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Interview with Olcay Ünver: the 3rd World Water Development Report and beyond

June 2009


Olcay Ünver is the coordinator of the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), which is one of UN-Water's four programmes and is hosted by the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO). WWAP is responsible for the coordination of UN-Water’s flagship publication the World Water Development Report (WWDR). The third edition of the World Water Development Report (WWDR-3) was released in March. We asked him about the reception WWDR-3 has had and what we can expect in the future.


How has the WWDR–3 been received?:
“The WWDR–3 has been received extremely well. By launching the Report on the opening day of the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul, we were able to significantly increase the Report’s visibility. There was a great deal of interest in the Report when we presented it at the plenary session. The plenary hall, which seats 1,100 people, was completely full. And throughout the Forum, we could see that delegates were often referencing the Report’s findings during the meetings, sessions and side events.”

“In the past, we had launched the WWDR on World Water Day, which closes out the Forum. So it didn’t figure as prominently in the Forum’s deliberations, and since many delegates are unable to stay for the entire Forum, it reached fewer people. ”

“The Report’s launch also generated tremendous interest outside the Forum. It received a wide coverage in international and local media. Le Monde published a article on the Report on its front page. In March, when we posted WWDR–3 on the UNESCO web site, there were a record number of hits to the site, around 8.5 million. Clearly not all this traffic was for the WWDR - 3, but I think we can be fairly sure the Report attracted a significant number of these visitors.”

How will you be measuring the success of WWDR-3?
“The Report’s success will be determined largely by how well we do at broadening its readership. We certainly need to make sure the report reaches those people who are calling the shots in the different water sectors. But most of the decisions that have the greatest impact on water resources, their management and their availability are made outside the ‘water box’. And most of the drivers affecting water resources are not within the control of those working in the water sector. ”

"So it’s very important for us to get the WWDR into the hands of a broad range of decision-makers outside the water community. If we can do that, and if the Report makes them understand that their decisions have a direct impact on water resources and their availability, then we have been successful. If it makes them realize that a failure to take water into account in development strategies could lead to a situation where they risk water scarcity, then we have been successful."

"That’s why WWAP and UN-Water have been working and will continue to work together to make sure that policy-makers participating in a wide range of high-level political processes are aware of WWDR – 3 and its findings. For example, we prepared a paper with data and findings extracted from WWDR- 3 at the G8 water experts meeting in April, which WWAP hosted in its new premises in Perugia, Italy. We also presented the WWDR at side events at the 17th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 17) and we are preparing a contribution paper based on the Report for the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "

Is it too early to start thinking about WWDR-4?
“Not at all. The Forum marked both the launch of the third report and the beginning of the preparations for the fourth. We held three meetings about WWDR-4 at the Forum: an event open to the public; another with members of the production team and UN-Water coordinators; and a third meeting with WWAP’s Technical Advisory Committee."

"At the production team meeting, we reviewed some of the lessons learned during the WWDR-3 preparation process. The main lesson learned? Get an early start. Plan the process and the content together and have your storyline. So that’s what we’re doing."

"Even though we worked hard at making the preparatory process for WWDR -3 more inclusive, we found that we need to fine tune the process. We need to be more actively engaged with our steering committee, which is UN-Water. We need to have a well-defined process in which everyone involved knows their roles and responsibilities. And we need clearly agreed upon checkpoints along the way and fallback plans if these checkpoints aren’t met.”

"We have already had two preparatory meetings in Paris and a meeting of the core group in Perugia. Over the next few months we will be coordinating a series of meetings, questionnaires, surveys and on line discussions with UN-Water members and partners as well as other stakeholders to refine the possible alternatives for the content and structure of the next report. These results of these consultations will be compiled and presented at the UN-Water meeting in August. At that meeting, we anticipate reaching an agreement on the production team on the way forward."

"The next WWDR will have an overarching theme and we want to further focus on the impact of various drivers affecting water resources. We would like to develop scenarios for possible futures that would result if certain specific actions were to be taken or if no actions are taken at all. This exercise depends in large part on developing a new generation of indicators for monitoring the water sector."

You are also the coordinator of UN-Water’s task force on indicators reporting and monitoring. How does the work of the task force fit in with the preparations of WWDR-4?
“The work is very complementary. The Task Force was mandated to come up with a limited number of ‘key’ indicators on the situation of the water sector as a whole and the changes it is facing. It will post these indicators on the UN-Water web site. The indicators would potentially focus the efforts of the UN, its Member States and other organizations on improving the monitoring and reporting on the state of water resources and water use, as well as the governance and the performance of the water sector."

"The Task Force also took a longer-term view of the situation and is set to make a broad set of recommendations. These recommendations address a wide range of subjects, including where there are knowledge gaps, how to standardize definitions and approaches, how to strengthen or develop data collection and monitoring systems, how to improve existing indicators and how to establish new and improved monitoring systems. This work has wide ranging implications for data collection and harmonization at the global, regional and national level."

"This work will clearly affect the preparations for the next Report. For continuity’s sake, WWDR-3 adopted the same set of nearly 60 indicators used in the previous two editions of the WWDR. However, there has been a general recognition that many of these indicators have lost their relevance. So the work of the Task Force will certainly contribute to the development of the next generation of indicators used in future World Water Development Reports.”

Last update:07 Oct 2014