How can we achieve joined-up water regulation, connecting economic, health and environmental goals, to help meet UN Sustainable Development Goal 6? What are the challenges and the opportunities to overcome these?
John Obed Alilee, Chief Executive Officer, Office of the Vanuatu Utilities Regulatory Authority, Vanuatu
Joined-up water regulation can become the catalyst for achieving the goal of “ensuring clean water and sanitation for all”, if regulatory frameworks in individual countries align with SDG6.
Regulation can positively impact social equity. The ability to exert such influence depends on the responsibility assigned to regulators. This varies, but a commonality is that regulation establishes reasonable checks to balance business decisions of a natural monopoly.
Challenges include the diversity of services, socio-economic conditions, and an inconsistent health and environmental regulatory framework. Proper sanitation requires clean water, so that by regulating suppliers, water regulators support good sanitation practices. However, there is a disconnect in most developing countries, as sanitation practices are difficult to control.
The Vanuatu legislative framework for a potentially joined-up water regulatory regime includes the URA Act, the Water Resource Management Act, the Public Health Act and the Environmental Management and Conservation Act. Different agencies act in relation to economic, health and environmental regulation of water. They do their very best to implement the water-related regulation and activities, but with very limited coordination with other agencies.
The role of the Regulator under the URA Act is to ensure the safety, reliability and affordability of water when it is produced and sold. This oversight is limited, as most people live in localities where water supply is a non-commercial arrangement. This is not to say that the Regulator should be the sole agency to regulate all aspect of water, but the situation calls for a better coordinated and joined-up effort.
Achieving joined-up water regulation can become the global chariot, fuelled by innovation and positive experiences from different countries, that empowers individual water regulators to venture into new pastures within their respective frameworks with the common interest of ensuring the provision of clean water and sanitation, and in the process connecting economic, heath and environmental goals to support the implementation of SDG6.
Bernadette N Njoroge, Director, Legal Services, Water Services Regulatory Board, Kenya
In a country such as Kenya, where the constitution already provides a right to safe water in adequate quantities and to reasonable standards of sanitation, the regulatory system needs to ensure all service providers are licensed according to criteria that assure they can deliver the service affordably and sustainably. This means they must be anchored in robust governance systems that are transparent, participatory, and promote merit.
The system must ensure all service providers have the technical competences required, and can innovate to combat changes in climate and provide effective services for rising populations, especially in peri-urban areas without sewerage.
The system should ensure that the roles of the different players are complementary, and channelled through a robust collaborative process, with community involvement to help foster a robust system of monitoring and enforcement.
In Kenya, the challenges for the water sector remain intertwined with the national challenges. This means, for example, that application and enforcement of the rule of law in areas of propriety in infrastructure development and the operation of water utilities is a problem.
There needs to be improvement in the integrity and influence of data, including ensuring it is the main source that informs planning and resource allocation, showing which parts of the population remain unserved and what levels of service exist.
WASREB needs to maintain a state of continuous innovation to create regulatory tools able to confront the problems of service provision in the many rapidly developing urban areas across the country, partnering with other agencies.
For a regulator in a developing country, it is especially important to ensure that utility resources are used efficiently to grow coverage and improve service levels. If within the next three years, there is a robust system of monitoring, and consistent enforcement of license conditions and public feedback on coverage levels, there will be a marked improvement in the coverage and service levels reported.
Dr Szilvia Szalóki, Vice President – Public Utilities, MEKH – Hungarian Energy and Public Utility Regulatory Authority, Hungary
We face a time when we must solve complex new water problems having an impact on the global environment. This requires innovative and affordable solutions, meaning we have to rethink the value of water and our opportunities.
Ambitious approaches cannot be focused locally, but rather globally. I think there is a demand to incorporate these values into water governance and water regulation. There is also a need for global communication and cooperation.
With this in mind, in Hungary we encourage international cooperation of stakeholders in the water sector, and as a regulator we look for partnerships and cooperation.
Sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (SDG 6) will be central to the achieving all the other SDGs. However, implementation of the SDGs cannot be unified, due to differences in socio-economic development, capabilities, and legal and institutional frameworks.
Issues to address include inadequate legislation, which forces ineffective solutions. Monitoring is essential for supporting implementation. Roles and responsibilities should be specified at the national, regional and international level. I also believe that involvement of the private sector is crucial.
Hungary is in a good position regarding water resources, and water is provided to 98% of households. The challenge is to operate and maintain our networks. Introduction of taxes in recent years did not help water utility suppliers ensure long-term sustainability of operation. There is a need for a review of water pricing, to include investment and maintenance needs.
The Kvassay Jenő Plan, the national water strategy established in 2017, provides a framework strategy up to 2030 and the medium-term action plan until 2020.
The national budget needs to support its implementation. But before implementation, it is necessary to set the right priorities and define political responsibilities. The decision-makers should create an enabling legal environment.
I see that political willingness is essential for proper implementation of SDGs.
