Improving governance and aid

Getting water governance ‘right’ is central to our collective wellbeing, and social and economic progress at a local and global scale. In many countries the focus is on rapid development of water resources for irrigation, energy, industrial use and to meet the needs of growing cities. An absence of good water governance limits the economic benefits of development, and contributes to growing inequity, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and increased vulnerability to climate change.

What we’ve achieved

Water Witness International has raised the profile of water resource management among governments, NGOs and donors; reviewed the available evidence base for policy and action; started to track aid spending and investigate performance to signpost opportunities for progress.  Specific examples include:

Systematic map of evidence for policy makers and practitioners
On behalf of the UK government, we led a 2-year exercise with the University of East Anglia to collect and assess the global evidence on how, when and why water resource institutions contribute to poverty reduction and economic growth.  We identified close to 30,000 initial sources of information and on reviewing this dataset we found only 38 papers with concrete evidence. This work is a key global reference and has significant implications for research, policy and practice. It reveals the limited pool of reliable knowledge, and sets out strategic and practical responses.

Holding donors and governments to account
Tracking government and donor performance on water can diagnose where improvements are needed, ensure integrity and incentivise action to ensure a fair deal for citizens. We are pioneering this process at two levels. Internationally we are investigating spending on water by the world’s biggest donors. In sub-Saharan Africa we are engaged in participatory budget analyses at a national level and asking questions about the adequacy and end use of available funds - providing powerful advocacy material to lever change.

Investigating the role of Finance Institutions
Our investigations in Peru led to positive changes in the way the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the commercial lending arm of the World Bank does business. Our evidence of unsustainable groundwater use linked to uncontrolled abstraction by agribusiness was a major factor in the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman’s (CAO) findings against the IFC. The CAO report cited a ‘lack of effective risk management process’, a ‘failure of its due diligence and safeguard measures’, which had ‘allowed commercial interests to take precedent over social and environmental impacts’. The IFC has now overhauled its safeguards and approach to water risk, with a specialised team in place to ensure that future global lending is based on equitable and sustainable resource use. 

Providing evidence, expert advice and support
We bring evidence from the field to challenge assumptions, inform debates and influence decision makers.  In 2011 we were called as an expert witness to a House of Commons Audit Committee review of UK aid, and our testimony can be traced in their recommendations.  We also train, mentor and advise government, donor and NGO staff working at the forefront of water security challenges. 


What our stakeholders say:

Water Witness International rose to the challenge of undertaking a global review of literature on water institutions and poverty. The team trod on where others would have faltered. The Systematic Map has become a key reference document for water policy research internationally.
— Dr Mark Zeitoun, Director, University of East Anglia Water Security Research Centre
Shining a light on performance, and how money and resources are used has not happened before. The work is a big step towards greater accountability.
— Mr Nsaa-Iya Amaniel Kihunrwa, Secretariat, Donor Partner Group on Water, Tanzania
The Water Witness approach is important and cutting edge. It has great potential for advancing water justice and the effective implementation of integrated water resource management. We look forward to learning the lessons generated and exploring how it can be scaled up.
— Water Lead, International Development Research Organisation

Our future plans

Over the next five years we will build our role and influence to improve water governance through greater accountability, better processes, and stronger evidence. We will:   

·         Draw on our fieldwork to deliver priority advocacy objectives and systemic change for more equitable and effective water governance

·         Promote generation and use of evidence for policy-making on water resources, and expand and publicise our repository of evidence

·         Track and analyse aid on water resource management to improve impact and value for money and positively influence the largest donor agencies working on water

·         Provide high quality analysis, training, evaluation and advisory services

·         Broker practitioner-to-practitioner partnerships between water resource managers and improved approaches to building capability