Managing water with better institutions: Building flexibility, innovation and lessons of best practices

Monday, 15 December 2014: 10:40 AM
Siwa Msangi, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, United States
Changing socio-economic conditions and global environmental change continue to put pressure on critical natural resources necessary for sustaining ecosystems and human well-being – including water. Increasing variability in water availability, deepening droughts and continuing demands and consumptive use have posed problems for resource managers and policy makers in many regions. While in some regions it is still possible to enhance supply, such as in under-exploited water basins in Africa – the majority of the world’s heaviest water users are facing situations that call for more demand-side adjustments. This necessitates a change from engineering-focused solutions to more economic ones, especially where the costs of increasing supply (such as through de-salinization) are prohibitively expensive, or have unacceptable consequences for environmental sustainability.

Despite many years and decades of studying water resource management problems, there is still too little guidance as to what institutional best-practices should be followed. Water resources tend to touch on a number of areas managed by different government departments and ministries (agriculture, aquaculture & fisheries, industry, natural resources, etc) – but there is still no common understanding of what the best governance arrangements are that lead to improved sectoral performance (however that is measured). Given the continuing efforts to invest in water resources management and development by major multi-lateral organizations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank – this kind of institutional guidance is critical, if countries are to make the most of these investments.

In this presentation, we review a number of cases in which previously supply-side oriented approaches have to be dealt with from the demand side, and why institutional flexibility and innovation is so important. We draw from examples of community-based groundwater management in India, groundwater overdraft management in China and the US, and try and synthesize some key priorities for further research and policy dialogue that are needed to enhance the sustainability of water resources in critical basins.