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Flows and Practices: The Politics of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) in Africa

Awarded: NOK 5.5 mill.

For the past two decades, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) has been the dominant paradigm in water resources. It is the flagship project of global bodies such as the Global Water Partnership (GWP). It has also been actively promoted by a range of multilateral and bilateral donors which consider it to be the path to address water governance and management crises in the global south. IWRM has also been incorporated into many water laws, reforms and policies in the nations of eastern and southern Africa. This project explored how ideas of IWRM, as constructed at the global and European levels, have been and are being translated and adapted into narratives and practices in eastern and southern Africa (Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe) and what this has meant for poor women?s and men?s access to water on the ground. The project developed a conceptual framework that builds on three main themes: the flow of IWRM as an idea in international and national forums; the translation and adoption of IWRM into national contexts, and the practices of IWRM in diverse contexts. We used a multi-sited ethnographic approach to understand how IWRM plays out in different arenas (from local to global and across bureaucracies in Europe and Africa as well as in river basins and communities). Findings: At the global level, IWRM spread from the late 1990s due to a mix of coercion on the part of donors who encouraged water reform processes around the world, cooperation and learning. In southern Africa, the idea was picked up due to the key role played by water in the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) region due to the prevalence of transboundary rivers. Water thus could be galvanised as an arena of cooperation, instead of conflict. Moreover, the region has strong existing institutions and donor networks due to anti apartheid struggles. Water-related programmes and activities around IWRM introduced by donors could build on these. The country studies revealed different IWRM experiences, often due to a curious mix of domestic and donor-driven forces and interests. For example, in South Africa, IWRM was largely a home-grown enterprise and the new democratic state used it as a way to engage with international debates and actors. Despite much emphasis on creating new Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs), only two actually exist on the ground and many emerging farmers are still waiting for redress in terms of productive water uses and management. Water reforms in Mozambique were heavily influenced by international donors, and in particular the Dutch. Policies and strategies were drafted by a small and close knit group of Mozambican policy makers, all trained and supported by Dutch universities and international aid, and with little input from the broader population and usually prioritizing large scale users of land and water. In Tanzania, too, the needs of large-scale users, donors and investors have been prioritised over the rural majority of small-scale users. These country experiences reveal that water management cannot be looked at in isolation of historical and cultural legacies and path dependencies. Across the región, it has been difficult to implement IWRM with more attention focussed on institutional reform, rather than on actually enhancing local people?s access to water. IWRM?s focus on formal water rights and water pricing, does not take account of the fact that in southern Africa women acquire water and land through use and customary rights, not through formal land titles. It also places too great an emphasis on formal networks such as water user associations which often replicate broader societal power imbalances that marginalise women?s voices. In sum, while IWRM has raised awareness about the need to adopt an approach that takes an all-encompassing view of water resources and water supply across various scales, it has remained too abstract and: ? obscured the political nature of water resources management. ? faced challenges in promoting the management of water along hydrological boundaries. The political, social and historical contexts of river basins and administrative structures have not been fully recognised and as a result factional divisions and conflict that shape local contexts are reinforced and replicated ? often neglected the importance of living customary laws by which poor women and men achieve their food and water security ? rolled back the role of the state in water provision, often to the detriment of poor people?s access to water ? not lead to adequate water resources development and water storage and infrastructure which could build resilience against water related risks and uncertainties

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) has emerged as a key approach in the water sector in the past decade. However, IWRM has not produced the anticipated socio-economic, political and ecological outcomes due to the uncertainty and complexity of ri ver basins and the plural, overlapping and competing formal and informal legal and customary systems in the African context. Our research seeks to link ideas of IWRM as constructed at the global and European level to their translation into narratives and practices in eastern and southern Africa (Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe). This research will critically examine the interpretations and challenges of IWRM, hopefully contributing to improving water policies and practices and making them locally appropriate. From an African perspective, our research is of fundamental importance as there is a huge potential to considerably improve the availability of water for poverty reduction and inclusive growth. IWRM will introduce new normative ord ers which opens up spaces for reform but also closes down a number of alternative framings and opportunities for various actors. This makes it important to ask who is gaining or losing from these processes. The project will study various levels of inte raction: key policy events and forums at the international and regional level, in-depth comparative case study of national water reform processes and detailed fieldwork in major river basins in all four countries focusing on 'hotspots'. A variety of resea rch methods will be employed: desk study, semi-structured interviews and focussed group discussions with stakeholders and observations of changing water management practices and social/gender relations. The project will contribute to ongoing debates in: ( 1) The boundary politics between expert knowledge and epistemic communities; (2) Policy processes; (3) Social sciences of water and development; (4) Political ecology of water reform and IWRM

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