Improved Water Governance

Our goal is to contribute to integrated, transparent and participatory governance processes, as cornerstones to ensure the sustainable and equitable use of water resources and to expand the delivery of clean water supply and sanitation services to all.


Water governance is the set of social relations, or system, that determines who gets what water/services, when and how. ‘Good governance’ is thus crucial for improving access to water and sanitation services.

How societies choose to govern their water resources and services has profound impacts on people’s livelihood and the sustainability of water resources. Access to water is, for many people, a matter of daily survival, or can help to break the vicious circle of poverty. Improving water governance is therefore essential to alleviating global poverty.

Water governance refers to the political, social, economic and administrative systems in place that influence water’s use and management. Essentially, who gets what water, when and how, and who has the right to water and related services, and their benefits. It determines the equity and efficiency in water resource and services allocation and distribution, and balances water use between socio-economic activities and ecosystems.

Governing water includes formulation, establishment and implementation of water policies, legislation and institutions, and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of government, civil society and the private sector in relation water resources and services. The outcomes depend on how the stakeholders act in relation to the rules and roles that have been taken or assigned to them.

The water sector is a part of broader social, political and economic developments and is thus also affected by decisions by actors outside of the water sector.

Water and sanitation development often focus heavily on infrastructure investments, overlooking the importance of also investing in the capacities and institutions at national, regional and local level responsible for delivery, governance and maintenance of the services. As a result, infrastructure solutions are underutilized, poorly managed and unsustainable. Water and sanitation services also often fail to reach poor and marginalized groups, hence democratization of the governance processes through increased participation, transparency and accountability is key.

Integrity & accountability
Corruption remains one of more malignant challenges in relation to water resources and services. Governments, bilateral and multilateral organizations have tacitly accepted corruption in the way water is governed. Research and case studies increasingly demonstrate the extent to which corrupt practices are detrimental to sustainable water use and service provision, by diverting financial resources and skewing decisions away from addressing collective concerns. Corruption ultimately limits the scope for improving poor people’s livelihood opportunities.

Poor resource management, corruption, inappropriate institutional arrangements, bureaucratic inertia, insufficient human capacity and shortages of finances for investments also undermine the effective governance of water in many places around the world. These are also the challenges to be addressed by governance reforms.

SIWI enables more efficient, equitable and environmentally sustainable governance of water resources, and water supply and sanitation in low- and middle income countries.

SIWI works to reduce mismanagement and corruption through promoting integrity, transparency and accountability within and between governments, civil society organizations and private companies.

SIWI helps clients and partners take the crucial step from policy formulation and planning to effective implementation. This includes targeted support in important aspects of reform, such as decentralisation, multi-stakeholder participation, river basin management, coordination and integration processes, and gender equity.

SIWI supports clients and partners to manage water resources and provide water supply and sanitation services more efficiently, equitably and sustainably through:

  • Policy and technical advice on governance reform and implementation at local, national and river basin levels
  • Developing and applying tailored knowledge, tools and methodologies
  • Documenting and sharing examples of good practices
  • Monitoring and assessment at national, regional and international levels.
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How we work

The UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI provides strategic water governance support to developing countries on a demand basis, to advance socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically efficient management of water resources and water and sanitation services.
  • The Facility provides policy support and advisory services in multiple thematic areas, including: integrated water resources management, transboundary water, water supply and sanitation, climate change adaptation, gender and water integrity.
  • develops and supports the implementation of projects and programmes in partnership with UNDP country offices, government agencies, and other parties.
  • develops and applies water governance assessments at national and global levels, and contributes to international monitoring and assessment processes.

The Facility represents a partnership between UNDP and Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) the WGF was established in 2005, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), serving to strengthen UNDP’s capacity to provide relevant policy support and advice to countries, and to build the knowledge and capacities for improved water governance within governments and civil society as well as among UN agencies.


SIWI defines water integrity as the adherence of water actors and institutions to the water governance principles of transparency, accountability, and participation, based on core values of honesty, equity and professionalism.

