In 2015, global leaders adopted a set of global goals to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets that should be met in the coming 15 years. One of them focuses on Integrated Water Resource Management, a key issue for the sustainability of water and sanitation in Latin America. We talk about this issue during the Latin American Conference on Sanitation, Latinosan, with Mario Schreider, Director of the UNESCO Chair of Water and Education for Sustainable Development, Faculty of Engineering and Water Science, National University of the Littoral, Santa Fe, Argentina.
Questions: What brings you to Costa Rica?
Answer: I have been invited to participate in the annual intersessional meeting of the Conference of Ibero-American Water Directors (CODIA), to talk about one of the components related to indicator 6.5.1, of target 6.5 dealing with integrated water resource management. This target is part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 6, to ensure drinking water and sanitation services for all. I tried to make a contribution regarding capacity building and strengthening of river basin organisations.
Q: What is your experience concerning strengthening these organisations?
A: In the past five years I have participated in several activities and workshops, where the targeted participants are at the same time the key actors. These participants are the members of basin councils, and the workshops have been meeting fora, to put together and exchange ideas. It was an opportunity to reflect upon different aspects linked to indicator 6.5.1, concerning the extent of implementation of integrated water resource management at the basin level. The first of these workshops was held in 2015, with the participation of basin council members from five Latin American countries. It was the first impetus for this strategy of dialogue and engagement with peers, to reflect upon common issues and ways to address them. The number of participating countries increased during subsequent events, and the workshop held in November of 2018 in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) was attended by representatives from 18 countries in the region.
Each of these workshops allowed drawing some conclusions about the issues discussed, and also helped to identify needs that the members of basin organisations noted as priorities to strengthen their organisations. As such, the sequence of workshops was not conceived as a repetition of the same concepts for different audiences, but as a process of continuous improvement that sought to provide strengths to participants, and identify new weaknesses to be addressed at subsequent events. This dynamic has been very motivating for potential participants, who have shown an increasing interest in this type of activities. Proof of this is the significant increase in candidates that wish to attend each new event.
In many countries of Latin America there has been significant progress regarding legal frameworks and regulations
Q: What does this component involve?
A: Indicator 6.5.1 analyses whether there is a favourable environment in terms of institutions, management instruments and financing. In many countries of Latin America there has been significant progress regarding legal frameworks and regulations; however, when it comes to implementation on the ground, those management plans show certain weaknesses. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen institutions and build their capacity so they can fulfil their role.
Basin organisations also experience this. A first step in the process of strengthening institutions is recognising existing weaknesses. That is why the first workshop focused on identifying the main barriers that prevent basin organisations from working according to the principles of integrated water resource management. Three factors were analysed: (a) lack of financing, (b) representativeness issues, and (c) information access, management and dissemination. Some lines of action were proposed to overcome each of these issues. The detailed conclusions of that workshop are gathered in a report published by the CEDDET Foundation, which you can access here.
The conclusions drawn and the solutions proposed were analysed again during subsequent activities. Those later workshops showed that although some progress had been made, the issues remained. An aspect that was brought up over and over again at the different workshops has to do with representativeness and the capacity of representatives to be a valid link between those they represent and decision makers. A basin organisation should include representatives from government, users and civil society, and often that is the case. But a person who is there on behalf of a sector of civil society does not necessarily represent it well, and those stakeholders may not necessarily know who is representing them. The fact is there is a certain lack of representativeness of some stakeholders. In addition, often communications do not follow the most appropriate format to reach out to people. Improvements are required concerning the process of selecting representatives, capacity building and empowerment, and accountability of representatives towards those they represent.
Overall, integrated water resource management at the basin level shows significant progress in Latin America. However, greater effort is needed to improve representation mechanisms, promoting greater stakeholder involvement, facilitating capacity building, and designing communication channels with stakeholders that are more agile and straightforward. That is the only way to build trust between representatives and those they represent, a requirement to achieve target 6.5 on integrated management and ensure an appropriate value for indicator 6.5.1.