“Corruption in the water sector puts the lives and livelihoods of billions of people at risk,” says the Global Corruption Report 2008
, a new report from the Institute for Security Studies and Transparency International, warning that pervasive corruption in the water sector could have devastating consequences for economic and social development, as well as the health of ecosystems worldwide. The report urges policymakers and scholars to address the issue of corruption in the water sector in the context of broader climate change and development discussions.
News coverage of the global water crisis focuses on the familiar circumstance of too many people and not enough water. This report takes a slightly different stance, suggesting that the water crisis is actually a water governance crisis, of which corruption is a major component.
According to the report, 80 percent of health problems in the developing world can be attributed to inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. The report cites China as a particularly egregious example, noting that 90 percent of Chinese cities pull from polluted aquifers and that 75 percent of river water in urban areas is too contaminated for drinking or fishing. This situation violates Chinese environmental standards, but corruption allows polluters to circumvent legal enforcement.
International water governance is increasingly critical. Forty percent of the world’s population draws on water from international water basins. Numerous countries depend on the Nile River, from its origin in the Rift Valley to its mouth on the Mediterranean. The report finds, “where corruption disrupts the equitable sharing of water between countries and communities, it also threatens political stability and regional security.” Ken Conca’s Governing Waterdelves more deeply into the links between poor water governance and new forms of social conflict, which are summarized in a Navigating Peace research brief.
But sharing water resources can also build confidence and increase dialogue. For example, Israel and Palestine discuss the Dead Sea and the Jordan River more frequently, and more productively, than they do political rapprochement.
Water’s global nature demands a comprehensive response involving governments, inter- and nongovernmental organizations, and local institutions. The report puts forth four recommendations:
ECSP has long been involved in the discussion of water’s place in the international political dialogue. In “Water Wars: Obscuring Opportunities,” published in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs, Geoff Dabelko and Karin Bencala explain how transboundary water use can facilitate cooperation as readily as conflict. It would be a boon to the global community if that cooperation could be harnessed to promote stronger, more transparent water governance.
- Improve measurements of existing corruption;
- Strengthen regulatory oversight;
- Develop a more transparent public procurement process; and
- Implement transparency and participation as guiding principles for all water governance.
Graphic used courtesy Transparency International. All rights reserved. ©Transparency International 2008.