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BLOG: Water Stewardship and Disasters: A UN Special Thematic Session

Nov 29th, 2015 |

The 2nd UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters on Wednesday November 18th was on  “the full and meaningful participation of stakeholder at the appropriate levels”. Stakeholders can be defined as: any party who may affect, or be affected by the outcomes of policies and programmes.

Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, civil society is increasingly seen as key stakeholders for achieving sustainable development, complementing the work of state actors and intergovernmental organisations.  Civil society or non-state actors comprise a wide range of stakeholder groups, including academia, business, farmers, workers and their unions, and non-governmental organisations; but also the Major Groups Women, Youth and Indigenous People, who in themselves are a diverse set of groupings.

In the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction[1], water is not prominently mentioned.
It should be clear, however, that effective disaster risk reduction depends on healthy ecosystems and secure livelihoods; and that it begins and ends with the sustainable management and governance of water bodies.

Furthermore, not only are floods man-made, but as are the disasters. With the same technologies that are causing the current issues, we cannot be adequately prepared for the future. Hence, we need radical innovation. Dealing with WDRR could benefit from the core competence of the European Water Stewardship, which has five working principles, embedded in policy and execution strategies:

  1. Do not fight water, but create space to live with the water;
  2. Create stakeholder involvement, build from engagement to excitement, and finally towards long lasting involvement of stakeholders;
  3. Often, solutions are not immediately available; they may be too expensive or difficult to design.
  4. The involvement of stakeholders takes time where a continuous long-term process is needed. Risk management can be the basis of this sustainable process;
  5. Offer structure to this cyclic process: Measure, Assess, Improve and Verify;
  6. Communicate all the results broadly.

Members of the panel pointed out the ways in which European Water Stewardship (EWS) looks at businesses as a leading actor to stimulate sustainable water management, along the value chain and in the sphere of influence around their production sites. Already, large corporations in disaster prone areas are using EWS to define their water risk management strategies. As part of the standard requirements, they cooperate with their river basin stakeholders. The application of EWS in disaster prone areas is no longer with the corporations only, but also part of a broader approach to be developed and piloted.

Moving from principles to practice

The conceptual attractiveness of a paradigm is not enough. It must be applicable in the real world.
We have to be mindful that given the diversity of sectors, institutions and stakeholders involved when operationalizing the concept of all-of-society engagement and partnership, this transition from principles to practice requires a sustained effort from all parts of society.

From the analyses of IWRM implementation that the Global Water Partnership has conducted in different regions of its constituency, we can deduce common denominators for putting the integrated and participatory approach into practice:

-       High-level political commitment and strategic vision is an absolute must.

-       Reforming institutional structures towards more integrated and participatory (water) governance requires a simultaneous ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approach with strong leadership and long-term commitment at all administrative levels.

-       The participation of stakeholders has to be meaningful and occur at the different levels of governance in order to transform existing management cultures and practices.

The European Water Partnership is an example of functional multi-stakeholder partnership where there is wide recognition of the need to cooperate, preferably in a multi-disciplinary way. A good example are the European Innovation Partnerships (EIP’s), for instance on Water and on Raw Materials. They have proven ability to mobilise knowhow, speedup innovation and direct the research focus on areas most needed. Pre-conditional to these open partnerships is a lean-and-mean governance structure, where performance management is embedded in an awarding environment for accomplishments. Furthermore, a clear link with policy and subsidy schemes is increasing effectiveness and broad recognition as well.

[1] Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030. Adopted by the 3rd UN World Conference, March 2015.

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