Presentation of the King Hassan II Great World Water Prize


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Brasilia, Brazil -  21 March 2018

(As prepared for delivery)



Your Excellency Secretary of State for Water, Mrs Charafat El Yedri Afailal,
Mr Benedito Braga, President of the World Water Council,
Mr Loïc Fauchon, Honorary President of the World Water Council,
Excellencies, dear friends,

It is a great honour to be with you today and to receive, on behalf of the OECD, the 2018 edition of the King Hassan II Great World Water Prize.


My sincerest thanks to the Jury of the Prize, the President and Honorary President of the World Water Council, and to the dedicated team who have been working to advance the water agenda with me at the OECD. Many of them are here, and I share this prize with them.


Water, a personal commitment, which dates back 20 years

The topic of water has long been close to my heart. When I campaigned to become Secretary-General of the OECD in 2006, I defined water as one of three priorities for the Organisation going forward, together with migration and health.


At that time, there was a striking awareness gap. Many countries were taking water security and water services for granted. Despite knowing that water was not only key for life, but also for economic and social prosperity, they treated water like an unlimited resource, that could simply take care of itself, store itself, clean itself, distribute itself and reproduce itself. There was limited focus on how economic development, urbanisation and climate change would affect water availability. Too often, they underestimated the impact of poor water management on economic development, the sustainability of ecosystems, and the livelihoods of both current and future generations.


I have been privileged to work directly on water from a number different viewpoints. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I learned first-hand how water could be crucial to peace and keeping good neighbours. As Minister of Finance, I saw how water was a crucial ingredient for sustainable growth.


I was privileged to contribute to the World Panel on Financing Water Infrastructure chaired by Michel Camdessus in 2002 and 2003, and also to lead the Gurría Taskforce on Financing Water for All during the 6th World Water Forum in Mexico. These bodies – as well as the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water, on which I also served – have all helped to send much-needed wakeup calls to decision-makers.


From Vision to Action

I have endeavoured to put this vocation at the heart of the OECD’s mission. Making progress has meant breaking silos. The OECD has led the way in working on water in a truly multidisciplinary way. OECD evidence and analysis covers water challenges in areas such as water pricing and financing, water governance, water for agriculture, water in cities, natural disasters, private sector participation and water regulators.


In all of this work, I keep stressing three messages. Fortunately they are less alien to many than they were all those years ago.


» First, the water challenge goes far beyond universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation (though this on its own is already a major ambition). When it comes to water, we need to address at the same time situations where there is too much water, not enough water or where there is the risk of water pollution and contamination.

» Second, the solutions to the water challenge cut across sectoral policies, such as environment, agriculture, health, land use or spatial planning. Water policies and water ministries – where they exist, sadly not enough – can only deliver part of the solution. Water requires a whole-of-government, multi-level and multi-stakeholder approach to manage trade-offs and to ensure that decisions taken in any policy area are water-wise.

» Third, water challenges are not merely solved through technical fixes. Think of diffuse pollution or pharmaceutical residues in water streams. These challenges require innovative governance and financing arrangements, better knowledge, assessment, and transparency on who does what, who pays for what, and at which scale things should be done.


Today, the economics and the governance of water security are seen as integral parts of how societies can develop in a sustainable way. I remember at my first OECD Forum meeting as Secretary-General I said, “Follow the water, and you will be able to solve the problem of poverty”. This is why I think it is important that access to safe water and sanitation for all is not only acknowledged in its own right in Sustainable Development Goal 6, but also permeates through practically every other Goal.

The unique contribution of the OECD

The OECD is uniquely positioned to support this agenda. As an economic organisation, it has demonstrated how water drives inclusive and sustainable growth; as a multi-sectoral organisation, it has shown how different policies affect water availability and demand; as an intergovernmental organisation, it has engaged with policy makers at different scales to design and implement better policies and governance arrangements; and as a global standard setter, it has provided solid evidence and Principles to inspire ambitious and tailored reforms.


To give just a few examples, the OECD has been collaborating with Brazil’s National Water Agency, resulting in our study, Water Resources Governance in Brazil, launched here in Brasilia in December 2015. The OECD is also working with Korea to enhance water efficiency, as well as with my own country, Mexico. The OECD has been supporting Mexico’s 2030 Water Agenda, providing evidence-based assessment, analytical guidance, and customised policy recommendations in support of its water policy reforms.


