderated panel discussion with the participation of distinguished representatives from governments, international organisations, financing institutions and civil society. The panel exchanges were structured along four rounds of discussion with targeted interventions from the panelists.

In the first round of the discussion, panelists provided brief reflections on the challenges that the region faces regarding the governance and integrity of the water sector.

Mr. Ali Kchouk, Director of the Hydraulic Planning Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fishery, Tunisia, presented the recent and forthcoming legislative developments in his country regarding water governance.

Ms. Carol Chouchani Cherfane, Chief, Water Resources Section, Sustainable Development Policies Division, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), noted the importance of equity, including ensuring access to all in the decision-making process, which still remains a male-dominant one.

Mr. Ali Subah, Secretary General Assistant, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Jordan, noted that his country is facing more severe water challenges than other countries and investments are difficult to attract: It’s not only a semi-arid area with water resources controlled by other countries, but also a politically burning area where mutual cooperation is essential. He stressed that Jordan hosts 1,4 million refugees and that more support was expected from other countries to support them.

Mr. Mohammed T. Obidallah, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, WEE Pros, noted the importance of outside factors that affect the water sector, such as energy and tourism. He said that some kind of reform process has been made in some countries, but unclear and overlapping responsibilities remain. He raised the issue of the full cost of water, which if utilities don’t recover, they may face insolvency, and also the associated issue of non-revenue water (leakages but also non-payments).

Mr. Hamza Al-Assad, Associate Banker, Country Office-Jordan, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), noted that moving from theory about good governance to practice is quite complicated and added that attention should be given to vulnerable users and the issue of affordability in general. He stressed that the full long-term cost of adopting no reforms will be higher compared to the implementation of a reform programme.

Mr. Amr Abdel Meguid, Regional Programme Manager, Environmental Governance Programme, Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE), also stressed that in the long-term business as usual without reforms would increase costs, waste and degradation, and make inefficient use of human and financial resources. He noted that openness and access to information are essential to decrease corruption, and the need to identify relevant actors to have place in participatory water planning.

Mr. Hazem Kittani, Technical Affairs, Director General, Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), Palestine, underlined that the occupation is the biggest challenge for Palestine as it hinders development plans and investments, while noting that it cannot be used as an excuse for failures. He noted the presence of multiple different financing systems (World Bank, US Aid etc) which could create confusion and potentially lead to bigger corruption.

 In the second round of the discussion, the three government representatives briefly presented how the two projects involved in the organization of the session have influenced the water governance framework and improved transparency and accountability in their countries.

Mr. Hazem Kittani noted that the projects were very good and had contributed to the making of first steps. However, there is now a need to capitalize on the lessons learned and to put into practice the theories and ideas about good governance and facilitation of PSP.

Mr. Ali Subah acknowledged that the Governance & Financing project helped Jordan to identify and address gaps in institutional capacity and the needed legislation. He also noted that integrity is especially important when resources and finance are in shortages He added that meeting equity goals is not easy when there is lack of essential infrastructure and raised the issue of inter-generational justice.

Mr. Ali Kchouk noted that the two projects have helped build capacities, make assessments and formulate recommendations which now need to be put into force. The new Tunisian law on PPPs aims in that direction.

 The next round of the discussion focused on the water-related financing and societal challenges.

Mr. Hamza Al-Assad underlined the importance of the involvement of the private sector as well as of wider stakeholders. Enhancing private sector participation requires building capacity, providing support, assisting authorities and incentives-based implementation. International financing institutions can assist with the allocation of risks, but it is important to

find an implementer, while linkages with energy efficiency and renewable energy is a strong advantage

Mr. Mohammed Obidallah underlined the importance of shifting to a bottom-up approach. A participatory approach will improve effective implementation while gender considerations are not only about increased representation. He noted that differences between countries should be considered and that no single solution can work everywhere.

 The final round of the discussion revolved around how existing initiatives and activities could provide possible linkages and complementarities with the projects thus enhancing their results and sustainability.

Ms. Carol Chouchani Cherfane presented the AWARENET initiative with 500 members, which has an active Working Group on integrity. She also stressed the importance that virtual training should play, including in creating circles of understanding.

Mr. Amr AbdelMeguid stressed the importance of knowledge sharing and mentioned that potential synergies could be found with MENARET, WaterSUM, the Environmental Policy Programme at CEDARE and the issues of Nexus and of Sustainable Trans-boundary water resources management

 In the short questions and answers part that followed, participants acknowledged the added value of the projects and confirmed their commitment and willingness to be involved in relevant future activities. It was also stressed that training and awareness are no longer enough and that in order to move from commitments to tangible changes and action on governance and integrity in the region’s water sector, it is necessary to build the relevant culture and support behavioural change.