Helen Clark: Speech at Launch of UNDP Regional Bureau of Arab State Report on “Water Governance in the Arab Region: managing scarcity and securing the future”

Nov 28, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Speech at Launch of UNDP Regional Bureau of Arab State Report on

“Water Governance in the Arab Region: managing scarcity and securing the future”

9.20 am, Thursday 28 November 2013

Manama, Bahrain

I am pleased to launch this new report from UNDP’s Arab States Bureau: Water Governance in the Arab Region: managing scarcity and securing the future. I thank the Kingdom of Bahrain for partnering with us today to bring attention to water governance issues in this region — a topic of tremendous importance. I also thank the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency for their support in the production of this Report.

The international community has long been committed to promoting access to safe drinking water as a basic right for all[1].  To achieve that, sustainable water management is essential.

When world leaders agreed on the Millennium Declaration in 2000, they called for an end to “the unsustainable exploitation of water resources, by developing water management strategies at the regional, national and local levels which promote both equitable access and adequate supplies.”  Under Millennium Development Goal Seven, a specific target calls for halving, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to improved drinking water and basic sanitation.

While the world as a whole has met the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of drinking water, the target has not been met in the Arab States region. While overall access to such water sources stands at about 82 per cent, it only increased by less than two percentage points between 1990 and 2010. As well, progress has been uneven within the region: a number of countries are on track to meet the water target, but some actually saw a movement further away from the target in that time period. 

Faster progress was made on the MDG target for improving access to sanitation, but, as this Report stresses, almost a quarter of the Arab States’ population still lacks access to improved sanitation. Disparities in access to improved sanitation between rural and urban areas remain striking.

Concerned by the slow and uneven progress globally in achieving the water and sanitation targets, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Co-operation[2] to strengthen dialogue, raise awareness, and advance progress towards water-related goals.  This Report also responds to that call by setting out the particular challenges for the Arab States region and recommendations on how to address them.

While emerging challenges to water quality and quantity, such as climate change, are being experienced in many countries, those in the Arab States region are of particular concern as water scarcity is already acute here. Increased demand for water from expanding populations and economic growth is likely to deepen what is often described as a regional “water crisis”. 

For sustainable and equitable access to improved water and sanitation services to be achieved, the Report launched today emphasizes the need to focus not only on increasing the supply of water, but also on promoting its efficient use and allocation.  Accordingly, the Report argues that much greater attention must be placed on water governance and management.

Specifically, the Report calls for:

  • Integrated governance approaches which address the links between water and health, education, poverty reduction, and environmental protection, while also balancing the demand for water from different sectors in order to ensure food and energy security.
  • A better understanding of the real “value” of water, which takes into account social and environmental costs, as well as the direct financial costs of extraction and delivery;
  • Investments in strengthening water and sanitation institutions and in co-ordination to improve the efficiency of water distribution;
  • Overhauling inadequate and/or weakly enforced legislation so that it can protect scarce water resources better;
  • The systematic involvement of diverse stakeholders, including local communities, in decision-making and in the mechanisms necessary to increase the accountability and transparency of public water and sanitation services;
  • Support for research, innovation, and data collection, including through stronger regional mechanisms for sharing data and knowledge; and
  • Paying greater attention to shared water resource management across national boundaries. 

Recognizing that conventional water supply cannot adequately meet growing water demand in the region, the Report calls for expanding the use of non-conventional water resources.  These include rainwater harvesting, greywater re-use, and, in some cases, more desalination.  UNDP has worked with government partners in Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in this region to pilot replicable and scalable non-conventional water supply approaches.

A number of the other recommendations of the Report could be advanced through building national capacities for integrated approaches to water management. UNDP has already worked with sixteen countries in the region to address critical water and water governance challenges. Some examples:

  • In Tunisia we helped launch a project to improve local governance of drinking water in rural areas. It is projected to improve access for more than 11,000 people by upgrading water infrastructure and developing the capacity of user associations to manage water resources more efficiently.
  • In Yemen, UNDP helped broaden public awareness around the challenge of water scarcity, and helped advocate for inclusive water management discussions by supporting local and national media campaigns.
  • In Morocco, UNDP contributed to more effective planning for the sustainable use of water resources, including the vast southern oases areas.  For example, in the “Sustainable Oasis Programme”, UNDP supports local authorities and communities to promote resilient development through the preservation of oasis ecosystems and development of eco-tourism to generate income and strengthen livelihoods.
  • In Jordan, UNDP supported the efforts of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation to reduce the agricultural water take in the highlands, engaging with the Highland Water Forum. We have supported the Government to strengthen its commitments to the global environmental conventions, including in the area of adaptation to climate change in the water and agricultural sectors.

Good practices in the area of water management and water use need to be shared. This report provides evidence of practices which do work well. 

As the international community accelerates action on achieving the MDGs and on the design of the post-2015 agenda, access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation must continue to be top priorities.  In the global My World survey on the post-2015 agenda, access to clean water and sanitation ranked fifth amongst the sixteen global priorities for the future agenda.

At the UN-led post-2015 consultations on water, there was support for expanding the focus of the new agenda to achieve access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) for all, while simultaneously addressing management of water resources, wastewater, and water pollution.

This Report offers important insights on water governance and will inform future discussions not only in this region, but also globally.

It is now my pleasure to formally launch the Report and to wish you all a constructive meeting.


[1] Human Rights Council Resolution HRC/Res/15/9

[2] Resolution 65/154

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