Beyond national agendas, water remains by definition a multilateral issue, and at the OECD we have designated 2018 the year of multilateralism, with our Ministerial Council Meeting in late May being devoted to ‘Refounding Multilateralism’. Water is part of this agenda.


Meeting the water challenge is a shared responsibility at the national and international level, across public, private and non-profit players.


The OECD Water Governance Initiative launched in 2013 has become a major multi-stakeholder platform for co-production and bench-learning, and I am pleased to see its Chair, Mr Peter Glas, in the room today.


Three years ago, we developed a set of OECD Principles on Water Governance, which I had the pleasure to introduce at the 7th World Water Forum in Korea. Since then, over 140 stakeholders have endorsed them and supported their implementation. And in December 2016 the Recommendation of the OECD Council on Water was adopted as a legal instrument, which provides high-level policy guidance on many fronts relevant for water resources management and the delivery of water services.


Today, I am pleased to launch our latest report, “Implementing the OECD Principles on Water Governance: Indicator Framework and Evolving Practices”. The report proposes two major tools for interested cities, basins, regions and countries to strengthen their water policies. First, it provides the OECD Water Governance Indicator Framework, a self-assessment tool to measure, assess and take action collectively. Second, it sets out 54 concrete stories illustrating the Principles. I look forward to the widespread use of these tools to foster policy improvement and learning.


The OECD Roundtable on Financing Water – a joint initiative with the Netherlands and the World Water Council – provides another global multi-stakeholder platform for engagement, collaboration, and action. It facilitates an ongoing dialogue between the water and finance communities on how to overcome the global challenges of financing the investments needed for water security and sustainable economic growth, and water’s contribution to the wider set of SDGs. As governments, financiers or partners, you are most welcome to join.  


We have come a long way, but there are still challenges ahead

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

In all of these endeavours and others, as I mentioned in my video message at the opening ceremony on Monday, we must keep in mind the more than 2 billion people who do not have access to safe drinking water. More than double that amount lack access to sanitation. We must remember the tens of millions of migrants who flea floods, droughts or devastating storms. Today, up to 200 million people per year are affected or killed by floods, droughts and other water-related disasters. We have to remember that millions of young girls are prevented from going to school when they begin to menstruate because there is no toilet. 


We know that over 40% of the world’s population is expected to live under severe water stress by 2050. The number of people at risk from floods is projected to rise from 1.2 billion today to around 1.6 billion, nearly 20% of the world’s population. We also know that continued intense groundwater depletion threatens food production in some of the key breadbasket regions of the world, with possible impacts on food security.


Therefore we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to keep pressing policymakers to implement our tools, and we have to continue scaling up our own efforts to meet the water challenges of today and tomorrow. More work is needed to guide better agriculture and land use management; to protect forests, wetlands and aquifers; and to support nature-based solutions. All of this requires concerted efforts with our colleagues who work on climate mitigation and adaptation, urban development, food and agriculture, biodiversity conservation, public and private finance.


Excellencies, dear water friends,

I’d like to close by asking how many of you could name the coat of arms of Paris, where the OECD is headquartered. Perhaps Monsieur Fauchon, and some other French guests, but for the rest of you, let me tell you. Paris may be 200 kilometres from the sea, but for almost one millennium, its symbol has been that of the guild of the ‘Marchands de l'eau’, the water merchants. It has depicted, and still does to this day, flowing water bearing a ship. This is because those who controlled the water, controlled the city. The river brought life, trade, agriculture and people to the banks of the Ile de la Cité, where the Celtic Parisii tribe founded the fortified settlement that would become Paris.


Paris owes its location, its development and its prosperity to water, and it is certainly not alone. Still today, water unites us all, as people, as cultures, as societies, cities and economies. We cannot afford to get water wrong, and with climate change, urbanisation and population growth, we cannot afford to take it for granted.


The OECD will continue to boost collective action as we head to the 9th World Forum in Dakar, and will keep working tirelessly in support of better water policies and governance, for better lives. Thank you.




See also:

OECD work on Water

OECD work on Environment

OECD work with Brazil





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