Water Champion

Water Champions initiate or implement water reforms in their chosen field, and are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries.

Wouter T. Lincklaen Arriens: ADB Water Policy as Guide for Investments
August 2005

By Maria Christina Dueñas Knowledge Management Officer ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Water symbolizes life. Yet the stark realities in the Asia-Pacific region offer little cause for celebration. Only two in three Asians enjoy safe drinking water within 200 meters of their home, and half the population of the region lacks adequate sanitation. Having a clean and reliable 24-hour water supply into the home remains a pipe dream for many. Droughts, floods, and water pollution continue to cause untold hardships for Asia's poor. Achieving water security is therefore regarded as a necessary condition to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). ADB's water policy, approved in 2001, envisages Water for All. To ensure the continuing effectiveness of the policy, ADB undertakes review processes designed to assess the extent to which the policy provisions have been integrated into ADB's water operations and have contributed to the vision of attaining water for all. A review of the policy's implementation is about to get underway. Wouter Lincklaen Arriëns, ADB's Lead Water Resources Specialist, talks about the significance of the water policy and his expectations of the review.

Why does ADB need a water policy? A water policy helps create a shared vision for water reforms and investment, and serves as a guide for water projects. Water cuts across much of ADB's operations, yet it does not receive enough attention. Water seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. People cannot live without water, and most economic sectors cannot deliver sustainable results without water needs being met first. Achieving the MDGs is impossible without improving the water security of the poor. Within ADB, more than 10 operations divisions deal with water projects. Yet at the corporate level, we are still learning how to target water as a priority area in ADB operations with a comprehensive approach. Many of our developing member countries (DMCs) face a similar challenge, with so many agencies investing in water projects yet often without a common vision and concerted agenda for action. Without a water policy, fragmented water investments will continue to cause problems. What lies at the heart of the policy? Water management is more about people than it is about water. It starts with adopting sound principles of water governance, and it revolves around inspired leadership and effective decision-making. Water is both a resource and a service. As a resource, it needs careful and integrated management in a river basin context, and this is where governments should provide strong leadership and sustained investments. On the other hand, it is clear that water services are best delivered through autonomous and accountable providers, in an enabling environment of regulation, recovery of costs from customers, and public awareness of the need to manage and conserve water.

The distinction between the management of water resources and the delivery of water services is the core of ADB's water policy. While each country needs to adopt its own policy and reform process to address water management challenges, these basic principles of water governance can be applied universally. Is the policy specific enough to be useful? Our clients have given us clear advice during the formulation of the water policy. They recognized that the governance of managing water resources is very different from the governance of delivering water services, and that this distinction is critical to designing sound water projects. Our clients also cautioned against applying specific policy prescriptions across countries. Since the region is characterized by a rich variety of physical, cultural, historical, economic, and social conditions, it is a risky business to generalize or transplant specific water management solutions between countries. ADB's water policy was crafted based on this advice from our clients. It provides a sound road map for water investments, sector reforms, and capacity development that are rooted in comprehensive sector assessments and policy dialogue with our DMC clients and development partners. Thus, the policy has both focus and flexibility.

Has ADB's performance improved as a result of the policy? Not only has ADB's performance in water projects improved, but several of our DMC clients have taken a lead in demonstrating new approaches to water investments, reforms, and capacity development with our support. That means that the directions of the water policy are starting to develop roots in projects and initiatives on the ground. Many countries have made progress in national water sector assessments and in creating a national focus on water reforms. ADB's volume of lending in water service and water resources projects is now increasing. Through our water and poverty initiative in partnership with civil society organizations, we have uncovered a wealth of experience and sound advice for pro-poor policies and project design, and we published this in our new Water for All publication series. We have also made good progress in river basin approaches, water regulation, public awareness work, and in subregional cooperation and networking. Our participation in the 3 rd World Water Forum in Kyoto in 2003 helped us develop new approaches, launch new initiatives, and build stronger partnerships. Two ADB Water Weeks have helped us set an agenda for change in our water operations, and we are continuously learning and adapting to changing needs in the region. Our policy has shown us the way in all of this work. What is your expectation from the review? Through the review panel's work, consultations and other means, we expect to receive constructive feedback, helpful insights, and further sound advice from our clients and partners. Any policy is only as good as its implementation. We want to know about lessons learned in projects. We want to update ourselves on the changing needs of our clients in ADB's member countries. And, perhaps most important of all, we want to know how we can best position ADB to continue and expand water investments in the next five to ten years in partnership with our clients. We have carefully designed the policy implementation review process to allow this to happen with the help of experts from government, civil society, the private sector, other stakeholders and development partners. It will be a busy year for our water team, but we believe that the benefits will justify the effort.

What is ADB's greatest challenge in its water operations? We want our water work to be judged by the results it produces in partnership with our clients. ADB's mandate and our water policy are clear. Our greatest challenge is always to meet our clients' needs, which are to help them catalyze water investments in an integrated approach, in the adoption of reforms, and in capacity development in critical sector institutions in our DMCs and within ADB. Our water policy points us in the right direction.

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in August 2005: http://www.adb.org/Water/Champions/arriens.asp. The Water Champions series was developed to showcase individual leadership and initiative in implementing water sector reforms and good practices in Asia and the Pacific. The champions, representing ADB’s developing member countries, are directly involved in improving the water situation in their respective countries or communities. The series is regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.