Forum Syd / The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance

Democratizing Water through Accountability - from Norms to Reality

Wednesday 26 August | 14.00-15.30 | Room: L11
Susanna Todorovic, SIWI, 2008

People expect to obtain public services, if not directly from authorities and their elected representatives, at least from the designated service providers. People have the right to expect such services to be distributed democratically and according to human rights standards and principles. Services which are distributed democratically and without discrimination, contribute to poverty reduction and improvement of living conditions. People have the right to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.

By the same token, people should be able to raise their concerns and demands when such services are not fulfilling their function. This is where accountability becomes crucial for ensuring that public officials take responsibility for their duties and are answerable for their actions. Sanctions or rewards for non-fulfillment/fulfillment of services delivery in democratic ways and according to human rights standards and principles are required for services to truly fulfil their functions.

Bearing this in mind, the event will look at the importance of democratizing the delivery of water services and how this can be realized by increasing accountability (both social and political) in service delivery: Transforming the right to water into inclusive development - from norms to reality.


Twitter hashtag: #accountablewater

14:00  Opening of session and introductions.

Ms. Marianne Kjellén, UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI and Ms. Helena Bjuremalm, International IDEA

14.10  Presentation of Jua Jimbo project in Kenya.

Mr. Moses Mwangi Gatura, Muungano Support Trust

14.20  Buzz group discussions on the role of duty bearers and rights holders.

Co-facilitators: Ms. Marianne Kjellén, UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI and Ms. Helena Bjuremalm, International IDEA

14.45  Presentation of key impact derived from Jua Jimbo project in Kenya.

Mr. Moses Mwangi Gatura, Muungano Support Trust

14.55  Panel discussion on methods to assess and support  accountability.

Panelists: Ms. Inger Björk, Forum Syd; Ms. Cecilia Scharp, UNICEF; and Mr. Alberto Fernández, International IDEA. 

Co-facilitators: Ms. Marianne Kjellén, UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI and Ms. Helena Bjuremalm, International IDEA

15.15  Participants' takeaways, reflections and concluding remarks.

Ms. Marianne Kjellén, UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI and Ms. Helena Bjuremalm, International IDEA

15.30  Closure of workshop


On Wednesday 26th August, Forum Syd, International IDEA and the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI co-hosted an event at the World Water Week titled “Democratizing Water through Accountability – from Norms to Reality”. The event looked at the importance of democratizing the delivery of water services and how this can be realized by improving accountability relations (both social and political), in order to transform the right to water into inclusive development.

Roughly 45 participants from countries such as Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom took part in the event, and ranging from academia and water service providers to representatives of NGOs and local governments, participants engaged in discussions which even continued after the end applause.

Ms. Helena Bjuremalm, Senior Programme Manager of the Democracy and Development Programme at International IDEA, and Ms. Marianne Kjellén, Director of the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI, began by briefly introducing the topic of the event and finding out who in the room represented a government or a water service provider (duty bearers), and who represented a community (rights holders). Ms. Bjuremalm also stated that – while there are numerous definitions of accountability – when spoken of during the event, accountability refers to holding governments or service providers responsible for their actions (or inaction).

A central feature of the program was a narrative shared by Mr. Moses Mwangi, National Secretary of the Muungano Support Trust in Kenya, about the Jua Jimbo Project in Molo (a sub-county of Nakuru county in Kenya). The project was intended to strengthen accountability relationships through capacity development amongst those living and working in Molo, and thus improve the delivery of water services in the community. Challenges faced before the project included unsafe drinking water, long distances and queues to water points, and high cost of water. These challenges were due to factors such as water wastage through water taps, vandalization of water pipes, corruption, and costs of remunerating personnel who visit the households to read water meters.

In a buzz-group exercise, participants reflected over what they would have done in order to tackle these challenges, had they been a local politician, a water service provider, or a person living or working in Molo. When sharing from the discussions, two of the solutions proposed were awareness-raising amongst community members, and establishing a system for duty bearers and community members to communicate with each other. One buzz group concluded that being organized is key.

