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Interview with Olcay Ünver, Coordinator of the World Water Assessment Programme

Making the World Water Development Report always more relevant
for decision makers and stakeholders

October 2012


Olcay Ünver is the coordinator of the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), UN-Water's programme responsible for the coordination of the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR). The fourth edition of the Report, "Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risks", was released in March 2012. For future editions of the report, UN-Water has opted for a new formula, with a thematic, annual WWDR in the order of 100 pages.

Olcay tells us about the WWDR4, the changes that will be implemented and their motivations, and gives us some hints about the WWDR5.


What are the main messages of the WWDR4 and how have these and the Report been received?

“The WWDR4 builds on the comprehensive approach taken in WWDR1 and 2, and the holistic view taken in WWDR3. It gives an account of the critical issues facing water resources at the global and regional level by incorporating a deeper analysis of the external forces, such as agriculture, climate change, demography, economy, ethics and culture, governance of institutions, infrastructure, politics and technology, linked to water. ”

“The main messages of the WWDR4 revolve around the concept that water underpins all aspects of development, and it is the only medium that links sectors and through which major crises can be jointly addressed. For this reason, we need to have a coordinated approach to managing and allocating water across competing sectors to meet multiple goals and ensure that progress made in one sector is not offset by declines in others. This can be done only with the help of strong institutions and political will, which can facilitate discussion and decisions between sectors and help balance risks. Institutional arrangements and regulatory frameworks must also have the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances affecting water management.”

“The report is very well received by our readers. At this point I would like to emphasize that the decision-makers and politicians - who are both inside and outside the "water-box" - lie at the core of our target group. Consequently, the in-depth analysis of challenge areas, best practices as examples and recommendations of the report are specifically designed to better inform them regarding trends, uses and users of water and what is at stake linked to their potential decisions.”

The WWDR4 underlines that water needs to be an intrinsic element in decision-making across the whole development spectrum and that coordinated approaches to managing and allocating water are therefore critical. How does the report reach out to all concerned stakeholders both in and out of the water domain?

"The WWDR4 emphasizes that water is not a sector by itself but a thread connecting all sectors. Consequently, the report encompasses them and gives meaningful messages to those who are both inside and outside the “water-box”. We highlighted that water constraints are starting to limit future economic growth and development, and stressed the importance of investment in building human, institutional and technical capacity.  The minimal use of technical jargon in WWDR4 allows that the report can be read and understood by a wide range of stakeholders, from water managers to leaders in government, to civil society and business, from local to global level."

The new formula is intended to make the WWDR increasingly more relevant for its readership. How will the new formula help reaching out to decision makers and stakeholders outside the water domain especially?

In late 2011/early 2012, UN-Water conducted an internal survey among the UN agencies and a Stakeholders global survey to generate input regarding UN-Water publications, with a special emphasis on how future World Water Development Reports (WWDR) should be designed. Results show that almost 60% of stakeholders prefer an annual report and that more than 80% would like a report with less than 200 pages. Based on these findings, UN-Water decided to have an annual thematic report, with a length around 100 pages and a synthesis report every 5 years.

The new series of shorter, annual, thematic WWDRs will require a more streamlined approach. So far, we have focused the attention on the interactions between water and the multiplicity of external forces, and on how decisions made outside the water box affect the resources and other users. In the new editions of the Report, we will zoom on a specific theme, thus the new challenge will be to take account of the water's cross-cutting nature and the interactions between external drivers and the theme. We plan to analyze recent developments related to the selected theme in terms of trends and events, of evolution of key drivers and externalities, and in the context of major global crises.

The limited size of the Report, about 100 pages, will help its readability and distribution, and the annual periodicity will allow updated, in-depth analysis on specific issues.

The WWDR5, the first edition under the new formula, is to be published in 2014 and will address “Water and Energy”. Why this theme?

All aspects of social and economic development, which are often referred to as the food–energy–health–environment 'nexus', depend on water. These activities determine how water is allocated, managed and used, affecting the quantity and quality of water resources.

Energy and water are intricately connected. All sources of energy, including electricity, require water in their production processes: from the extraction of raw materials, to powering turbines or cultivate crops for biofuels. Energy is itself required to make water resources available for human use and consumption - including irrigation, through pumping, transportation, treatment, and desalination. At the same time, climate change is creating new uncertainties with regard to freshwater supplies and to the main water use sectors such as agriculture and energy, which will in turn exacerbate uncertainties regarding future demands for water.

The water–energy links assume then a relevant role, and we think that growing recognition and providing in-depth information can help to raise awareness among managers of the energy sector as well as those responsible for planning in different water/energy-dependent sectors, of the broader implications of their actions on water resources and on other users.

As the WWDR4 has recognized, we are living in conditions of increasing uncertainty and risk at global scale; thus, integrating water as critical priority in all key policy areas of governments - food and energy security, trade and the economy, financing, public health and security – is becoming crucial. So far, water and energy policies are generally made in different government departments or ministries. We hope that the findings of the next report, the WWDR5, could help policy-makers to promote more efficient and integrated water uses for energy and vice versa, and work in closer coordination.

Last update:07 Oct 2014