GWP Chair: Water Central to Development Agenda

On July 1, 2016, Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren assumes the role of new Chair of the Global Water Partnership (GWP): "I think those who set up GWP 20 years ago - the people, organisations, governments - were very visionary and had good foresight. It is only more recently that water and water governance gained wider understanding and support”. Dr. Oyun says that now is a crucial time for GWP to influence the global development agenda. 

“20 years ago, although there was a good deal of discussion around sustainable development, with the first Rio conference, it still was not a mainstream issue. Only in recent times people have started to understand that sustainable development is the way forward. And water is at the center of that. This is why now is a crucial point in time for GWP influence the global agenda," says Dr. Oyun.

GWP Mongolia was established in March 2013. The previous year Dr. Oyun had been elected Minister of Environment and Green Development in Mongolia. It was around this time that she became aware of GWP. 

"As a politician I initiated and introduced a green development strategy for Mongolia and I was successful in getting it adopted through parliament. Over the last two years I've also held an elected position in the presidency of the UN Environment Assembly, which is the governing body of the UN environment programme, and I was a member of the global agenda council on water security of the World Economic Forum. Because of my involvement in these bodies, I became increasingly informed on water issues", explains Dr. Oyun.

Now is the Time

She has noticed a growing awareness of water concerns, culminating last year with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. Dr. Oyun says humanity is at a critical point of time in the history of the world.

“There is a historical chance to move from a very unsustainable, brown path, to a more sustainable, green path of development. It is no longer only ministers of environment or environmental civil society that are pushing for this. Last year this movement towards a greener path gained a lot of momentum. Now heads of state and the private sector are on board, and I think public opinion is supportive of this change agenda. People realize that unless we move towards more sustainable consumption and production, things like climate change and resource efficiency will lead to a very uncertain future for the planet. This is no longer a few generations away, but it’s our own generation and our children’s generation that will be affected.”

Dr. Oyun thinks that with stronger political will and public support, GWP’s vision for a water secure world stands a better chance than before:

“If you look at Agenda 2030, with its 17 goals and a lot of objectives, and map all the water angles of the goals – water is everywhere. If the UN and its member states want to deliver the SDGs, they have to deal with water issues. But at this stage, water is – rather than an enabling factor – still a barrier, and may become a restricting factor in the implementation of the SDGs.”

GWP Partners Can Deliver Solutions

This is where GWP becomes very important, says Dr. Oyun. “GWP is a unique organisation with more than 3000 partners in many countries around the world. It is the partner organisations on the ground that know the main challenges and obstacles. They can feed the organisation with the correct information but also help deliver the solutions to water governance issues on the ground”.

More valuable GWP resources are the professional and technical solutions provided through a wide range of knowledge products. However, Dr. Oyun says the main challenge is the question on how to use these products and how to use the network to progress the global water agenda. She uses her own home country Mongolia as an example:

“I can see how useful those products can be, but unless you are very clever with disseminating the products, they just sit unused on the shelf. How do you practically apply them in a village or province? There are also a lot of voices from the stakeholders, but today these voices are not necessarily being translated into global agendas or solutions.”

Finding its Niche

Dr. Oyun says that GWP has to find its niche and competitive advantage in the big water governance world: “I think there are a lot of opportunities for GWP, but also a lot of expectation that this organisation can contribute to water solutions. But we don’t want to overlap with other organisations or just be an advocacy organisation, because I see a lot of need in countries for GWP knowledge to be implemented.”

These are some of the challenges Dr. Oyun will have to address as she takes on her new role. But she is positive that solutions exist – “technologies exist and funds can be raised, we just have to mobilize them.”

Dr. Oyun finishes with an example on one way to save water – by curbing food waste and food loss:

“Globally, 1/3 of all food is wasted or lost, from the farm to the fork. 70% of all fresh water is used in agriculture – in some countries this number is even 80-90%. Within the SDGS, Goal 12.3 aims to reduce food loss and waste with 50% by 2030. If we can achieve that, we can save a considerable amount of water at the same time.”

She clarifies her example by explaining that less food loss means less water used, however she stresses that water security is not primarily about lack of water resources, but about governance of water resources.

“If we improve water governance, there is enough water for everybody. We just can’t treat water the way we did 20-30 years ago; we need to change our attitude towards water.”