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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.

Margaret Catley-Carlson: Willingness to Work with Others for Water
July 2010

By Cezar Tigno Web Writer ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Margaret Catley-Carlson's job is to protect the world's water resources. Foremost an international civil servant, Margaret, or Maggie, as people call her, brings water issues and concerns into the agendas of meetings, conferences, forums, and other international platforms she attends and has been instrumental in forging many partnerships that deal with the world's water challenges. As former Chair and now Patron of the Global Water Partnership (GWP), a network that supports countries in the sustainable management of water resources, Maggie was the driving force in promoting the need to approach all water management issues through an integrated lens, the approach now known by the global water sector as integrated water resources management, or IWRM. Maggie began her career in 1966 working for Canada's Department of External Affairs, where she held diplomatic posts including in Sri Lanka and the UK. She was appointed vice president of the Canadian International Development Agency in 1978, and acted as the agency's acting president from 1979 to 1980. In 1981, she became Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNICEF. In 1983, Maggie returned to Canada and held various positions in the government, including another tour as president of CIDA from 1983 to 1989 and then as Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare from 1989 to 1992. Her work with water and development began in 1992 when another opportunity to work with the UN came, this time as chair of the World Health Organization's Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council in Geneva. Maggie has since then sat in as chair or board member of a number of water-related organizations, including the International Water Management Institute, International Institute for Environment and Development, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and the United Nations Secretary General Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. She played an important role in the launching of the Camdessus Report in 2003, which started the momentum on global water financing, and greatly contributed to succeeding efforts to put water and sanitation atop government development agendas and increase the flow of financing for water developments. A recipient of a number of honorary degrees from various academic institutions, Maggie was conferred Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002 for her distinguished career in international public service. Currently, she is working with World Economic Forum partners in helping to forge new global understandings and responses to present and future water challenges. Margaret Catley-Carlson, international public servant and tireless water advocate, shares her passion for water and development issues, her insights into the dynamics of the sector's wide range of stakeholders, and her thoughts on the vital role of water partnerships in achieving water for all.

You have been involved with different international agencies that deal with various development issues. What makes water special as an advocacy? Water is fascinating. Everyone needs water. We are all affected by water management, yet it is incredibly difficult to get water issues higher up in national and municipal agendas. Always, other issues seem a little more important, a little more likely to yield immediate developmental impact, or too often, more attractive corruption revenue. In many places, the water problems dwarf the political and administrative capacities of governments. The result is too often paralytic inaction. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill, for instance, shows that some problems can eclipse any response capacity. They might have been prevented, but can they be stopped? There are several water parallels—depleted groundwater, polluted water sources, and closing rivers. Once these happen, can we summon the agreement and investment to address these? Advocating for solutions that cut into societies' deeply held views can also be difficult, and most solutions to water problems challenge individual communities' relationship with water: whether water should be free, whether water should be re-used, how to stop polluters (especially where development is the #1 goal); how to ensure the other life forms on the planet get a share, who should deliver it, among other considerations.

What do you think are the three most important achievements of the international community in managing the world's water resources? I am not going to say that water management has improved, because it hasn't. The overall real world situation is improving only in a few places. But a lot has been done toward this end. I think the most important achievement has been the arrangements for greatly enhanced discussion, contact, and information flows within the sector at all levels. However, we haven't yet managed to have equally regular, instructive, and productive discussions with those that use water. We find it tough to get "out of the water box." Second is the global understanding that the vertical/silo-based decision making of the 20th Century will no longer work with increased population growth and land and water pressures. Almost everywhere at all levels, the need to integrate the management of water resources has sunk in, deeply in most places. That doesn't make it easier to DO it; but it's an essential start. The third involves the professionalization and technical/scientific improvements, especially in understanding and improving financing options, groundwater management, increased water productivity, conjunctive management, membranes we can engineer, ecosystem demands, and models for water basin management, among others.

