The Water Policy Group has collaborated with the national water leaders of 92 countries across the world to generate insights into some of the key issues faced by decision makers in the sector. In its 2023 report, which follows on from and builds on its 2021 report, the researchers highlight the responses of water leaders to questions around current risks and challenges, how international processes can best support improved water outcomes at the national level, and issues of integration with other sectors. The report was prepared to inform global dialogue around water policy at the key water related events of 2023.
The research for the report was conducted with the support of the office of the President of the General Assembly, the African Ministerial Council on Water, the Asia Pacific Water Forum, the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID), and the League of Arab States (LAS). The Water Policy Group worked together with the University of News South Wales’ Global Water Institute to conduct a survey – conducted among 2022 - of 92 national water leaders and explore the most influential factors affecting the achievement of good water outcomes. The concept of ‘national water leader’ as used in the survey referred to national government Ministers with a responsibility for the water portfolio, heads of national water departments or agencies, or senior officials or advisors responsible for water in a national government. The survey participants were spread across different country income classifcations, with 14 respondents from low income countries, 23 respondents from lower middle income countries, 30 from upper middle income countries, and 25 from high income countries.
From a set of ten risks and challenges, the water leaders were asked to identify the top three risks they were facing to achieve or maintain good water management. Among these, climate change dominated responses as the top challenge, followed by increasing demand for water and droughts (closely followed in fourth place by floods). Among the challenges to achieving good water management, leaders listed ‘inadequate infrastructure’ as the dominant challenge, followed by inadequate and inaccessible data and information in second place and fragmented water institutions in third place. These responses were relatively independent of the income group which countries fell into, with the exception that in high income countries, the greatest challenge is seen as ‘conflict between water user groups, including the environment’. This challenge was in fifth place for the group as a whole.
The next section of the survey was devoted to the level of helpfulness of multilateral processes in achieving ‘good water outcomes’, defined as ‘availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ in line with Sustainable Development Goal 6. The factor that was considered most helpful among multilateral processes was the availability of platforms that provide scientific information - including data collection and analysis – that was relevant to the country in question. The promotion of intersectoral integration of water uses - a topic widely promoted internationally – was generally placed second. The third place was jointly held by the sharing of case studies and best practices and guidance on policy and practice (perhaps by the similarity of the underlying questions – Ed.).
When asked whether the existence of a United Nations platform for countries to make public their intended future actions in relation to water would help raise the priority of water for their government, the great majority (89%) of respondents felt that this was either ‘definitely useful’ or ‘probably useful’. The main underlying reason for this was the possibility of attracting extra funding, followed by facilitating better alignment with other government priorities such as climate change, energy security and food security. When leaders were asked whether they felt that they had access to sufficient scientific services, 66% of respondents clarified that they ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ have this access. The types of information that was considered most useful was water data and information that was applicable at the national level, followed in second place by forecasts and projections, and in third place monitoring and evaluation assessments applicable at national level.
The next topic covered by the survey was cross-sectoral integration. This section probed the importance of water to the achievement of other government objectives such as public health, food security, energy security, economic development, climate mitigation and adaptation, environment, and disaster risk reduction. In the majority of cases, water was considered to be very important - ranging from 88% agreeing it was important for energy security to 99% that it was important for climate change and environment outcomes. When water leaders were then asked whether minister from other portfolios also thought that water was important to their work, the majority felt that perceptions did not differ significantly across government departments. However, this alignment was felt to be highest for topics such as environment, climate change and disaster risk reduction, and lowest for energy security, public health, and economic development.
When probed on the question of why these differences existed, the majority felt that the importance of good water outcomes to achieving economic development was not well understood in the government. Less prominent was the view that water responsibilities are too fragmented to enable a common government view on the importance of water to economic development.
From this research, the Water Policy Group concluded that multilateral efforts on climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction, science and information, governance, as well as the commitments under the Water Action Agenda will be useful in supporting national efforts to achieve better water outcomes. They also conclude that while cross-sectoral integration may continue to be valid concern at the global level, this is of less concern at the national level. The Water Policy Group is also positive about the utility of the aggregated feedback received from water leaders to help connect global scale agendas to decision making in the water sector.