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Watershed partners beat the drum for public finance, civil society and good water governance.

The 8th World Water Forum - the world's biggest water-related event - was held in the city of Brasília from 18 to 23 March, 2018. During the forum, Watershed partners organised, moderated, and spoke at many panels and discussions. We brought our own messages to support the forum's main theme 'sharing water' and also took some valuable thoughts home with us.

3 Messages Watershed partners brought to Brasília

1. Public finance and taxation are key sources for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6)

Mechanisms currently used to finance urban areas are not being transferred and adapted to rural areas. Public finance and taxation are critical sources of funding for the poorest and most vulnerable. Also, governance should be improved in both private and public investments to reduce the perceived risk of investment in the water sector and in order to leave no one behind. IRC's Catarina Fonseca brought these messages to sessions on 'Broadening the access to financial resources to peri-urban low-income areas and small-scale water services' (click here for session details) and 'Financing water governance' organised in collaboration with Water.org, WaterAid, Water Integrity Network (WIN), Action for Development (AfD) and Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA).

Catarina Fonseca at the World Water Forum 8

2. Civil society organisations play a pivotal role in achieving SDG 6 by holding governments accountable

When government, civil society and private sector organisations work together to solve problems in a local, regional, national and/ or global level, it facilitates the delivery of sustainable services to communities. Ensuring effective multi-level stakeholder partnerships is key in order to achieve SDG 6.

At the forum IRC, Simavi, Wetlands International and Akvo participated and held a series of sessions where strengthening the capacity of civil society organisations to influence policy and achieve SDG 6 was the key message. One session introduced preliminary findings of a global study conducted in 27 countries about CSOs' role in accountability mechanisms to hold governments accountable for progress on SDG 6.

Erma Uytewaal presenting preliminary findings of a global accountability study for SDG 6 implementation

Watershed partners showcased successful stories from different parts of the world, from Colombia to Burkina Faso, from Brazil to global efforts. In a diverse partnership environment, such as in the case of multi-stakeholder platforms, it is crucial to make sure every single participant has a voice, and every voice is heard. Learning, planning, solving problems should be a collective effort. However, establishing and guaranteeing equity of voices is not an easy task.

3. Good water governance includes effective collaboration and integration of WASH, IWRM and ecosystem management and restoration

Water crises are often water governance crises. It is key to realise this relationship and see that WASH and healthy freshwater ecosystems are intrinsically linked to water security. Wetlands International shared their report, titled WASH and Water Security: Integration and the role of civil society and together with other partners initiated further discussions around the importance of integrating WASH and IWRM. Erma Uytewaal (International Watershed programme) highlighted the role of CSOs. CSOs are often well positioned and equipped to play a connecting role by bringing the interest and knowledge of citizens to the table with policymakers and translate that into policy-relevant options overcoming the barriers between both worlds (WASH and IWRM).

Watershed Partner Sessions on WASH and IWRM

3 takeaways Watershed partners brought home from Brasília

1. On finance

What makes WASH fundamentally different from other sectors is that the majority of actors still look at WASH either through the lens of development aid and philanthropy or through a purely market based approach. This was disappointing in most of the finance related presentations but also in the final Forum declarations. The sector needs to make a shift to understand that there is not enough charity in the world to fill the finance gap. And there are limited amounts of private funding for a sector (in low income countries) that is perceived as highly risky.

Financial institutions need to be able to be more flexible in developing targeted instruments for the sector and governments need to explore different approaches for public funding using tariffs and taxation. Aid agencies and citizens need to be asking for more accountability on the funds spent in the sector and demonstrable progress in terms of better governance and efficiency. There were interesting innovations presented by AFD (governance based disbursements), IADB (governance grants attached with infrastructure loans) and water.org (large scale match funding for microfinance organisations). It's clear that there is not one approach that will solve the finance gap and different organisations can mobilise different financial instruments. However, the types of change required will take time, and if we do not start addressing the root causes of lack of slow financing in the sector now, we will not be able to reach SDG6.

2. On multi-stakeholder partnership and the role of government

Elynn Walter, IRC's International advocacy expert highlights that discussions during the forum showed passion for the importance of this topic. They proved that there is a good reason that multi-stakeholder platforms and partnerships exist and there is a need for facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogue in WASH. However, it is important to bring equity to the different voices that exist in these networks. Joint learning has to receive more attention so that people have similar levels of knowledge as a starting point for decision making. Both from bottom up and top down, joint learning has to be made possible.

Claire Lyons of Water.org, shared her thoughts on the role government plays in multi-stakeholder partnerships. At every level, national, subnational, regional, the government has the opportunity and assets to leverage its influence to bring people and organisations together. They must do that regularly. They need to first get multi-stakeholder input and then have strategies in place to invite the right stakeholders to the tables where their input is truly needed for the solution. Government needs to realise that they have a powerful facilitating role and that they adjudicate this fairly, regularly and transparently. This has to be part of their governance process.

However, all partners play an important role. According to Claire Lyons, there has to be a general agreement that partners share the same goal or multiple goals. Even if they come from different places, they have to agree on the end result. A good partnership is almost always built on the fact that each partner is bringing different assets to the table which not necessarily overlap. The pieces of the puzzle are different but they all belong to the same puzzle.

3. On the role of CSOs in accountability mechanisms for SDG 6

According to Mekala Snehalatha from FANSA, CSOs have a fundamental role in giving feedback towards government and therefore need to be the gatekeepers of WASH programmes. Benjamin Murkomen (chief public Health officer, Ministry of Health in Kenya) agrees that CSOs are important contributors to WASH development. However, capacities need to be strengthened to be able to play this role. Prioritising sanitation over water is also a challenge. Data is also fragmented in different institutions, so bringing together all relevant stakeholders to participate in one mutual accountability mechanism is of crucial importance to reach SDG 6.

 Mekala Snehalatha from FANSA presenting preliminary findings of an accountability study for SDG 6 implementation in India

This blog was written with input from Catarina Fonseca and Erma Uytewaal, who represented Watershed at the 8th World Water Forum. Quotes from Claire Lyons of Water.org, Mekala Snehalatha from FANSA and Benjamin Murkomen, Chief Public Health officer, Ministry of Health in Kenya are based on interviews conducted by Barbara Cruz during the forum.  

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