The AIDA chair reports on participation in the 1st Meeting of the OECD Water Governance Initiative (Paris, 27-28 March 2013)

The OECD Water Governance Initiative (WGI) is a direct spinoff of the Good Governance Core Group of the 6th World Water Forum held in Marseille one year ago, also led by OECD. It builds upon it and, in essence, it seeks to support the implementation of the good governance targets agreed in Marseille, and leading up to the 7th World Water Forum to be held in Korea, in 2015. In response to a prior call for interest, AIDA had joined the WGI as a partner NGO. Membership in the Initiative now exceeds ninety, drawn from governments, basin, local and regional-level institutions, donors and international financial institutions, international organizations, centres of higher learning, the private sector, and NGOs. AIDA is, as a result, in very respectable company.

The first meeting of the WGI took place at OECD Headquarters in Paris, 27-28 March 2013. Some seventy participants were in attendance. AIDA was represented by this reporter and by Ms. Rana Kharouf-Gaudig. Other AIDA members were also in attendance. Four ambitious goals featured on the meeting agenda, namely:

  1. Agree on the scope, mandate and activities of the Initiative

  2. Take stock of progress towards the good governance targets set at the 6th World Water Forum

  3. Share experiences on recent water governance reforms in OECD and non-OECD countries, and

  4. Discuss strategic and operational organization of the network which had formed to support the Initiative

The multiple factors constraining water resources and water services governance, and remedial approaches, attracted the bulk of the attention. Several references were made, and hints dropped, to the significance of a functioning legal framework to water governance goals. A number of participants reported on developments in the legal and regulatory framework for water resources (and water services provision) in their respective home countries – notably, South Africa, Australia, UK, Chile. Concern was also voiced for the poor record of law implementation and enforcement . Picking up on this last point in particular, the AIDA chair flagged the attention gap he has detected in this particular respect in much discourse about legal frameworks for water resources governance, and pleaded with OECD to avail the WGI to shed systematic light on this, much neglected dimension of water governance in general, and of the legal framework supporting it in particular. He also drew attention to the need to look beyond the legal framework for water resources, as the discourse about governance must reach out to the legal framework for other interdependent natural resources as well, with a view to achieving consistency across the legislative/regulatory spectrum, and to working towards a common purpose.

The discussion of the way forward was squeezed in the latter half of the second day and led, as a result, to somewhat loose results. There was a sense of support for an OECD-housed Observatory, the scope and contours of which, however, remain to be defined. The debate on another OECD proposal, to distil “principles of water governance”, was too short and inconclusive, and it will obviously need to be revisited and further refined. In this same context, in response to a call for follow-up proposals from the floor, and in consultation with other AIDA members in attendance, the AIDA chair proposed that a thematic group on legal frameworks for water resources governance be formed for the purposes and under the umbrella of WGI, and volunteered AIDA to take the lead on it. He also clarified that such thematic group would not take up in the same breath the legal framework for water services governance in view of that sector-specific complexities, and of the specific problematique that the relevant governance and legal/regulatory frameworks must respond to. Nevertheless, acknowledging that a number of water laws, such as the Mexican National Waters Law, include some water services, such as irrigation, the link this would be flagged out – as well as links to specific water services laws available in specific countries. The AIDA proposal was welcomed by the OECD chair, and it will feature on the record of the meeting. Action on it, and the relevant implications, will obviously have to wait until after the meeting outcomes have been crystallized by OECD, and an action-oriented way forward has been charted by them on that basis.

The AIDA chair is aware that the eventual fate of the AIDA proposal will depend on the availability of funding from external sources. In this connection, and prior to launching his proposal, he had received intimations from OECD of support towards attracting non-OECD funding for a project proposal from AIDA. In conclusion and against this backdrop, the chair is optimistic that a well-crafted proposal from AIDA, capturing the sense of concern with the imperfections of legal frameworks for water resources governance, which emerged from the debates, will fly eventually. If it does, the thematic group should provide a welcome opportunity for engagement with interested AIDA members.