Toily Kurbanov: Opening Remarks at the Integrated Water Resource Management Project 4th Regional Steering Committee Meeting

31 Jul 2012

On behalf of GEF implementing agencies (UNEP and UNDP)
Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Primary Industries of Fiji,
Members of the Regional Steering Committee,
Distinguished partners and guests,

I am pleased to offer opening remarks on behalf of both United Nations Environment Programme and United Nations Development Programme: two GEF implementing agencies of this project.

I was privileged to offer similar remarks at the 1st Regional Steering Committee in 2009, and am happy to be back. Three years the Honourable Minister was firmly in control, which was very reassuring because I was utterly confused about the project’s complexity and bewildering array of implementing entities, executing agencies, funding agencies as well as with RATGs, RSCs, RRFs and many other acronyms. Nonetheless I had to put up a brave face even though deep inside I felt, as someone said on another occasion, that “I had no clue about what was going on – and even if I knew I would not what to do about it”. But thanks to the Minister’s leadership the project was off to a very good start and fast forward three years we can all celebrate the project’s achievement and the results of good work by the project team and by all of you.

At the outset I would like to commend the project team for putting together very solid agenda, and for making available clear and substantive background documents for each item. This will help the Regional Steering Committee to have informed discussions and to make decisions which will ensure that the project remains firmly on track in the remaining years of its implementation. Among others, we will discuss the project’s progress reports, its mid-term evaluation and also the findings of the last project audit. On this note I am pleased to inform you that the last audit exercise has ended with unqualified opinion, which means that the auditors issued clean bill of health to the project’s resource management systems. I would like to congratulate Marc and the project team as well as each and every one of you because it is your collective effort that has made an unqualified audit opinion possible despite tremendous complexity that this regional project faces in its implementation.

With this, let me in these opening remarks offer for your consideration few reflections that we, the implementing agencies, hope will add food for thought for deliberations during the rest of the week.

If I want you to remember 3 things from these opening remarks, it will be just 3 letters: M, S and G. I apologize to the honourable Minister for accidental analogy with the Melanesian Spearhead Group, although we appreciate the important role our host government plays in this sub-regional organization. Instead M-S-G in this context is meant to stand for three priorities which we believe will be consequential for the project’s success: Measurements, Sustainability and Gender.

First, “M”: the Measurements. According to our UNDP estimates most if not all of the project’s activities are firmly on track. Communities have been engaged, committees formed, awareness raised and a number of useful demonstration projects successfully carried out. Yet, we think that 3 years and millions of $ spent into the project’s implementation we should also start to measure not only activities but also the project’s actual impact in the communities we serve. Do we know how many people the project reached out to and counts among its beneficiaries? Do we know their demographic breakdown? Do we know if the activities have resulted in actual improvements in the Water Use Efficiency (WUE) ratios? What else do we know about actual changes in the behavioural patterns? Do the integrated water resource management lessons feed into the policy? Are we certain about whole-of-government or – as Minister aptly put it – community-to-cabinet approach to integrated water resource management in the Pacific? Does our data collection system allow capturing this and can the Regional Steering Committee make informed decisions on this basis?  We should bear in mind that beneficiaries of this crucial information won’t be just us, the implementing partners and RSC, but also the much broader constituency of development practitioners and policy makers in the Pacific.

Second, “S”: the Sustainability. As an outsider, but after being 5 years in the Pacific, I have come to appreciate that Pacific islanders are among the most resilient people in the world. You have settled on very remote islands and, for centuries, were able to overcome tremendous challenges of living in the middle of a huge ocean, while at the same time harnessing your local norms and values, harnessing cultural practices and building strong traditional governance systems that are and will remain your biggest assets. There is a lot of talk these days about climate change and most of it happens to be around the doom and gloom scenario for Pacific island countries. However I believe, and have no doubt, that Pacific islanders will effectively respond to and overcome this new challenge as well, garnering and mobilizing your internal resources and inner strengths of Pacific societies. Therefore the big question in front of us is: will IWRM become part of the region’s integrated response to the dangers posed by climate change? Perhaps, in this connection, we should pause for a minute and ask ourselves: what will happen if “there is no IWRM” tomorrow? Will the results sustain themselves and be replicated and brought to scale? For that to happen, is there indeed a whole-of-government approach to integrated water management and does practice feed into policy? Is overseas financing sufficiently integrated and harmonized with national budgets? And do the project activities harness Pacific societies’ traditional strengths?

And last but not least, the “G”: Gender. Our meeting is happening about a month after the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, which came to be known as Rio+20. One of the many outcomes of that conference was reinforcement of the global consensus that if development is not benefitting ½ of the global population then it is not development. In our context we can make sure that the IWRM project takes strong account of gender concerns, which must cut across both the Measurements and Sustainability dimensions. But for that we should ask ourselves: is the project providing equitable benefits to Pacific women and girls? Do our data and reporting systems even capture gender benefits? And do we provide sufficient space for Pacific women and girls’ leadership in the project’s governance arrangements and through community-level activities?

We hope you will consider these suggestions as useful inputs for your deliberations at the Regional Steering Committee. Our team will stay engaged at the meeting throughout the week in order to better understand your diverse perspectives and, also, to suggest possible solutions (such as, on the issue of sustainability, through the emerging Ridge to Reef approach).

Thank you