DFID’s challenges and opportunities for delivering water security in a post-MDG world

As the Millennium Development Goals come to a close in 2015, the international development community finds itself at a transition point. As they evaluate the progress made and redefine the targets ahead, decision-makers have the exciting and daunting task of shaping global policy for the coming generations.

This blog is based on Jean-Paul Penrose’s talk in Oxford on 30 October, part of the Water Security, Growth and Development seminar series. As the Senior Water Resources Adviser at DFID, he underscored the role the UK Government will play at this turning point. With an aid budget of £7.7 billion and £112 million bilateral water spending last year, DFID is a potent stakeholder in these discussions. As all eyes turn to the post-2015 framework, Penrose highlighted the challenges posed and opportunities available for delivering global water security.

Penrose emphasised the crucial need to build on the weaknesses of the MDGs to define the future of water resources management. For example, a greater focus on energy and transport could allow for the integration of these issues and emphasise water as a driver of growth and human development.

In particular, he pointed out the importance of the water security paradigm to frame water projects around poverty alleviation and sustainability, two agendas attractive to the international community. The challenge lies in ensuring that poverty goals resonate with developed countries, and sustainability remains a focus in developing nations.

From the perspective of DFID, the water security paradigm provides traction in negotiating support from government officials. Increasingly, this sort of political buy-in is essential to the implementation of large infrastructure projects. Such projects, said Penrose, need to account for the future of water resources and climate change. Though not many water supply and sanitation programmes have this dimension, DFID has prioritised both long-term maintenance and water resources sustainability.

However, Penrose pointed out that water resources management projects still lack clear evidence to lend them full credibility in the eye of the public. To justify investments and political support, we need to mobilise experts to generate metrics, unit costs, and results.

New stakeholders are playing an increasingly important role in this process: emerging powers diversify input, the private sector fuels investments, and foundations prepare rulebooks for new developments.

The key, according to Penrose, is to not let this uncertainty stifle the potential for progress. The public needs clear strong stories, and decision-makers need to take more identifiable risks. If the British government is to follow through on their declaration of water as a human right, popular paradigms like water security must be harnessed to implement change.

By Clémentine Stip, MSc Water Science, Policy and Management


Un Photo by Martine Perret