Water management part four Global goals to focus local efforts

By Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

25 September 2014 See comments (11)

DISCUSSION: With Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria, the UN Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning.

Good management – also locally – is only possible if based on clearly defined and broadly agreed targets and priorities. This is why we need a single post-2015 Sustainable Economic and Social Development Goal for Water with four concrete targets responding to the major challenges outlined in earlier parts of this post. The discussion on the post-2015 Goals is ongoing. The proposals that I made on several occasions, need, if you agree with them, your support whenever and wherever possible:

1) Water as a human right – implement the universal accesses to safe drinking water bringing ‘improved’ water to all people by 2025 at the latest, with a parallel focus and longer-term perspective (i.e., beyond 2025) on quality, i.e., moving from an ‘improved’ water perspective to ‘truly safe drinking water’, and on bringing this water actually to the homes of individual citizens. While it is essential for achieving this target that infrastructure costs (including capital costs) are fully covered, water to cover the very basic needs must be free for those who are unable to pay.

2) Accelerate the provision of access to improved sanitation to at least 120 million additional people per year, aiming for universal access before 2050. Data on actual improvements achieved show that this is realistically possible; with further strengthened efforts political leaders might aim for even more ambitious targets.

3) Adequate treatment of all municipal and industrial wastewater prior to discharge by 2030. Best practice initiatives and learning to reduce groundwater pollution by agricultural production (traditional, organic, etc.). According to FAO only about half of the 285 cubic-kilometres of wastewater are treated, and only some 10% of treated municipal wastewater is directly re-used. This means there is potential here to close the gap – ultimately aiming for a level of recycling as the one achieved by the Singapore Public Utility Board.

4) Finally, yet fundamentally, we must address the water overdraft, i.e., bringing freshwater use/waste (initially measured as withdrawals) back into line with sustainable supply (natural renewal minus environmental flows). Without change in the way we are using water today, we risk shortfalls of up to 30% of global cereal production due to water scarcity by 2030. First priority must be on this target 4, if we can’t overcome water overuse, water shortage will impact all other targets above. Cost effective and comprehensive actions are needed, combining the supply side and demand side by increasing the efficiency of water use and managing wastewater as a reusable resource. The 2030 Water Resources Group that I am chairing, a disruptive public-private partnership, is participating in these efforts. But it is an initiative that still needs more support – we are looking for more companies and other stakeholders to join.

All of these targets need to be checked against reality: we did it with data of improvements of the past. But then it is also about good management of their local implementation, rather than solemn declarations, that is what is most needed in the coming years.

And they need to be put in the context of other policies and urgent policy changes:

• more efforts to reduce loss and waste of food, again a management task, also with the necessary investment in infrastructure, and more responsibility of consumers in advanced economies;

• we must further liberalise international trade (of virtual water) so, water intensive staple food, for instance, can be grown in regions where water is abundant;

• land and other property, but also usage rights, for instance private rights to use water particularly of small farmers must be better protected;

• and governments must no longer wait and stop mandates and subsidies for biofuels.

Water plays a complex role in society and human life, which makes its management quite challenging. This means further discussion on all the points I’ve made over the past few posts remain necessary.

I am very much looking forward to your comments and ideas.


    01 Oct 2014 - 07:48 (GMT)

    During my sharing of experiences at the World Water Week 2014 in Stockholm, I learnt that there are a number of common challenges facing the water sector in various countries just to mention overdraft, non-revenue water and pollution of water bodies by industrial effluent water and not to mention non-recycling of recyclable waste water.
    The above is a one stop shop and I urge that it be made a reality.
    Best Regards.

  2. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe @ Nestlé

    10 Oct 2014 - 17:28 (GMT)

    @ Inyundele Austin Dear Austin, thanks for the comment. You mention all the relevant components of good water management – if we fail on one we have difficulties on all other. By the way, recycling will be the subject of one of my next posts. Regards, Peter

  3. Marco Daniel @ swisswaterpartnership

    01 Oct 2014 - 10:27 (GMT)

    Dear Peter,
    I am following your blog thanks to Herbert's kind invitation.
    I am vrey pleased that you are actively promoting a dedicated water goal in the post 2015 global development development agenda. Water is interlinked with so many different issues necessary for human development (such as health, education, nutrition...) that a dedicated water goal is highly desireable and even though the OWG recommended a comprehensive water goal in their final report, continued advocacy is needed to make sure that the latter remains in the final SDGs and it is good that this advocacy work is done by influential decision makers like you, but also by beneficiaries in developing countries. Last year the CSO coalition End Water Poverty has submitted over 1 million signatures to the UN under SG Eliasson asking for a dedicated water goal and greater political prioritization.