After sharing their own ideas, participants found out which actions were actually implemented in order to improve accountability in the delivery of water services in Molo. Mr. Mwangi shared how the Molo community, after capacity developing activities, decided to do the project together, for the purpose of ownership and to reduce incentives for corruption. Through means such as community meetings and action plans, dialogue between duty bearers and rights holders, and the forming of a community management group, the Molo community managed to gain access to decision-making processes regarding the service’s provision and prize, as well as the budget process. Mr. Mwangi’s conclusion from the Jua Jimbo Project is that the biggest obstacles to improved accountability and water service delivery are community apathy, duty bearers not listening to the community, lack of political good will, and poor water piping networks.

The next part of the event was devoted to a short panel discussion, in which panelists included Ms. Inger Björk, Thematic Advisor on Environment and Climate Change at Forum Syd; Mr. Alberto Fernández, Programme Officer of the Democracy and Development Programme at International IDEA; and Ms. Cecilia Scharp, Senior Advisor on WASH at UNICEF. The discussion revolved around the organizations’ different ways of assessing and supporting accountability, as well as what makes accountability important.

Mr. Mwangi’s organization is a partner of Forum Syd, and Ms. Björk explained how Forum Syd’s  accountability  tool – The Right(s) Way Forward – has been used in projects like the Jua Jimbo Project to empower women and men to access their rights and use natural resources in a sustainable way. Forum Syd´s method is best described as a bottom-up approach to improve accountability by making sure communities are able to, and have the space to hold duty bearers accountable. Part of what makes the method unique is the consideration of power relations between men and women, and efforts to improve gender equality throughout the process. Fundamental to the method is also that a task force representing the community will drive the accountability process.

Mr. Fernández told the participants why accountability is important to International IDEA; because the organization believes that accountable services are better services: “Services based on feedback from those using the service are bound to be better, to respond to their human rights and needs.”

According to Mr. Fernández, there can be no accountability without democracy, which is why International IDEA’s approach includes politics. International IDEA has developed a tool to assess democratic accountability in service delivery; such as the delivery of water services; and based on those assessments come up with reform proposals in order to improve accountability mechanisms. In short, the tool guides the user through an assessment of whether there are ways for rights holders to raise concerns, come up with suggestions, and leave feedback; whether duty bearers respond to feedback; and whether duty bearers face consequences – good or bad – when they succeed or fail to be responsive.

Ms. Scharp stated that this is an opportune moment to raise the issue of accountability, when the global community is on the brink of deciding on new Sustainable Development Goals. To Ms. Scharp, the word sustainable is key. In her view, sustainability is what previous efforts to ensure the right to water have lacked, and UNICEF believes that working on accountability will help bring about sustainable change. UNICEF are working together with the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI on this issue, and they refer to a triangle of accountability where the three corners stand for policy-maker, service provider and community/user. Practically, a big part of their work involves developing tools to assess and enable strengthening of the links between all three corners of the triangle. Everyone needs to do their part.

Among takeaways from the session, one participant shared a reflection; that even though it is important to develop capacity within communities, proper water service provision should not be dependent upon communities managing the service themselves – also assuming the role of duty bearers. Other participants concluded that customization of efforts – context sensitivity – is important; that mass media should be involved in order to ensure that everyone receives the information necessary for holding duty bearers accountable; and that continued experience sharing would benefit all.

The panel also shared their main takeaways and Ms. Björk said that having listened to the other panelists, what struck her the most was that the convening organizations – although quite different – complement each other. According to Ms. Björk, there is a need to support both civil society, local governments and the service providers in order to achieve accountability: “Forum Syd can support the rights holders, but when people on ‘the other side’ (duty bearers) are not ready to accept responsibility – it doesn’t work.”

Mr. Fernández agreed that there is a need for a comprehensive approach that includes politics, while not stealing focus from the communities. As a takeaway, Mr. Fernández asked everyone to keep in mind that transparency is fundamental. He noted that full transparency can scare duty bearers, but that it is important to retain information on the whole process – since it is impossible to hold anyone to account without it. Similarly, the key takeaway of Ms. Scharp was that an accountable, transparent and participatory process is necessary for the water service to be sustainable. Ms. Scharp also argued that communities should claim the role as watchdog; reporting, claiming their rights, and raising concerns.

At the end of the session Ms. Bjuremalm and Ms. Kjellén thanked all speakers for their contributions to an engaged and insightful event, and Mr. Mwangi concluded with an urging to all participants:

“Engage and involve!”