What do you think are the biggest water challenges that the world faces today? The biggest challenge is that knowledge and awareness do not create the needed change. Water is political, and in most places, the tough political issues are not being addressed, so the problems, if anything, are getting worse. Incentives often work backward to what we need to create: petroleum subsidies reduce the attention on nontraditional energy which could deliver water with less carbon cost and energy use. New crop science that is water sparing works less well when there is no incentive to save water. Politicians have no incentive to reform water systems if they will be voted out for their pains. We also haven't solved the basic economic dilemma: the poor still pay more for less drinking water. Phnom Penh and Entebbe, both very challenging places, show that it is possible to have wellmanaged water systems that can offer the best deal to all. You've worked with various water partnerships, involving a number of stakeholders, working on different initiatives. How important are these partnerships to the sector? I think partnerships are key because water impacts on so many other sectors and on all levels of population. Basically, a partnership is established to seize the enthusiasm of a group of people to contribute to getting something done to which they can contribute, but do not have enough capacities. These could morph into a permanent, self financing entity or business, or could fade away. One should not expect that all partnerships will be eternal— some may function well for a short time. But partnerships for water will figure prominently in the future, because in many places, there is no single authoritative entity for water. Partnerships have to grow and be put together through the initiative of the partners. One partner may bring community knowledge; the other financing capability, the third the technology. What is the ideal or most successful water partnership that you were involved in or witnessed? What makes it stand out? There is probably no ideal partnership. When I was Chairing the Global Water Partnership, many of the Country Partnerships did amazing jobs in increasing awareness at national levels: provoking new decisions on water-linked food security decisions in Sri Lanka, promoting better subregional dialogue on shared rivers in Central America and Southern Africa, helping with in-country cross-sectoral consultations in Thailand, or transboundary data organization in Central Asia, and organizing workshops on new forms of Financing in the Philippines. Some of these are continuing; some were onetime actions. Willingness is the fundamental prerequisite for a partnership— willingness (of partners) to come to a common understanding of the framing questions and to contribute to working together toward the answers, according to their own capacities. I am delighted to see new partnerships growing among water utilities in UN Habitat's Water Operators Partnerships, which ADB had helped to foster, and UNSGAB suggested. SuSanA is a long standing and very productive partnership promoting and designing sustainable Sanitation. WSP has joined the World Bank and UNDP for years in designing community water and sanitation projects. Suez Environment had very productive partnerships with end-of-pipe communities to deliver water beyond municipal pipe outreach. SPARC has an ongoing partnership among Indian slum women to construct and promote latrines. The Water Harvesting Partnership has inspired also many. Canadian researchers have partnerships to define watershed management tools. There are hundreds more.

They say one of the biggest challenges to partnerships is sustainability. What can make partnerships sustainable? Sustainable partnerships probably have regular and long-term financing available to them. Partnerships often collapse because of the weight of trying to fundraise and achieve the objectives. The Women in Water groups have had incredibly dedicated women who constantly manage on no money at all. It wears people down. Donor fashions change. Different partnerships also fulfill different needs. The most sustainable ones fulfill felt needs that clients or consumers are willing to pay for, or that some authority will take over and continue with. Partnerships must evolve to become sustainable. If you can highlight 3 messages (or lessons) from your years of experience in the global water sector, what would they be? Actually, there are four. First is that the water sector makes too little use of others' work. Everyone wants his own water conference. Everyone wants to write the paper, not read it. We don't need 7 excellent sanitation papers that all say the same thing. Second, we tend to sell solutions instead of exploring the real barriers. We don't listen enough to the actual Southern experience in trying to implement programs—are we even looking at the real problem? Third, the decision making world does not revolve around water policy. We need to take what we know and move into the space where others live and work with them on issues that water creates for their goals. Not much use calling on agriculturalists, municipal managers, the mining sector, et al to endorse water goals—we have to help bring water to the service of their goals. Lastly, we should stop talking about "what must be done," and start talking about "what would it take" and "how to do it." Political will does not fall from the sky.

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in July 2010: http://www.adb.org/Water/Champions/2010/margaret-catley-carlson.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.