Local needs, politics and realities must be fundamental considerations in designing Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) policies in Africa, according to a new report from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), a UK-based global development research and teaching institution.
The report, “Flows and Practices: The Politics of Integrated Water Resources Management in Africa,” was funded by the Research Council of Norway. Its findings were presented at the 15th WaterNet, Water Research Fund of Southern Africa and Global Water Partnership: Southern Africa (GWP-SA) Symposium in Malawi this week.
The researchers found that IWRM, touted as the key to solving the global water crisis, has fallen short when it comes to long-term development outcomes.
“For the past two decades, integrated water resources management has been considered the dominant paradigm in water resources,” the report said. IWRM has been promoted by international organizations, multilateral and regional development banks and donor agencies “that make it out to be panacea to address the water management crisis in the global south."
However, the approach is critically flawed, according to the report, because it has “obscured the political nature of water resources.”
While IWRM has offered technical solutions, it has failed to “adequately recognize how local political, economic and social contexts need to shape reform.”
The report cited an example from South Africa, where IWRM has been limited due to a lack of political will and coordination at all levels. This has led to widespread distrust amongst users.
Another area where IWRM falls short is in identifying the needs and priorities of small-scale and rural users.
“In Mozambique, water reforms were heavily influenced by international donors. Policies were drafted by a small group of policy makers, all trained and supported by Dutch universities and international aid, and with little input from the broader population,” the report said.
The researchers also noted that IWRM has failed to recognized gender roles, particularly how women in southern African countries use and manage water, and how they acquire water and land rights through customs rather than formal titles.
“It has also done little to address the fact that women are often marginalized from formal water management networks such as water user associations, which often replicate broader societal power imbalances."
The report called for greater effort in targeting long-term development of water infrastructure and increasing access to water.