Safe drinking water & Sanitation, Climate Change and Corruption
9th December 2010 – International Anti-Corruption Day 2010
On November 29th, 2010, the 16th UN Climate Conference began in Cancún, Mexico, also known as COP16. After what was perceived to be a disappointing COP15 meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, last year, expectations for this year’s edition are low. The conference will end on the 10th of December, a day after the International Anti-Corruption Day, reminding people of the often subtle but significant impact that corruption has on people’s lives. As water is a natural resource that is becoming less and less available, it has potential to become a main source of conflict in the future. Water in developed countries is still often taken for granted but it is estimated that, by 2025, more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will face water stress. As it is now, only 1% of the Earth’s water is readily available for safe human consumption. The climate change crises will put further stress on available water resources in the coming decades but also on the money available to manage those water resources.
Despite the low expectations, a highlight of COP15 was the agreement to channel $100 billion into helping the poor people fight the effects of climate change, including a so-called fast-track planning fund of $30 billion up to 2012. The water sector should be a priority for future investments as the changing conditions will require many updates of existing water structures and the creation of new ones. This is in particular important as we are now facing irreversible long-term damage on our planet due to climate change and it is through water that these damages will be the most drastically felt, in particular for the poor people and the vulnerable. Climate change will have a severe impact on the variability of water levels, and even more so on agriculture and industrial water use. The United Nations have already predicted, in 2008, that climate change will lead to a need of US$86 billion to be allocated “annually for climate-proofing infrastructure and building the resilience of the poor to the effects of climate change”. Not all of that money is likely to reach their destinations and the greed over climate change funds has already been noticed.
Corruption complicates the already unstable environmental agenda. Access to water is not improved sufficiently, lack of proper sanitation increases water-borne disease, pollution increases, flood protection is left unstable and ends up creating more devastation than protection, whilst, people are walking away with money in their pockets. Unsustainable management of water resources in combination with sea level rise may lead to salt water intrusion in costal areas which can potentially affect access to drinking water for poor people in costal regions who are frequently dependent on water from boreholes.
These issues make it even harder to tackle the consequences of changing climate on a global scale. For example, as flood levels are rising there might be a need to prevent the potential displacement of around 200 million people. But in 2005 in Bihar, India, around US$2.5 billion that were meant for flood relief were lost to eleven government and bank officials. Although these officials were later prosecuted, the money was still lost and in 2008 a flood devastated the region affecting over a million people. This was not the only natural disaster that could have been better prepared for if money had not been swindled beforehand and it is not the only one that was poor peoplely managed afterwards.
It is difficult to make sure that the money allocated for climate change corruption fighting is actually spent where it should be. Both the donors and the receiving parties (governments, NGO’s, private sector companies, …) need to be responsible and held accountable for the money that they give and spend. But who should control that the flow of money is not being diverted to wrong ends? Moreover, a critical aspect is the use of different climate models to estimate the consequences of climate change on water availability and extreme events. There are so far no transparent procedures on which of these models and projections should be used and how – therefore applicants can pick the models that make their region of interest look most affected by climate change to benefit their specific needs. There has to be an effective and active monitoring and evaluation system put in place. The climate change issue, and its consequences on access to safe water, continues to be unstable as the main course of action against climate change in the last decades has been mild. By not systematically facing climate change has also resulted in a lack of implementation of good policies and practices as well as the enabling of corrupt behaviour. As we are today commemorating both International Anti-Corruption Day and the close of the COP16 , we must remember that safe water is a human right, that climate change is an issue that affects all human beings and that corruption is a global problem. . But humans still have the opportunity to reduce the harm caused on the environment through mitigation (reducing) of that impact, adaptation to the existent effects and through global communication and advocacy to increase awareness of the issue and its solution.
Sources and further reading:
Global Corruption Report 2008 – Water and Corruption
UNDP, Human Development Report 2007/2008
 GCR 2008, p. 29
 UNDP, Human Development Report 2007/2008. Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
 GCR 2008, p. 31, BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7580587.stm), Policy Network (http://www.policynetwork.net/development/media/indias-flood-corruption) and OneWorld South Asia (http://southasia.oneworld.net/todaysheadlines/corruption-blamed-for-bihar-floods)
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