From Global Goals to Concrete Actions – Strategies for Effective Implementation


Remarks by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, Stockholm, 2 September 2013

UNSGAB side event, Securing the Future: Designing a Post-2015 Water Goal, Stockholm World Water Week

(As prepared for delivery)


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am glad to be part of these discussions at this important turning point: The deadline to achieve the famous "MDGs”, which have guided the efforts of the global development community over the past two decades, will expire in 2015. That is in just two short years. We must take stock and prepare.

Today, we are here to talk about water – a challenge of great personal interest to me, and the focus of intense research and analysis at the OECD. So, I ask the question: What remains to be done to provide access to clean and safe water resources for all (MDG 7C)?

Undeniable progress has been made. The MDGs have contributed to raising awareness that water is essential to the future of the planet and for poverty reduction. The definition of clear targets and indicators enabled us to mobilise resources: aid for water and sanitation nearly doubled between 2002 and 2011 . And we have seen concrete results: between 1990 and 2011 over 2.1 billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, and some 1.9 billion people gained access to improved sanitation.  These are great achievements!

But huge challenges remain. Almost 770 million people still lack access to an improved drinking water source, and many more do not have access to safe water. 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation.  Poor water quality remains a problem affecting the health of millions of people. An estimated 1 800 children under five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases linked to unsafe water supplies and poor sanitation and hygiene.

Pressure on the already limited water resources is projected to rise. The OECD estimates that global water demand will increase by 55% by 2050, driven by population and economic growth.  Investment needs for both new infrastructure as well as for maintaining existing water services are huge. Universal access to drinking water and sanitation by 2050 would require investments of at least USD 215 billion per year, and up to USD 1 trillion per year if we are to include modernisation, and maintenance costs as well.

I am happy that water is a major topic in the ongoing discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and like UNSGAB and other stakeholders here, I believe that water should be a goal in and of itself, not a derived or secondary one. UNSGAB has an important role to play in promoting water within the Post-2015 Development Agenda. I am confident that under the leadership of our new Chair, Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan, we will be able to galvanise action on defining a water SDG, just like we did with the MDGs.

While we discuss and promote a global decision on water in the Post-2015 Agenda, we can already start making a difference. A first step is to look at how to translate possible global goals into concrete national and local actions. The OECD will play a strong role in helping countries in this process – we have already identified some of the policy actions that have proven effective in addressing key development challenges, including in the water area; how these successful strategies could be scaled-up; and the indicators that could usefully monitor progress. The OECD flagship report that I will be launching this afternoon – “Water Security for Better Lives” – will provide governments with a set of concrete recommendations on how to better manage the risks and tradeoffs that arise from translating policy aspirations into actions on the ground. We have also just released another new OECD report – Water and Climate Change Adaptation: Policies to Navigate Uncharted Waters to provide guidance on how to adapt water policy and investment decisions so that climate change does not jeopardise – or even reverse – hard won development and water security gains.

Two particular areas stand out: i) measurement and ii) implementation.

•    On measurement: The success of the SDGs will depend on consistent and accessible data. This will be essential to make the case for policy change, and to measure progress and galvanise political support. This is certainly the case for water, where the existing data has significant gaps. At a very basic level, data on the status of surface and sub-surface water resources is often inadequate. Most countries, including many OECD countries, will have major data gaps around water quality. Estimates of the investment needs for water supply and sanitation also vary widely.

More efforts are needed to strengthen countries’ measurement capacity. We need high quality statistics but also qualitative information and assessment frameworks that can support benchmarking and bench-learning. Producing such metrics and developing a solid information base are at the core of OECD work.

•    On implementation. We already have most of the technical solutions. For example, we know that pricing is a crucial incentive to encourage efficiency and ensure long-term financing of water systems (it has been critical in helping many OECD countries decouple water use from continued economic growth in recent decades). The greatest challenge lies in overcoming political, social and institutional barriers to implementing these solutions.

Good governance is recognised as key to making water reform happen. But the OECD research on water governance clearly underscores that there is no “one size fits all” answer. There is, rather, an urgent and clear message for home grown policies and the integration of territorial specificities. Remember, while water is a planetary issue, a global challenge, an MDG goal and a national concern, its governance is mainly local, subnational, provincial, municipal and even city specific. Therein lies the paradox.

On the other side of the spectrum, the governance of multinational river basins is still work in progress and a source of increasing tensions.

The OECD has been making a major push on water governance as a means of improving the design and successful implementation of much needed water policy reforms. Over the last three years, we have examined the water governance frameworks of 17 OECD countries  and 13 Latin American and Caribbean Countries.  Last year we released a report on Making Water Reform Happen in Mexico to support the country’s reform process. We are now working with The Netherlands and will soon be working with Brazil where we will aim to facilitate the policy dialogue between the federal government and the states to improve water resources management. We are also working in the MENA region and will be assessing the governance and financing framework for water PPPs in Jordan and Tunisia. To support this effort, we recently launched the OECD Water Governance Initiative, a network of public, private and not-for-profit stakeholders that gathers twice a year. This group met in March 2013 and will do so again this November.

To conclude, while discussions on the post-2015 Development Agenda and the SDGs are gaining pace, it is essential that governments and key stakeholders continue to make progress to move the water agenda forward, so that the water goal is ambitious, self-standing and of high priority, and that we are well positioned to mobilise action once we agree upon water-related goals.

Ladies and gentlemen, the OECD stands ready to continue to help governments design and implement better water policies for better lives.



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