Managing Integrity in Water Stewardship Initiative

Sustainable water management contributes towards human and economic development as well as protecting valuable environmental assets and services. However, the political support and the investment to deliver effective Water governance and the infrastructure needed to manage water equitably and sustainably are often lacking in many countries. This creates “water risks” for a wide range of stakeholders. Today nearly 800 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water and roughly one-third of the world’s population lives in water-stressed areas. As the world’s population grows, demand for water increases and climate change threatens water quality and availability it is essential that greater effort is placed on ensuring sustainable water management in order to promote healthy and more prosperous societies.

In recent years an interesting response to the failure to invest in sustainable water management has emerged from a, perhaps unlikely, quarter. Investors and companies are increasingly engaged in debates and programmes to improve water management. This is exemplified by the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Risks report which identified water crises as the number one risk in terms of impact. There is a growing body of local evidence demonstrating the threat of water risks for companies and economies. The Thai floods of 2011 were deemed the fourth most costly natural disaster ever, with costs of over $45bn causing the Thai economy to shrink by 9%, and significant impacts felt by multinational companies and other countries across the world. There are thus clear threats to the private sector of failures to address water risks – not just in their investments in factories or supply chains but in wider catchments.

Water stewardship has emerged as a broad framework bringing together a diverse range of companies, communities, governments, NGOs, civil society and donors to tackle shared water risks in order to deliver a wide range of social, economic and environmental outcomes. But can increased corporate engagement in water risk management meaningfully contribute to wider efforts to eradicate poverty, promote sustainable economic development, increase resilience to climate change and improve environmental protection? This question is at the heart of efforts to engage the private sector in efforts to deliver sustainable and equitable water management.

Water stewardship initiatives are relatively new. As such the evidence regarding their efficacy is still limited and much work has been through a process of trial and error. And many still question whether corporate engagement is anathema to sustainable and equitable water management arguing, for instance that, it can lead to policy and resource capture or provide companies with increased access to decision-makers and information. With WSIs at a nascent stage in their development this Guide on Managing Integrity therefore provides a timely and invaluable stock take, assessing progress and drawing out key lessons learnt in delivering WSIs. Adhering to the Principles set out in this Guide and using the associated tools will help Water stewardship initiatives proceed with high levels of accountability and transparency and ensure that all stakeholders – including the poorest and most vulnerable – truly benefit.

The Sustainable Development Goals set out a universal framework to deliver water management as a driver of poverty eradication, increased prosperity and enhanced biodiversity. The SDG framework identifies the private sector as a key means of implementation. I would argue that Water stewardship has a potentially important contribution to make towards delivery of the SDGs.

The UK Department For International Development (DFID) sees Water stewardship as a useful tool to promote pro-poor and climate resilient economic development. For this reason we fund, together with the German Government, the International Water stewardship Programme (IWaSP) which works in seven countries in Africa and the Caribbean to forge effective multi-stakeholder partnerships to tackle shared water risks. What is evident from the lessons so far from IWaSP is that partnerships involve often delicate balances of power between government institutions, the private sector, civil society, and citizens. Integrity in designing and managing these partnerships, and in setting and monitoring their objectives is fundamental to their credibility, especially where we strive to influence and strengthen Water governance. This requires that partnerships are well steered and inclusive – sometimes requiring capacity building for civil society and government bodies. Only in this way can we minimise chances of corruption, policy capture or perverse outcomes, and strive to ensure that poorer and more vulnerable stakeholders benefit too.