Third Meeting of the OECD Water Governance Initiative, Madrid, 28-29 April 2014 – Report of attendance


The 3rd meeting of the OECD-led Water Governance Initiative (WGI) was hosted by the Government of Spain at the Casa de Americas in Madrid, Spain. Due to logistic difficulties this writer attended the second and final day only (29 April). Several WGI partners were in attendance. AIDA was represented by this writer. A few other AIDA members were also in attendance, in representation of other WGI partners.

Background and context

Following on from the second WGI meeting (Paris, 7-8 November 2013), INBO and UNESCO, co-leads of Working Group 3 on Basin Governance (WG3) of which AIDA is a member, had advanced work on a Scoping Note seeking to orientate the work and activities of the Working Group. In addition, they had prepared and circulated in advance of the meeting a set of “Key Messages and Draft Principles on Basin Governance”, for eventual incorporation in the future OECD Principles on Water Governance. The Key Messages and Draft Principles zoom in on the river basin as the natural locus of multi-level basin governance – from local to national to trans-boundary. The emphasis in the document appears to be on river basin organizations, with particular attention to the trans-boundary dimension. The importance of legislation, treaties and agreements, and of institutioal arrangements is acknowledged in the document, and the development of indicators is invited to gauge the effectiveness of basin organizations, national and trans-boundary.

Against this backdrop, and in view of co-leads UNESCO’s and INBO’s pre-meeting invitation to this writer to present the legal performance indicators proposal submitted on AIDA’s behalf in mid-2013, this writer overcame the reservations he had conveyed in his report of attendance at the the WGI’s second meeting (Paris, November 2013), and decided to participate in the Madrid meeting. In preparing his presentation, this writer took pains to ensure complementarity between the AIDA proposal and the Key Messages and Draft Principles developed by the Working Group co-leads.

Report of substantive meeting sessions

The day-long session attended by this writer was divided into two separate segments. The morning segment was given over to concurrent discussions in the four Working Groups which had formed at the WGI second meeting. An agenda for the WG3 session which this writer attended had been prepared and circulated in advance by the WG3 co-leads. It featured presentations on basin governance – overview and draft principles, the Spanish experience, and the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention and its current status -, followed by two presentations on “indicators”. The former of the latter two presentations, by INBO, illustrated the methodology and rationale for indicators of “basin water management”, developed and tested in a number of trans-boundary basins by INBO. This was followed by a presentation by this writer, illustrating the scope and rationale of AIDA’s original proposal, and how it would fit the WG’s mainstream work on river basin organizations. In the discussions, the trans-boundary dimension of basin governance attracted considerable (and unjustified, in this writer’s opinion) attention and debate, with the participant from Turkey arguing to keep this dimension outside the scope of the Group’s further work – a point he made again in plenary, in the afternoon session. Two presentations illustrating, respectively, private sector (France’s hydropower industry) participation in the formation of basin policies and in the (French) basin governance institutions, and the participation of civil society and water users in basin-level governance structures, made up the balance of a rich and vibrant session.

In the end, it was decided that a small group of participants from among those in attendance would volunteer to form a core group to advance the discussion on indicators, from a variety of angles. This writer volunteered to join and advance the discussion on indicators of the legal/regulatory dimension of basin-level governance.

The WG3 session attracted a total 31 participants, and turned out to be the star in terms of participants turnout relative to the other three Working Groups.  

In the afternoon session, conducted in plenary, first the scope and purpose of the WGI exercise were re-capped by the OECD secretariat, including a timetable for delivery. The aim of the WGI is to arrive at an OECD Recommendation on Water Governance in 2016, which would include Principles of Water Governance, to be arrived at by end-2015. This is with a view to taking up from where the OECD had left off, in 1992, when the latest in a string of OECD Recommendations on water had been issued, the first in 1971. This re-cap was followed by short reports from the four Working Groups on their respective discussions and work ahead. A few invited discussants then offered their own respective take of the process and work ahead, followed by a general discussion. Illustration by participants of water governance reforms/initiatives underway, and of relevant events, made up the balance of the plenary session.     

Way forward

Work will continue in the four Working Groups towards the development/refinement of indicators of water governance, based on a Draft Scoping Note on OECD Water Governance Indicators circulated by the OECD secretariat at the meeting. The objective is to arrive at a set of agreed indicators by February 2015. Work will continue in parallel on Water Governance Principles by the OECD secretariat, with opportunities for the Working Groups to participate. An Advisory Board will be appointed in June 2014, to steer the preparation process.

The next meeting of the Initiative is scheduled on 24-25 November 2014 at OECD Headquarters in Paris, providing a welcome stock-taking opportunity for the two processes running in parallel.

Other business – collaboration with IWRA in the XV IWRA Congress (Edinburgh, 2015)

Collaboration with IWRA in connection with their next scheduled XV World Water Congress (Edinburgh, May 2015), was pursued with the IWRA secretary-general, Mr. Tom Soo, and with the director of the Dundee-based UNESCO Centre for Water Policy and Law, Prof. Geoffrey Gooch, both in attendance. This contact followed on from earlier preliminary discussions AIDA had had with IWRA, confirming IWRA’s interest in having AIDA play a role in the scientific organization and delivery of the legal track of the future congress. At the same time, some form of collaboration of AIDA with the Dundee-based UNESCO Centre had been invited by IWRA, in view of the prominent role the Centre had been assigned by the host Scottish government in the organization of the event in Edinburgh.  Prof. Gooch was very open-minded about a role for AIDA, to the point of agreeing to AIDA having full control of a legal stream of the Congress programme, with the UNESCO Centre focussing on a separate – but complementary – policy and governance stream. Details about the programme structure were unavailable as yet, however it was anticipated that the AIDA-led legal stream would cover a day-long session.

Final remarks

At this stage of maturity of the WGI, and in light of the entry points for work on water legislation, provided in the 3rd meeting programme and in the working documents under circulation, this writer is of the opinion that AIDA should continue to engage with the Initiative as a member of the basin governance Working Group, including participation in the next scheduled meeting of the Initiative.

Done by Stefano Burchi, Chairman of the Executive Council

Rome, 31 May 2014