By Ziaul Hoque Mukta, Regional Policy Coordinator, Oxfam GB Asia
The Green Week 2012 Conference ‘Every Drop Counts: the Water Challenge’ organised by the European Commission’s Directorate General for the Environment provided me the opportunity to talk on ‘Improving Asia’s Water Governance.’ The interactive discussion between politicians, academicians, bureaucrats and experts from different corners of the world was organized on 23 May 2012 at Charlemagne Building, Brussels.
Giles Merritt and Shada Islam, respectively the Secretary General and Head of Policy at Friends of Europe, Co-moderated the interaction between speakers and participants. Most of the speakers reiterated that irrespective of the capacity to pay everyone should have the right to safe water to save lives and maintain livelihoods.
International Non Government Organizations (INGOs) in Asia, in collaboration with non-government, civil society and community based organizations (NGOs, CSOs and CBOs), have been trying to ensure the right to safe water. During humanitarian emergency many organisations deliver water and sanitation services to the affected communities while regularly facilitate activities around Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). Now a days, Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (ARR) has emerged as a crucial area of intervention in the context of anthropogenic climate change. However, since long, a large number of NGOs, CSOs and CBOs have also been collaborating with social movements to protect people’s access to water; especially in the form of protecting water resources from water grabbers including local elite and conglomerates. These organizations have also great track record of monitoring the implications of large infrastructure projects across the Asia.
GROW, the ever biggest global campaign of Oxfam, launched in June 2011, that has fixed one of its objectives to stop land and water grabs by powerful corporations and countries, has brought enhanced opportunity to engage with such issues in Asia. Land and water are the key resources on which women and men in Asian countries depend on for their food; thus, to fix the broken food system of the world, we need to ensure pro-poor governance of these resources.
While some of the speakers were focusing on investment in water sector, I reiterated that investment was a key necessity; however, without ensuring apposite governance in water sector, a sightless investment regime might not be helpful for the poor people and ecosystem.
Measures to ensure pro-people water governance must be ensured at all level: at local, national, regional and global level. However, measures must be taken primarily at local level. Community Based Water Resource Management (CBWRM) is the key measure that requires sufficient investment. CBWRM should be linked with national level Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM). It should be mentioned here that albeit the IWRM has been identified as a key area of investment for the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) including the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB), social movements in many countries in Asia claim that the IFIs don’t even follow their own policies while implementing such projects, thus people were being affected negatively. Simultaneously we need to understand that unless we address the basin and/or regional aspects of water, we will not be able to ensure equity and sustainability of this resource.
Again, while looking at the grassroots, national and basin and/or regional measures, it would be important to look at the ‘Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.’ The Convention, following an intensive series of discussions at multilateral level for more than two decades and guidance from International Law Commission (ILC), provides useful policy directions on water sector. It ensures equity and sustainability based on no harm principle, thus, must be honoured. Therefore, instead of initiating a new round of discussions here and there on water governance, we should invest our efforts including time and money, for the Ratification, Acceptance, Accession and Approval of the Convention. The convention is the most comprehensive multilateral policy document we have before us at this moment.
Water governance should also be directed by the ‘Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security’ that has been endorsed by the Committee of World Food Security (CFS) on 11 May 2012.
We should implement what we agreed by this time. Lessons learnt from the implementation process may guide us for further discussions. Developing documents one after another bypassing implementation is not the solution at all people want to see.