Water: The way forward - from thematic priorities to strategic considerations


World Water Forum

United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) meeting

High-level political dialogue on the priorities for the water sector in the post-2015 development agenda

The Way Forward: From thematic priorities to strategic considerations

Concluding remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

Sunday, 12 April 2015


Deputy-Secretary-General, Dear Minister, colleagues,

It has been a privilege to listen to the thoughts of Jan Eliasson and distinguished colleagues on the priorities for water in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.


I think we all salute the ambition and foresight of the Open Working Group in the definition of a Sustainable Development Goal on water. As we heard this morning, the goal is broader in scope and more ambitious than the previous Millennium Development Goal. I hope it will identify clear targets and be supported by a robust monitoring system.


The importance of water in the post 2015 development agenda reaches beyond SDG 6. Water features in several other goals, such as those on food security, health and cities.


The plethora of references to water is an indication of its critical and central relevance to the development agenda. It is also a major challenge. Water is multifaceted, from access to portable water to protection against floods, to pollution prevention and control.


Let me highlight three imminent issues, which may guide our reflections when defining priorities.

The need for policy coherence

One is policy coherence. Since Bonn in 2011, we have a better understanding of the interfaces between water, food and energy. The post-2015 development agenda also highlights the link with health and disaster risk management. The critical question which we also raised at our recent Global Forum on the Environment is: how can this nexus be best reflected in the SDGs and in the Post-2015 Development Agenda? This question would benefit from the reflection of the Board.

The role of finance

Another cross-cutting theme is finance. Access to water supply and sanitation as well as, protection against water-related risks, would surely benefit from better planned, designed, managed and maintained infrastructure. Let me highlight two key messages that emerged from Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth organised by the OECD/Global Water Partnership (GWP).


First, some countries, basins or cities may be trapped in a deadly combination of difficult hydrology and an inability to invest in water infrastructure.

Second, not all investments are equally beneficial: the most beneficial ones combine infrastructure, institutions and information along pathways that are coherent and adaptable. We need to learn how to make the best of available financial resources to harness water security for sustainable growth, and where the international community can add most value. This could be a key theme of the Financing for Development agenda.

Improving the institutional architecture

Finally, we know there is an institutional challenge. Policy coherence, planning, galvanising and co-ordinating initiatives at different scales, and engaging with water users, all require an institutional architecture that is lacking in many countries today. Whether you call it institutions, processes or governance, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. This is especially true if the international community is going to be serious about managing water for sustainable development, globally.


Colleagues, this board has made a difference. It has put water supply and sanitation at centre stage. It has promoted a wider water agenda. We must now look forward and make bold suggestions on how we can develop an effective platform, how to liaise with other communities, how to bring water to where the money is, how to facilitate initiative and engagement. And it must do so within a UN system whose attention to water is now much more diversified than ever before.


This board has the capacity to transition from focusing on thematic priorities to addressing strategic action, and the OECD is ready to support such a move. With its distinctive expertise on water economics and governance, and its unique convening power, the OECD is well placed to provide a platform where strategic issues can be discussed, and substantiated by robust analyses and international best practices.


So: let’s go strategic together!


Thank you.