Practical solutions towards implementing IWRM
Updated - Monday 04 October 2004
Most of the guidance on implementing IWRM takes the starting point as creation of an institutional framework for co-ordinated planning at the river basin level. Frank Jaspers 2003 article in Water Policy is typical. Jaspers says;
“In order to bring integrated river basin management into effect institutional arrangements are needed to enable:
- the functioning of a platform for stakeholders involved in decision making,
- water resources management on hydrological boundaries,
- an organisational set-up in river basin and sub-basin authorities with their respective by-laws to incorporate decision making at the lowest appropriate level,
- a planning system oriented at the production of integrated river basin plans,
- the introduction of a system of water pricing and cost recovery.”
Full IWRM, an institutional challenge
By making institutional reform a prerequisite, IWRM proponents put the initiation of IWRM principles beyond the reach of most practitioners, particularly in the WATSAN sub-sector, where the river basin is not usually a management unit. There are several examples from industrialised countries, but the World Bank’s Water Resources Strategy Paper (World Bank, 2003 in the references) quotes an OECD finding that “ even the most advanced countries are very far from full compliance with the Dublin Principles.” Some developing countries too have tried to bring in a full version of IWRM, including major sector reforms. The South Africa example described in the main document (see “Full IWRM) includes new government acts giving custodianship of all water resources to the state and licensing powers to new Catchment Management Agencies. These are major reforms in a country where such reforms are now a vital part of the development process. Implementation has been costly and time-consuming and the benefits are yet to be seen. Clearly South Africa’s experience will be studied with interest by all those wanting to bring about full IWRM on a national basis from the start.
Light IWRM, a movement for change
There is though a “light” alternative. The World Bank strategy paper just cited also says: “The main management challenge is not a vision of integrated water resources management but a ‘pragmatic but principled’ approach that respects principles of efficiency, equity and sustainability while recognizing that water resources management is intensely political and that reform requires the articulation of prioritized, sequenced, practical and patient interventions.”
The idea of a light approach is that committed partners adopt the IWRM principles at their own level of operation. Basin-level IWRM with full stakeholder participation remains a target, but is not a prerequisite for change. The idea is that if all sub-sector (e.g. WATSAN) actors apply good IWRM practice at their own levels, they will start to reap the benefits of better management of local resources and provide incentives for other sectors and other levels to follow suit. A useful example of mini-success at community level in India is described in Box 14 of the main paper. Villagers developing a new drinking water source found repeated fluoride problems in new wells, but were able to organise legally-binding agreements to exchange the new high-fluoride boreholes for a nearby agricultural well with good drinking quality water, yielding mutual benefits.
An IRC project, Promising Approaches in Water Resources Management in the Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Sector, reported in Visscher et al 1999 contains some helpful guidelines or “working principles” for IWRM in WATSAN. They are:
- Catchment management and source protection are essential to ensuring sustainability of supply
- Water use efficiency and demand management must be addressed to minimise the need for new source development
- Multiple uses of water should be acknowledged and encouraged
- All stakeholders should be involved in decision making, but particular emphasis should be put on the active participation of users
- Gender and equity issues must be addressed throughout the project cycle
- Water provision should be priced so as to discourage wasteful use, while ensuring the right to access of a necessary minimum for all
Another helpful tool is the 1998 European Community (EC) publication: Towards sustainable water resources management: a strategic approach . This document seeks to ensure that EC water projects, primarily in Africa, are planned, implemented and assessed in terms of best IWRM practices. It contains a comprehensive series of checklists for each stage of the project cycle.
WATSAN as an entry point to increased participation
Although Dublin Principle 2 makes participatory approaches a fundamental part of IWRM, for some sub-sectors there is little experience of involving water users in resource planning and development. The WATSAN sub-sector, on the other hand, has a generation of community participation and community management behind it. As every individual is a WATSAN user, the incorporation of IWRM principles into the sub-sector’s participatory processes should ensure effective awareness raising and advocacy about the benefits of planning for multiple water uses. Initially, for sure, the best user representation in IWRM planning is likely to be through WATSAN agencies. The discussion document cites the Save the Sand project in South Africa in which the local government agency responsible for WATSAN services is being actively involved in establishing a catchment-level management forum for water resources development and environmental improvement.
The Millennium Development Goals have brought high priority to the WATSAN sub-sector and clearly linked it to the sustainable development agenda. There are also powerful arguments being advanced for explicit recognition of basic water and sanitation services as a human right. This global attention to the need for increased investment in WATSAN improvements is a big opportunity to re-emphasise the linkages with poverty reduction and social development that flow from integrated development and management of all water resources.
The RIDe Framework
The Water, Households and Rural Livelihoods (WHiRL) project, funded by the UK Department for International Development DfID in South Africa and India, developed a helpful conceptual framework for analysing water resources and WATSAN issues in an integrated way. The Resources, Infrastructure, Demand and entitlement (RIDe) framework is based on the understanding that water resources are linked to people by supply (and disposal) infrastructure, and that each of these three system elements (resources, infrastructure, users) has its own set of institutions, boundaries and other characteristics.