WIN coalition fights corruption in water sector

Understanding transparency and developing accountability among water supply and sanitation stakeholders is absolutely essential to reducing corruption in the water sector.

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Understanding transparency and developing accountability among water supply and sanitation stakeholders is absolutely essential to reducing corruption in the water sector.

Once again water experts from 100 countries gathered in Stockholm, Sweden, for World Water Week to focus on many of the most challenging global water and sanitation issues, and share concrete examples of ways to solve these and other related problems, including poverty, environmental degradation, disease, and social inequality. Improving access to water supply and sanitation is considered a key element to these goals.

The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) organized the 2006 World Water Week, which was held from August 20 through 26.

This year’s major theme “Beyond the River - Sharing Benefits and Responsibilities,” is a paradigm-shifting concept in the water sector, according to SIWI, because livelihoods around the world are increasingly dependent upon shared water and societies are becoming more urban. How are benefits from water generated, distributed, and shared among people within a city, country, or regions? How can land use affect water quality and quantity?

According to a landmark study issued by the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (CGIAR) on the first day of World Water Week, radical changes in water management are necessary to deal with the growing water scarcity crisis.

“Worrisome predictions in 2000 had forecast that one-third of the world population would be affected by water scarcity by 2025. Our findings from the just-concluded research show the situation to be even worse,” said Frank Rijsberman, director general of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). “Already in 2005, more than a third of the world population is affected by water scarcity. We will have to change business as usual in order to deal with growing water scarcity water crisis we see in some countries like India, China, and the Colorado River basin of USA and Mexico.”

The study reviewed 50 years of water use and development in the agricultural sector and found that one-third of the world’s population lives in areas where water supplies are inadequate due to over-exploitation or inadequate infrastructure, according to CGIAR.

Progressive, innovative approaches are available to address the current water crisis. The study identifies urban wastewater as a productive resource. Water can be used more efficiently. Irrigation practices can be improved to reduce waste and increase agricultural productivity. Governments, including all stakeholders, must take part in deciding how to allocate and manage scarce water supplies effectively.

This month’s cover story by Saul Arlosoroff, the director of the board at Mekorot, the Israel National Water Corporation, explains in detail the ways in which government decision-makers can “enhance socio-economic prosperity and growth with limited water resources.” Significant reduction of water use through conservation, detection of leaks and unaccounted-for-water, price management, and other demand management actions is within reach of most governments given the political will.

Accountability and transparency activities and efforts to get sector governance right are necessary before embarking with formal anti-corruption and enforcement-oriented instruments.
Janelle Plummer, World Bank and Piers Cross, WSP-Africa

Tackling corruption in the water sector, however, is essential to increasing public access to clean water and safe sanitation. Corruption costs the sector millions of dollars each year, funds that could be spent on improving infrastructure and services. Up to 30 to 40 percent of water supplies in many cities are lost due to leakage or illegal tapping. Recovering this amount of clean drinking water would improve living conditions for millions of people without investing huge outlays for developing new water sources, such as through dams and reservoirs. According to the World Development Report 2005, side payments (bribes) took place in 50 percent of transactions in India’s water sector.

Corrupt practices can also determine the types of projects and beneficiaries of water supply projects. In governments with little or no institutional accountability and transparency, bribes can persuade officials to favor large dams and irrigation schemes for wealthy landowners over low-cost water supply and sanitation projects for poor rural or urban populations.

During World Water Week, a coalition led by Transparency International and five leading water organizations initiated the Water Integrity Network (WIN), an anti-corruption drive that addresses this pervasive problem. WIN will work to influence national and international policy by providing information and anti-corruption tool kits to governments, companies, regulators, and non-governmental groups.

For example, TI monitored a clean and open bidding process of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, which reported saving more than US$ 3.1 million during procurement in 2002-2003. TI attributes this success to the board’s application of its no-bribes “Integrity Pact” to the contract award process for the Greater Karachi Water Supply Scheme.

The WIN coalition consists of TI, International Water and Sanitation Centre (IRC), SIWI, Swedish Water House (SWH), and Sanitation Program-Africa (WSP-Africa). Its newest member AquaFed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators, announced its corporate membership during World Water Week.

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Pamela Wolfe,
Managing Editor

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