Barbara Schreiner • 13 September 2022
in community SDG 6 IWRM Community

Change needed for SDG6.5 implementation

Drought, flooding, heat wave…We’ve heard it all in the last couple months, with growing alarm, from across the globe. It shows, first, that threats from climate change are high and urgent to address. But also, second, poor integrity is a massive contributor to the severity of the issues we face and we need to urgently change our practices. Rivers are dry and floods are catastrophic, also because of laissez-faire, poor planning, poor quality infrastructure, vested interests skewing water allocation, and woefully inadequate resourcing for inspections and enforcement of regulation. Corruption is a major driver.

We have a better approach and a clear target in SDG6.5: “By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate”. IWRM is a step towards integrity through its emphasis on participation, coordination, institutional capacity, and the need to balance interests related to water fairly and in keeping with the human rights to water and sanitation. However, we know from the latest UN Water progress report on target 6.5.1 that “globally, the rate of implementation of IWRM urgently needs to double”. And, insufficient financing is a leading deficiency making implementation a challenge. The report rightly points to “Transparency, anti-corruption and accountability” as one of four options to address financing issues, alongside “increasing direct central government investment backed by good policy; raising revenue from traditional and non-traditional water and ecosystem services; and leveraging opportunities from recovery support packages”.

Many commentators focus on “innovation” and the possibility of raising revenue from water and ecosystem services, making opportunities more attractive, or attracting financing from new partners. Integrity, with as its key pillars – transparency, accountability, participation, and anti-corruption – is, most often, not taken seriously or systematically, although we argue it is key to avoiding waste and using resources more effectively, and, importantly, it is a condition for attracting new financing from other more popular paths. We need more I in IWRM, the I of Integrity.


Money down the drain

Corruption negatively affects socio-economic development and the equitable distribution of resources, increases income and gender inequalities, allows incompetence, contributes to maladaptation, diverts public funds into personal rather than public benefit, and reduces the revenue due to water resources management institutions. “Parliament does its best to appropriate more resources as requested but if we don’t deal with the issue of corruption we won’t go far. Corruption is embedded in poor governance” summed up Robert Sentongo, Ugandan MP for Kyotera, at a meeting in Uganda in 2019 to discuss key issues in WASH and IWRM organized by UWASNET and IRC Uganda.

In many cases corruption is systemic, running through from the highest levels of government to the level of citizens. Looking at corruption in irrigation in Indonesia, Suhardimann and Mollinga described how embedded corruption from the President down resulted in “the transformation of the government’s stimulant funds from a policy measure to empower farmers to a mere tool to transfer rent-seeking practices”. Corruption is highly prevalent in the procurement of goods and services, and particularly in relation to infrastructure development. It is also particularly problematic for water permitting processes.

It is impossible to put a figure to the financial costs of corruption in IWRM because it happens in the shadows and under the table. However, the financial costs are only a small portion of the overall costs that include maintenance of expensive, unnecessary water infrastructure; rehabilitation costs of poorly constructed water infrastructure; over allocation and pollution of water resources, and major environmental and social costs.


Integrity moving forward

Integrity, bolstered by transparency, accountability, participation and strong anti-corruption measures, can help to reduce the risk of corruption and ensure that available funds are used effectively in the implementation of IWRM. There is no one silver bullet that enables the control of corruption. An integrity assessment (at organization or sector level) can support the development of a more targeted and effective integrity strategy. Generally, the key priorities are:

  • Better and strictly followed procurement processes. E-procurement is one way which allows for easier detection of irregularities and corruption, such as bid rigging, and provides auditable trails that may facilitate investigation where needed.
  • Budget transparency: the full disclosure of all relevant budgeting and expenditure information in a timely, systematic and accessible manner.
  • Empowered citizens and the media: to disseminate information, expose corruption, and improve quality of IWRM.

Integrity is also the key to attracting new financing and new players for IWRM in three ways.

  • To make sound decisions, to discuss the value of water and related services, to discussions bankability and financial attractivity, to prioritise developments, you need reliable financial data, service level data, data on water availability and quality. Trustworthy data requires integrity. Water sector institutions can focus on improving and controlling data processes and developing better disclosure systems. Open government commitments for water can also be relevant at local or national level.
  • To attract new players and further cross-sector collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagement -also with the private sector, and especially where power dynamics are complex and levels of influence are unequal- you need transparency on intentions and mandates and accountability mechanisms that work. (Save the date for a workshop on this in the context of Water Energy Food Nexus projects September 28)
  • To tap into alternative sources of financing like climate adaptation funding or recovery support mechanisms, you need to show effectiveness, compliance, and creditworthiness: integrity management programmes for institutions / water sector organisations or service providers are effective tools to support these goals.


Featured photo by David Bedoya, Waste in Titicaca, submitted to the WIN photo competition 2016.

This blog post is part of the learning journey on Innovative Financing for Water Security through an IWRM approach. The learning journey takes place on the SDG 6 IWRM Community of Practice and will last until October 2022. Interested IWRM practitioners can participate in the learning journey by creating a profile on the GWP Toolbox and then joining the SDG 6 IWRM Community of Practice.