Loga Sunthri Veeraiah, Executive, Resource Planning & Engineering Division, Water Regulatory Department, SPAN – National Water Services Commission, Malaysia
As water is needed not only for human consumption and domestic purposes, but also for food, energy and industrial production, these uses translate into a nation’s development. They are highly interconnected and potentially conflicting due to ever-increasing water scarcity globally. As such, it is essential to look into water in its entirety by including all users and uses, consistent with the SDG6 goals.
Many developing countries, including Malaysia, face multiple challenges in prioritising water allocations in balancing economic development with health and environmental goals. Therefore, implementation of the SDGs is instrumental in achieving integrated solutions. This can help address the fragmented institutional arrangements of multiple layers of the government, with contradictory plans or duplication of policies and decision-making from one sector to another.
In Malaysia, reformation of the water services industry includes amendments to the federal constitution and enactment of the Water Services Industry Act 2006 and National Water Services Commission Act 2006. This has successfully seen the ceding of power over regulating the water services industry to the federal government, whilst water resources remained under the purview of state governments. The principal objective of the reformation was to shift towards sustainability of the industry through full-cost recovery.
Coherently combining a sustainable water services industry through full cost-recovery, increasing water use efficiency, and encouraging new ways of water harvesting or exploring alternative sources, as well as improving recycling and reuse technologies, is indeed the ideal scenario.
However, it is not an easy task to shift to a more integrated system of water management. It is for countries like Malaysia that the implementation of SDG6 creates opportunities and paves the way for achieving the ideal water resources and services management. Implementation efforts should be progressively scaled-up to institutionalise a comprehensive mechanism joining water regulation with economic, health and environmental goals at the national level as a start.
Rudolph S Williams Jr., Director, Water and Wastewater Sector, Public Utilities Commission, Belize
Water utility regulators often focus on the affordability of and access to potable water (SDG 6.1). Less attention is given to the quality of service provided, often the responsibility of separate regulatory agencies. For example drinking water quality is a health issue (SDG 6.1), water tariffs are with the utility regulator (SDG 6.1), effluent discharges (SDG 6.3) is an environment issue, land use is a forestry and agriculture management (SDG 6.6) issue, and access to raw water supplies is a water resources management (SDG 6.4 & 6.5) issue.
In most instances, all regulating agencies, except the water utility regulator, are governmental and under the control of an elected politician. There is little or no coordination between these agencies and self-preservation is strongly practiced, except in a national crisis.
In their quest for agency self-preservation, they fail to realize that coordination can reduce the negative impacts of abstractions, effluents, and runoff. Many tourism-based economies depend heavily on healthy aquatic ecosystems and the quality of raw water supplies, which also keeps potable water affordable.
2030 will be on us shortly. There is the need for a single agency to coordinate water management activities to ensure all aspects of the sector are fully addressed, and an urgent need for the regulatory agencies to recognize that a water strategy to coordinate their activities is of paramount importance. The strategy should focus on removing overlapping legal responsibilities, coordinating activities to improve efficiency, and addressing administrative gaps. The inclusion of all stakeholders at all levels is most crucial to the development and success of any water strategy to advance and achieve the SDG 6 targets.
If we do not act now, the aspirational targets for SDG 6 will not be achieved, and the cost to society will enormous. On the other hand, the benefits of achieving SDG 6 will permeate all sectors of society.
Vanessa Fernanda Schmitt, Advisor to Board of Directors, ADASA – Federal District Regulatory Agency for Water, Energy and Basic Sanitation, Brazil
Regulation has a central role to play in achieving SDG6, coordinating the actions of all stakeholders. But there are many challenges for regulators to address. For example, the need for financing, ensuring available data, and the task of increasing water quality and available quantity. There are concerns about climate change, conflicts related to water use, and vulnerable groups, given the human rights to water and sanitation.
These challenges require a robust response in the regulation. This means regulators have a responsibility for processes, through rules which guarantee investments in adequate infrastructure (grey or green), long term planning, and innovative research, providing knowledge and its implementation in all components of the water value chain to achieve SDG6.
Achieving SDG6 is not the responsibility of regulators alone. This raises the need for cooperation, including transboundary cooperation, involving communities, rural producers, industry, civil society, and government. Furthermore, cooperation by means of partnerships must be fostered by regulation.
An example of doing just this is the Pipiripau Water Producer Project, which is coordinated by Adasa, the regulatory agency for Brazil’s Federal District. This project stimulates commitment and voluntary participation by all of the river basin stakeholders.
The project involves actions by more than 15 partners to improve soil and water management. This public policy involves revegetation, land management practices, and payments for environmental services to rural producers who practice conservation management. As a result, the co-partnership ensures basin sustainability and environmental health.
A persistent focus on good practice, such as the Pipiripau Water Producer Project, results in social, economic and environmental benefits. Thus, upscaling such strategies to other basins, states and countries will lead to efficiency gains, affordable and equitable access to services, and environment protection, delivering more systematic efforts to achieve SDG6.
This should be seen as a shared responsibility to build a better water future by joining forces.