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.

Erna Witoelar: Making ADB's Water Policy Work Better
May 2006

By Maria Christina Dueñas Knowledge Management Officer ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Ms. Erna Witoelar served as chairperson of the independent panel commissioned by ADB to review the implementation of its Water for All policy. The 6-member panel was composed of senior developing member country officials, representatives from civil society, bilateral donors and the private sector. After a year-long consultative process, the panel submitted its report to ADB and was subsequently dissolved in May 2006. Ms. Witoelar is also the UN Special Ambassador for Millennium Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific. Before this post, she served as the Indonesian Minister of Human Settlements and Regional Development, responsible for the portfolio on housing & human settlements, public works, water resource management, and spatial planning. In addition, Biodiversity several civil (YLKI), and Ms. Witoelar serves as the co-chair of the Earth Charter International Council, and as board member of the Indonesia Foundation (KEHATI), Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia, and others. She initiated and provided leadership to society organizations, including the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), the Indonesian Consumer Foundation Consumers International (CI).

Ms. Witoelar received a masters degree in Chemical Engineering from the Bandung Institute of Technology, and completed post-graduate study in Human Ecology from the University of Indonesia.

Which recommendation of the Panel can best help ADB connect the poor to water and sanitation services? The recommendation to promote "business unusual" is to encourage ADB to develop innovative ways to increase affordability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in providing water and sanitation to the poor. For instance, moving from traditional sovereign-guaranteed loans toward risk-sharing arrangements that allow sub-national and direct civil society financing will help scale-up good practices in service delivery, particularly those seen in poor communities. Also, focusing the implementation of integrated water resources management on stakeholders' needs and ownerships will not just improve the social equity and environmental sustainability of water resources, but also increase the participation of poor communities as main stakeholder. What should be ADB's most critical and immediate action to ensure the implementation of the Panel's recommendations? The Panel's report includes a draft action plan indicating the links between the challenges flagged as priority areas and the Panel's recommendations. This draft plan includes information on expected results, probable resource implications and donor harmonization necessary to implement the recommendations. I think the most immediate action is for ADB's Water Committee to work with their operations colleagues to finalize the draft action plan and chart the way forward.

Why did the Panel decide not to recommend changes in the Water Policy itself? The Panel believed that it was too soon to change the water policy itself, as few ADB projects have been implemented, or even fully designed, during the five years since the policy was approved. We felt that we had to be realistic in our expectations regarding what can be achieved at the country level through ADB's water operations and water policy implementation, particularly given the complexity of the water sector. Instead, we recommended that ADB, among other things, clarify its approach to cost recovery, use of subsidies, public-private partnerships, treatment of water rights and the concept of water as a social and economic good, which addresses concerns about 'tradable water rights.' We also suggested that ADB expand its efforts to mediate conflicts between riparian countries, and promote appropriate and environmentally-friendly technologies. Throughout the review process, what issues were the most difficult to deal with, and how did you deal with them? I think the most difficult issues to deal with were big dams and privatization of water delivery services. On the construction of dams for water resources management and the generation of hydropower, we share the concerns of various stakeholders regarding their environmental and social impacts. The Panel carefully examined all aspects of this issue. Finally, we agreed to ask ADB to proceed with extreme caution when investing in such big water resources projects, mindful of the importance of environmental sustainability, and of protecting the interests and livelihoods of marginalized people in the area.

On privatization and public-private partnerships (PPPs), the Panel had to break the misconception that these two are identical, and that PPPs compromise water rights by assigning "ownership" to a public resource. Our position is that we must delineate between public ownership of water as a resource and private management of water and water services. We recommended that ADB conduct intensive dialogues with all stakeholders, educate the public, and ensure that access for the poor is guaranteed through affordable services. How do you think the Panel's report meets the expectations of those consulted with throughout the process? I think we addressed most of their key concerns and incorporated them in our assessment of progress and description of challenges and opportunities. The Review Panel was an independent and genderbalanced team, with diverse yet relevant expertise and experience across regional perspectives and water areas, e.g. reforms, water resources management, service delivery, conservation, governance, etc. We all had a sense of responsibility to meet these expectations and work professionally to harmonize them. But those who were consulted were also very diverse, with some differences that could not be accommodated in a single consultation or report. Hence, we have asked ADB to improve project design, strengthen monitoring and assessment, and include more consultations with stakeholders. How did the presentation of the Panel's recommendations at ADB's 2006 Annual Meeting go? We went to Hyderabad in India with the principal message that water is a critical driver for change, especially towards achieving most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), hence significant increases in commitments are required of ADB and its developing member countries. Frankly speaking, we were a bit disappointed that we could not present this message to the government delegates there; they are the ones who make decisions on increasing country commitments. We wanted them to understand the "business unusual" approach, especially the risk-sharing arrangements and sub-sovereign financing through innovative and more flexible instruments. Nonetheless, we were able to present our report to civil society delegates, and show them our appreciation of their efforts and concerns. Why are these review exercises important to poverty reduction work? They are important because poverty reduction programs can only succeed if we are sharply focused on identifying target groups and designing appropriate interventions. It is not possible to reduce poverty with a "one size fits all" approach— we need local wisdom, better knowledge and understanding of local situation and, most importantly,

local ownership and trust. Dialogues and consultations with the people undertaking water resource management and water service delivery programs, especially those with experience in working with the poor, are very important exercises to achieve all these. What improvements can you suggest for such review processes in the future? While such processes are, and will continue to be, important to ADB, I think there will always be ways to improve them. The dialogues and consultations still need to reach "real" stakeholders: the poor themselves, especially the women who are usually left out; community based organizations and local NGOs; local governments and local contractors. Unfortunately, in most Asian countries, these are the non-English speaking people who don't live in the capitals where the consultations are usually held. Consultations using local languages and facilitated by local consultants should be done in advance. I think these will be more effective than the one day in-country consultations where very little can be absorbed. It would have been better had the Panel started its review from materials generated by such processes and had been able to hear from local consultants. Regional consultations held in different countries are still needed, both to get the regional perspective and to have a comparative assessment of policies and practices. There will always be supporters and critics of such review efforts. What is your response to them now that the process is concluded? Naturally there are always supporters and critics. But these institutional efforts are long term. While the review process has ended, the planning and implementation of action plans, plus monitoring and evaluation of processes have barely begun and will continue to be implemented over the long term. During these processes, both supporters and critics need to be appreciated, and accommodated wherever possible. Dialogue should be built into the process, not just by ADB, but also by its national government counterparts. What key message on water and poverty would you like to highlight? Water and poverty are very much interrelated, and they are the keys to achieving most of the MDGs. We cannot eradicate poverty without first providing equal access to water and sanitation for the poor; and we cannot succeed in achieving "water for all" without serious efforts to tackle all dimensions of poverty. RELATED LINK
ADB Water for All Policy

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in May 2006: http://www.adb.org/Water/Champions/witoelar.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.

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