Corruption a catalyst for global water crisis, says report


Corruption in the water sector is the “root cause” of the current global water crisis and is undermining efforts to develop a global response to climate change and the food crisis, according to a report published yesterday (25 June) by Transparency International.

The report, compiled by over twenty experts, highlights the importance of good governance in the water sector. It notably reveals how corruption has had a knock-on effect on the consequences of climate change by thwarting resettlement programmes and hindering water-sharing pacts. 

It is estimated that roughly 1.2 billion people across the world lack access to water, with over 2.6 billion without sanitation. But the NGO reckons that by 2025, this figure will rise, with over three billion people living in water-stressed countries. It further says corruption is “undermining the sustainability of water supplies” and could lead to political conflict. 

Corruption is also aggravating the current global food crisis, where lack of irrigation is a major issue. The report estimates that corruption adds 25% to the cost of irrigation contracts in India, meaning higher water prices and lower yields for farmers and further exacerbating water shortages. 

Corruption is also rampant in China, according to the report, where environmental standards have dropped as a result. It is estimated that some 90% of aquifers in cities and 75% of urban rivers are polluted due to bribery. 

The phenomenon affects both public and private water services and is apparent in both rich and poor countries. It is a particularly lucrative business in Western Europe, North America and Japan, where the awarding of contracts and infrastructure is a money-spinning business worth an estimated $210 billion annually, according to Transparency International. 

Their report suggests a number of remedies to overcome corruption: strengthening independent regulatory oversight, ensuring fair competition for water contracts and implementing transparency and participation as guiding principles for water governance. It particularly highlights the notion of participation as “a mechanism for reducing undue influence and capture of the sector”. 

But the NGO is not optimistic about the future, saying corruption is likely to persist as the biggest impact is on those “with the least chance of redress”: the poor. 

The EU launched its Water Initiative (EUWI) in 2002, which aims to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal of halving, by 2015, the number of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation and improve water governance. In its annual report of 2007, EUWI suggested there should be reinforced commitment from EU member states in the allocation of financial resources as well as closer operational links with the Commission to increase effectiveness of water policies in partner countries. 

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