    With regard to the four points you recommend being part of such a goal I would like to make some comments:
    HRTWS: I fully agree that the current definition of "improved" is not always useful in practice and better criteria for water quality and sustainability of services are needed. For the WASH component of the water goal the recommendations done by the JMP Review Group (http://www.wssinfo.org/post-2015-monitoring/factsheets/) should inform the new targets. It is very important that this time access to the most excluded and vulnerable groups is prioritised. I agree that FCR is important for sustainable services, but sicne water is vital for survival mechanisms must be in place to assure that the vulnerable and excluded who are unable to pay for these services. The MDG target on sanitation and hygiene was not achieved and thus there should be much greater focus on the latter in the SDG.
    I fully agree that for a comprehensive water goal wastewater treatment and dealing with water over draft are key. For the latter I would recommend the promotion of integrated water resources management and of participatory, transparent and accountable water governance mechanisms at the catchment level to bring water uses in line with natural recharge. It is furthermore worth mentioning adaption to global changes (such as climate change, population growth, changing consumer behaviour) as a key component of such a future global water goal. For example part of the population in the coastal area of Bangladesh already today has to drink brakish water and with the expected sea level rise this will affect much more people in the future.
    Finally I would like to share with you the joint Swiss position that the Swiss government has elaborated last year and consulted with all the members of the Swiss Water Partnership (including Nestlé). Maybe in this position you find some additional elements worth advocating for: http://www.swisswaterpartnership.ch/richtext/Flyer Global Water Goal (Print version).pdf

    Kind regards,


  4. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe @ Nestlé

    15 Oct 2014 - 14:31 (GMT)

    @Marco Daniel Dear Marco, many thanks for the comment, thanks in particular for your message of support. I see an increasing support for a dedicated water goal, and since this is now in the hands of the governments; the position of the Swiss government you refer to – which has the full personal support of the President of the Confederation, Mr Didier Burkhalter – has great weight. But I agree with you, we must continue advocating the goal and its basic components at all levels, particularly also through partnerships such as yours. Regards, Peter

  5. Joyce Ojino @ IIIEE-Lund University

    01 Oct 2014 - 20:05 (GMT)

    I am pleased with all the efforts being made to create a post-2015 Sustainable Economic and Social Development Goal for Water. The four pillars are well defined and comprehensive. However, in as much as I believe that access to water is a human right and vulnerable and excluded groups' needs should be prioritised, I have a concern on how "inability to pay" will be defined for management purposes. I imagine that the term might be controversial during interpretation and implementation of the goals at the local levels and might even be open to misuse. Furthermore, how would one determine when water is being used for the very basic needs only. Won't this be prone to abuse given that a mentality of "free water" even for vulnerable groups may trigger intensive use of water beyond the basic and won't this make initiatives aimed at providing quality water unsustainable in the long run? Isn't it better that a subsidised minimal fee based on ability to pay that does not compromise vulnerable groups' right of access to water be established? Won't this be better for water management so as to ensure that all sections of society's activities reflect the scarcity of water and also distribute equitably the burden of taking care of water as an environmental good?


  6. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe @ Nestlé

    16 Oct 2014 - 10:47 (GMT)

    @Joyce Ojino Dear Joyce, many thanks for commenting on my blog. You make several very good points. Let me try to respond to two of them. The free water must be limited, South Africa, for instance, takes as a starting point the basic needs for daily survival (some 25 litres) and gets, with an assumed average size of a family to 6,000 litres per capita per day. In addition, I recently made the proposal to introduce progressive tariffs, the higher the use the higher the tariff per litre. I wonder whether this might respond to your last point? One of my next posts will develop this idea further, I would appreciate your reaction there. Regards, Peter

  7. FairWater Paul van Beers @ FairWater Foundation

    04 Oct 2014 - 08:59 (GMT)


    It's great to pay so much attention to these issues, however, FairWater would like to point out that many of us, unfortunately, are still missing the point. At the end of the day, with all the respect for millions of good intentions, we need to be realistic, which means that whatever solutions the NGO water sector comes up with nice solutions, these solutions need to be feasible to be implemented at a huge scale in order to make a real overall impact, and not just to provide a good project report and good PR for the NGO.

    If we don't pay serious attention to wide scale implementing options, all our efforts are nothing more than isolated pockets of our goodness, ineffective and costly, and humanity and the millions of poor are just watching our efforts with a smile, and live and struggle again from day to day.