Water integrity is one of the most important means to achieving a water wise world that is resistant to corruption. Reducing corruption and other unethical practices, greatly contributes to ethical socio-economic development and poverty reduction. It helps to build trustworthy public actors and an institutional environment that attracts investments. 

Water integrity is based on a set of interlinked, practical principles and tools for daily and diverse implementation in water management practices. Key elements of water integrity are transparency, accountability and participation. Achieving this vision requires strong water governance systems that have the ability to resist corruption. Read more about water integrity.

Our integrity work is structured around three types of activities – advocacy, risks assessments and capacity building.

SIWI works with five cross-cutting issues.

SIWI proactively promotes water integrity in all its work, including:

  • Participation in global platforms to raise integrity on the water policy agenda and contribute to global knowledge.
  • Implementation of regional capacity building programmes for the Middle East and North Africa region, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa in collaboration with regional and local partners.  
  • A founding member of the Water Integrity Network (WIN) formed to respond to increasing concerns among water and anti-corruption stakeholders over corruption in the water sector.
  • Assessed water integrity risks, including through support of nationally-owned water integrity risk assessments at country level. 
  • Developing an anti-corruption policy to strengthen credibility and accountability within the organization, partners, consultants, funding partners and most importantly, beneficiaries.
Governance, Advocacy and Leadership in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (GoAL WaSH)

The GoAL WaSH programme aims to achieve effective, equitable and sustainable service delivery by enhancing the performance of drinking water and sanitation sectors in partner countries. This is done through the support of governance reform, sector leadership and capacity development. 

It targets countries with low water and sanitation coverage with a special attention to fragile and post-conflict states where donor support to the water and sanitation sectors is often low or non-existent. The programme focuses on countries where there is an institutional responsiveness to the services that the programme offers. The GoAL WaSH process needs to be fully owned and demand-driven.

GoAL WaSH supports work in three sequential areas:

  • Identifying the gaps, needs, constraints and opportunities in national water and sanitation plans, strategies and capacities.
  • Supporting development and reform of action plans, policies, laws, coordinating mechanisms and regulatory functions.
  • Supporting the implementation with accountability and transparency.

For more information, please visit the GoAL WaSH section of the Water Governance Facility website.

The Africa Working Group (AWG) is a regional component of the EU Water Initiative (EUWI), and is responsible for implementing the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership on Water Affairs and Sanitation.

The EU Water Initiative (EUWI) is an international political initiative, launched at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 to “mobilize and coordinate all available EU resources (human and financial) to achieve water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in partner countries”. The Africa Working Group (AWG) is one of its regional components, and is responsible for implementing the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership on Water Affairs and Sanitation.

The AWG is not a financing institution but aims to reinforce the political commitment and accountability of European Commission (EC) and European Union (EU) Member States for harmonized support in water supply and sanitation and IWRM, in line with African interests and demand. 

The AWG is co-chaired by the AMCOW-TAC president and an annually rotating EU member state, while an “extended troika” consisting of EU member states, AMCOW TAC vice presidents, AMCOW secretariat, and representatives of the EC and civil society functions as the strategic management body.

Day-to-day support of the AWG is provided by a team hosted by UNDP and SIWI.

The MDG-F finances 130 Joint Programmes in 50 countries. The programmes are grouped into eight thematic areas – one of them the Democratic and Economic Governance (DEG) theme. In the DEG thematic area there are eleven Joint Programmes focused on the MDG7 target to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. With a focus on marginalised populations, often through a Human Rights Based Approach, the eleven programmes work towards improved and democratised governance in the water and sanitation sectors – at the national, regional and local levels.

The MDG-F DEG KM implements the knowledge management (KM) system for the systematic documentation, analysis and dissemination of experiences and lessons learned from the Joint Programmes in the DEG thematic area.


  • Organises workshops, and manages online platforms in order to share insights and experience between Joint Programmes and similar initiatives.
  • Documents and disseminates case studies, valuable experiences and lessons learned.

The DEG-KM system is hosted at the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI.

Visit the MDG-F DEG KM section of the Water Governance Facility website