Putting water security at the heart of sustainable development


World Water Week

Opening remarks by Angel Gurría

Secretary-General, OECD

29 August 2016

Stockholm, Sweden



Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure to join you to discuss one of the most important issues of our era. I would like to begin with a few words of thanks to the Stockholm International Water Institute: your tireless efforts in continuing to organise this event and champion the cause of water security have advanced our cause significantly. But as I am sure you would all agree, much remains to be done.

World Water Forum 2016

29 August 2016 - OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría speaking at the opening plenary of the World Water Week. Stockholm, Sweden.

Photo: Thomas Henrikson

The importance of water for sustainable development


Far from being a niche concern, water is at the heart of everything we do. It is critical to our well-being, a key growth driver and a central pillar in the agenda for sustainable development. Just last year, the OECD/GWP report on Securing Water, Sustaining Growth estimated that strategic investment in water security could contribute at least USD 500 billion to global growth annually!


Water remains high on the political agenda with a water-devoted SDG, and calls for a new forum to bridge the water infrastructure gap coming out of the Addis Ababa Conference. This is important progress, yet if we are to continue to rely on water to power our economies and societies forwards, we will need to invest much more in water security.


Today, the challenge of water security is global and it is growing. We estimate, for example, that by 2050, over 40% of the global population will live under severe water stress; and as global population increases, so will tensions among different water uses. Climate change only adds more uncertainty about water availability and demand, and possibly more tensions between users in several basins.


We have made important progress


The OECD has been very active on confronting water security issues. Last year, at the World Water Forum in Korea, we released two milestone reports, Securing Water, Sustaining Growth and Water: Fit to Finance? Both emphasised the role of water for sustainable growth and the importance of finance and investment for water security.


We are now working with countries such as Brazil and Korea, to implement the guidance in these reports. This includes, improving the use of economic instruments; reforming water allocation regimes; and promoting innovation to ensure that water management and investment contribute to a sustainable and creative economy.


In addition, the The OECD Principles on Water Governance constitute a significant contribution to the debate focusing on how institutional arrangements can promote sustainable development through investment in water security.


Specifically, the Principles provide 12 ‘must-dos’ for governments to get the enabling environment right in terms of who does what and at which scale. They are already making an impact, having been included in the technical assistance programmes of Action Against Hunger and the Spanish Development and Cooperation Agency for their cooperation with Africa and Latin America, respectively. The Dutch are also using the Principles to assess the Delta and Flood Protection Programmes.


However, we still face significant challenges


We are proud of these efforts, but there is much more to be done. When OECD Environment Ministers gather in Paris in a few weeks, we will not mince our words: our water to-do list remains a long one!


For starters, we need to better understand the risks to growth and social and economic development from poor water management, especially in developing economies. In 2015, 1 in 3 people were still without access to improved sanitation facilities. In some Africa countries, the economic losses from inadequate water supply and sanitation services can amount to as much as 10% of GDP!


Once we understand how poor water management affects our economies and where the need for investment is most dire, we must implement robust policies that will enable us and our partners to invest in water security. 


The OECD’s work on water financingaims to do this by translating the economic case for water security into an attractive investment case for public and private entities. For example, we are looking at innovative ways to better allocate risk and returns between key players, which is a key issue in better motivating investments for water and growth.


The way forward: the OECD’s contribution


In that spirit, it gives me great pleasure to announce today the launch of two OECD initiatives to help promote a water-secure world:


First, the OECD Global Coalition for Good Water Governance will gather hundreds of champions who endorsed the The OECD Principles on Water Governance. We want to collect and replicate existing world-class solutions to water challenges in order to bridge the governance gaps at local, basin and national levels. Best practices will be summarised by the OECD Water Governance at a Glance Report.  


Second, the Roundtable on Water Finance – a joint initiative between the OECD, the World Water Council and the Netherlands – aims to push the boundaries of traditional thinking about financing water-related investments. It will gather knowledge and provide analytical tools to support policies to best invest in water security for sustainable growth.


Each initiative will build on and feed into ongoing work at the global level, including the Heads of State Panel on Water. And both will count on your support, if we are to stand any chance of transforming water governance and investment for sustainable development.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water”, these words by Benjamin Franklin give us a stark reminder of how precious water is for mankind and how fragile we are without it. Getting water governance and investment in water security right are absolutely essential for the development of our economies, our societies and for the planet. Let us continue to work together, and pool our efforts, in order to put water security at the heart of sustainable development. 


Thank you.