What is water governance ? Water governance literature assessment
1. Introduction Water plays a pivotal role in sustainable development, including poverty reduction. The use and abuse of increasingly precious water resources has intensified dramatically over the past decades, reaching a point where water shortages, water quality degradation and aquatic ecosystem destruction are seriously affecting prospects for economic and social development, political stability and ecosystem integrity (UNDP, 2007a). Given the importance of water to poverty alleviation, human and ecosystem health, the management of the water resources becomes of central importance (Hope, 2007). Currently, over 1 billion people lack access to water and over 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation. Access to clean water is lowest in Africa, while Asia has the largest number of people with no access to basic sanitation. This water crisis is largely our own making. It has resulted not from the natural limitations of the water supply or lack of financing and appropriate technologies, even though these are important factors, but rather from profound failures in water governance (UNDP, 2007b).
Climate change now poses a major threat to human development. Much of this threat will be transmitted through more frequent extreme events (e.g. floods and droughts) and temporal and spatial shifts in rainfall patterns. The overall effect will be to exacerbate risk and vulnerability, threatening the livelihoods, health and security of millions of people. Climate modelling exercises point to a complex range of possible outcomes. Beyond the complexity, there are two recurrent themes. The first is that dry areas will get drier and wet areas wetter, with important consequences for patterns and levels of agricultural production. The second is that there will be an increase in the unpredictability of water flows, linked to more frequent and extreme weather events (UNDP, 2006).
The aim of this paper is identify water governance trends, challenges and knowledge gaps that are relevant to poverty reduction and the management of water ecosystem services and within the context of climate change. This paper is not intended as a comprehensive review of water governance literature as recent reviews already exist (e.g. Green, 2007).
2. What is water governance? Water governance relates to the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources and the delivery of water services at different levels of society (Rogers & Hall, 2003). Or put more simply, water governance is the set of systems that control decision-making with regard to water resource development and management. Hence, water governance is much more about the way in which decisions are made (i.e. how, by whom, and under what conditions decisions are made) than the decisions themselves (Moench et al., 2003).
Water governance covers the manner in which allocative and regulatory politics are exercised in the management of water and other natural resources and broadly embraces the formal and informal institutions by which authority is exercised. The relatively new term for discussing this combination of formal and informal institutions is distributed governance.
There is a profoundly political element to water governance and as such systems of water governance usually reflect the political realities at international,national, provincial and local levels. As a result, the more general definition of governance (as opposed to water governance) is also contested as those who promote different visions of the future tend to define governance in terms which are consistent with their own vision and no other (Green, 2007). So, Neo-Liberals define bad governance very specifically in terms of the existence of inadequate markets and excessive government. The problems of governance are to Neo-Liberals limited to removing the constraints which prevent the operation of a market-based economy and of minimising the role of government. Conversely, others define governance from the perspective of a democratic deficit, defining governance therefore in terms of transparency, accountability and subsidiarity. Consequently, there are obvious benefits in adopting a
definition of governance which describes what it is without prescribing what it should be. One of the most frequently cited definitions of governance is thus:
“The exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country’s affairs at all levels. Governance comprises the complex mechanisms, processes, and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, mediate their differences, and exercise their legal rights and obligations” (UNDP 1997).
Governance has received increasing attention from DFID in recent years as signified by the publication of the 2006 White Paper: “Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor”. This paper along with a series of speeches by the Secretary of State for International Development recognised the depth of the historical roots of governance problems in poor countries; the need to help governments to exercise real authority, as well as to become more democratic, participatory and law-regarding; the limits on the ability of aid donors to contribute to solving these problems through direct interventions; a practical grasp of the differences among a range of African countries often treated as a homogeneous mass; a genuine willingness to rethink what are known in the business as ‘aid modalities’; and an awareness that many governance problems are seriously exacerbated by international factors over which rich countries have some control (Moore and Unsworth, 2006).
3. Why is more effective water governance needed?
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