The sixth sustainable development goal (SDG) is “Universal Access to Clean Water and Sanitation” and although this may sound far-fetched, it is not really because the global water crisis is driven not by absolute water scarcity, but by a scarcity of good governance.
In order to attain water security for all, we need to ensure that the correct policies, laws, organisations and financing frameworks are put in place and that water institutions actually deliver the goods.
Studies have shown that in most cases, inadequate water management is to blame for the lack of shift in poverty reduction and sustainable growth. The study also showed that most individuals/organisations did not make the link between the two and that inadequate knowledge about how and why water management delivers the societal outcomes needed has meant that there is a lack of direction in the water sector to improve performance.
This has unfortunately left the water sector wide open to corruption and political and economic exploitation. This dismal track-record of mismanagement calls for radical improvements on all fronts, including investing in the research-policy-action cycle and improved standards and guidelines for commissioning, reviewing and reporting on research evidence.
Donor-led interventions which extend the provision of services or manage water supplies on behalf of problem-beset governments only treat the symptoms rather than the root causes and this means that any benefits are only temporary and rarely endure. The focus should rather be on making water managers accountable to the people and teaching the citizenry how to go about ensuring that their governments take on the problems of overlapping ministerial mandates, inadequate tax collection and mobilisation, power struggles, corruption, and executive, legislative and judicial dysfunction.
The private sector is doing some good stuff on sustainable water management but here too the people need to ensure that there is water stewardship with integrity and accountability. Donors need to collaborate more and stop focusing on the same issues with the same people in the same places.
There needs to be adequate capacity building via the creation of opportunities to learn by doing and receiving practitioner support from peers, a marked improvement of civil service wages, and other unique and innovative programmes.