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OECD Principles on Water Governance: From Vision to Action - 7th World Water Forum


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

Daegu, Korea

13 April 2015

(As prepared for delivery)


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is an honour to kick-off this multi-stakeholder panel on the . We are here because we share a common cause: better water governance for better lives.


From the 1st Forum in Marrakech in 1997 to the last one in Marseille in 2012, we have made progress in presenting the technical, financial and institutional solutions to the water crisis. I think we can all agree that the main hurdles now relate to implementing these solutions on the ground. This is why the OECD has been a strong advocate of good governance, as a key condition for the success of water policies.



The challenges of a new water landscape


In the past 25 years, the context for freshwater management has radically changed. Water was recently ranked the number one Global Risk in terms of impacts by the World Economic Forum. It is one of the greatest challenges we face today. OECD Projections in the are sobering: by the middle of this century, the world’s population will rise to 9 billion, 4 billion of which will live in severely water-stressed basins, while demand for water is expected to rise by 55% globally.


We must recognise that the governance “climate” has significantly changed too. Better and more accessible information is shedding light on poor practices and certain positive developments have, in-turn, created new challenges. Take decentralisation for example; this has resulted in opportunities to customise policies to local realities, but has also created the need for better multi-level governance in order to resolve regional and national problems such as flooding and water pricing.


And a number of legal frameworks, which have triggered positive evolutions in water policy, continue to face governance bottlenecks. This is the case of the EU Water Framework Directive, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the United Nations Resolution on Human Rights and Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation.



The OECD is leading the way


In light of these challenges, the  aim to assist governments at all levels to make water governance fit for the future. They are built on the premise that one size does not fit all, and provide a common frame of reference to identify and scale up best practices and promote peer-to-peer dialogue.


Back in 2011, our first report on water governance reviewed 17 countries and put forward 9 guidelines for governments to get water governance right. Since then, our policy dialogues in countries such as Mexico, the Netherlands, Brazil, Jordan and Tunisia have strengthened the evidence that when it comes to  policy making, “what to do” is only the beginning; “who does what”, “why”, and “how” are just as important.


The OECD has also led a governance thematic group since the 6th World Water Forum in 2012. At the time, we built a community of 400+ contributors to develop concrete, measurable and achievable “targets” to foster good governance in the water sector.


And in Marseille in 2012, we committed to setting up a global network that would pursue this work and keep everybody on board in the lead up to the 7th WWF. We achieved our goal with the creation of the OECD Water Governance Initiative one year later.


The OECD Principles on Water Governance: A tool for policymakers


The Principles that we are discussing today are the tangible result of two years of intensive work within this network, following a bottom-up, inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach. They build on a unique platform of economic regulators hosted by the OECD that provides water stakeholders with the opportunity to meet twice a year with peers from other infrastructure sectors to discuss governance challenges.


The  lay down the 12 “must haves” to help manage “too much”, “too little” and “too polluted” water in a sustainable, integrated and inclusive way. Not to mention at an acceptable cost!


As you can see from the Brochure handed to you, these Principles are grouped into three clusters:


  • The effectiveness of water governance; covering issues such as the clear allocation of roles and responsibilities, policy coherence and capacity development;
  • The efficiency of water governance, covering the dimensions of data and information, the governance-financing nexus and regulatory frameworks;
  • And trust and engagement in water governance, with special focus on integrity and transparency, equity across users, territories and generations, stakeholder engagement, monitoring and evaluation.


We have come across many tangible examples of the benefits of good water governance in our work, which substantiate why these 12 Principles can make a difference.


We know, for example, that the water sector is fragmented both institutionally and territorially. Yet better coordination across institutions and water functions brings significant gains. In the case of the Netherlands, authorities foresee EUR 750 million in efficiency gains annually by 2020, through an improved re-allocation of roles and responsibilities for water management across levels of government and across the water chain.


Our policy dialogue with Mexico brought evidence that policy decisions in other sectors, such as energy subsidies to farmers via the Tarifa 9, were detrimental to water, leading to 20% of aquifers being overexploited.


Last but not least, our work on e-government shows that ICT tools have pushed national and subnational authorities to “open their books”, thereby making government data easily available to all stakeholders and generating greater accountability.


Ladies and Gentlemen:


“Water is the driving force of all nature”. These words by Leonardo Da Vinci highlight that water is our most precious resource. We must do our utmost to protect it and to ensure that future generations do not face the threat of water scarcity.


Our debates over the next few days will undoubtedly provide for a stimulating and insightful debate that can help us move from vision to action. On the 3rd and 4th of June this year, we expect our Ministerial Council Meeting to provide a strong political impetus to these Principles and to trigger concrete changes from governments and stakeholders.


Let us be bold and ambitious in developing together the “Implementation Roadmap” and support the implementation of these Principles leading to the 8th World Water Forum in Brasilia in 2018, and beyond. Peter Glas, the floor is yours.


Thank you.