    The NGO world has a strong tendency for denial, a good ( or better said, "bad") example is the denial of the handpump crisis. NGS still collect big bucks with the alarming message that every 20 seconds people die from lack of safe water. But to "help" these poor people, still the "standard" way to help them is to provide a fragile handpump that does not last long and is generally too expensive to maintain for poor communities, so most of these "donated" pumps are abandoned and the poor communities have no other option than to wait for another donor "charity" project that will give them a new but the same fragile pump to repeat the story for a few more years.

    This handpump drama has already cost millions of lives, because when the pump breaks down ir is abandoned, again people and kids drink unsafe water.

    FairWater wants to break this vicious circle of pumps & death, by introducing more reliable handpumps that can be maintained at very low cost. Cost of maintenance is crucial if you are poor. Sometimes poor communities have to pay more than US$ 500,- per year to keep such fragile pumps in operation, this is absolutely not fair to them!

    However, the introduction of better pumps is difficult, because most water projects just want to buy the cheapest pumps, and so better pumps are not an option for most NGOs.

    We therefor call for a "Blue Revolution", Blue stands for the Quality of the BluePump, (already about 1.000 in Africa already and getting more and more popular with the communities that use them...) which means that Governments and NGOs will be responsible for long lasting impact and therefore be prepared to pay a little more for a better pump that can be maintained by the community at hardly any cost.

    For more info, you can see our website fairwater.org and contact us for details.

  8. Emanuele Padovani @ University of Bologna, Department of Management Job title: Associate Professor of Public Management and Accounting

    10 Oct 2014 - 14:31 (GMT)

    Comment part one:

    As the sentence "think globally, act locally" goes, international, long lasting and strategic policies like this have a local counterpart. As provided by evidence ("Decentralization and local democracy in the world", World Bank and United Cities and Local Government, 2008) water supply and sewerage facilities provision involves over 700.000 local governments
    (LGs) throughout the world. It is only through the managerial capacity of these LGs that challenging and overarching policies like this can actually be put in place.

  9. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe @ Nestlé

    21 Oct 2014 - 12:26 (GMT)

    @Emanuele Padovani Dear Emanuele, many thanks for your highly informative comment/contribution. You make an excellent point on the main practical barriers that impede good management control, and that are common to almost all local governments, namely:
    (1) the lack of a control culture,
    (2) the presence of centralised decision making,
    (3) the schism between planning and control,
    (4) the absence of market forces,
    (5) the complex nature of tasks, and
    (6) the presence of restrictive personnel policies
    It would be great if you could write a guest post further illustrating these points, if possible with examples from overall water management (not just municipal water). I also list your six impediments to invite others to discuss. Regards, Peter.

  10. Emanuele Padovani @ University of Bologna, Department of Management Job title: Associate Professor of Public Management and Accounting

    10 Oct 2014 - 14:32 (GMT)

    Comment part two:

    Unfortunately, managerial capabilities in LGs ­ at the core of the New Public Management paradigm ­ are far from reality in most countries. The lack of management control, i.e. the managerial process that is at the core of any organization to move on towards goals, seems to hinder the abilities of LGs to get a real implementation of policies according to intended goals of policymakers. There are six practical barriers that impede good management control, and that are common to almost all LGs: (1) the lack of a control culture, (2) the presence of centralized decision making, (3) the schism between planning and control, (4) the absence of market forces, (5) the complex nature of tasks, and (6) the presence of restrictive personnel policies (for a discussion of these see Chapter 3 of "Managing Local Governments: Designing Management Control Systems That Deliver Value", by E. Padovani and D.W. Young, Routledge, 2012). If not eliminated (or at least reduced), these barriers will impede progress.

  11. Emanuele Padovani @ University of Bologna, Department of Management Job title: Associate Professor of Public Management and Accounting

    10 Oct 2014 - 14:33 (GMT)

    Comment part three:

    Furthermore, LGs are facing fiscal distress in several Western countries (see for example the growing importance of the discipline in the US ­ "Handbook of Local Government Fiscal Health", by H. Levine J.B. Justice & E.A. Scorsone, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2013 ­ and the project European City Economic and Financial Governance (CEFG) Group by the European Institute of Public Administration www.cefg.eu that involves six of the major European city governments). Moreover, the emerging economies like the BRICS countries are not excluded from this trend, which seems to be a remaining concern of policymakers.

    Not to mention the condition of LGs in transition or third-world countries where the frequent high level of corruption and low organizational skills require heavy support by international organizations like the European Council, UN, the World Bank. All these contextual-related issues of LGs need to be carefully taken into consideration by policymaker if they want to increase the probability of effective and efficient use of public money and success of their policies like this "water challenge".

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