Water governance is the comprehensive control and coordination of water supply and use. It refers to the basic agreements, rights and regulations that are made on the basis of management decisions in the water sector.
Requirements of water governance
Water governance reflects the need for coordination between water users, taking into account technical, financial, organisational, legal and personnel aspects of the system. It is required to coordinate water use with other claims on water utilisation that are not related to the irrigation system (e.g. supra-regional and transboundary interests).
Mostly, these claims are only to be met by coordinated action at various administrative levels. This often creates complex water governance systems. The international water management experts agree that water crises in many regions basically have to be considered as crises of water governance, particularly in terms of inefficient water use in agriculture. If conflicts should be avoided and a sustainable use of resources should be secured, requirements on governance will increase with increasing water scarcity.
In general, water governance should be regarded as a multi-level system of social control options that interact within each other:
- Management functions at the lowest of these levels can only be exercised effectively if they are based on clear rules, laws, rights and agreements (governance mechanisms).
- In turn, governance mechanisms are only as effective as the institutions that stand behind them and enforce their compliance (e.g. by incentives and sanctions).
- The institutional environment and the other levels of governance system must be consistent with existing local traditions, social norms and sometimes religious beliefs.
Criteria for effective water governance
A comprehensive commitment to the strengthening of water governance systems can only be successful if development cooperation projects are implemented on sufficiently long terms. The following criteria are decisive for effective water governance:
Governance processes and decisions must be transparent to the public, and the relevant information (about spatial and temporal availability of water resources, essential rights and allocation decisions, rules and regulations) must be accessible
Governments, civil society organizations and the private sector are accountable to the public. This also applies to decisions that affect water resources. When it comes to issues of exploitation and pollution of water resources, transparency and accountability are important criteria. Where these criteria are not met, the doors open for rent-seeking and corruption. Measures to prevent and reduce corrupt behavior are amongst the most senior claims on agricultural water use. It is important to eliminate existing deficiencies in the monitoring and the control of service provision in resource use. Incentives for compliant behavior have to be created, clear rules for the sanctioning of violations have to be established and the responsible institutions have to be empowered to enforce these rules.
Water users have to get opportunities to participate in relevant decision-making processes (see the article on participation for more information on this).
Access to (land and) water resources has to be regulated in a coordinated manner so that the economic and social well-being of society is maximised without compromising the sustainability of important ecosystems. With regard to the increasing water scarcity in many countries, good water governance reaches considerable importance. Increasing attention should be paid to the political process to shape equitable allocation mechanisms in agricultural water use. Historic, cultural and religious factors are taken into account here. Such arrangements should explicitly not be at the expense of the poor population. Questions of equal access of womento the use and management of water resources must also be considered.
Coherent, integrated policy approaches have to be developed to take the complexities of water governance into account. On the one hand, this requirement means that the various levels of the governance system should not be in conflict with each other. On the other hand, this criterion relates to the coherence of the various water-related sectoral policies. This means that policies in terms of water use in households, agriculture, industry and ecology should be addressed to integrated policy approaches (IWRM).
Water governance should be based on the ethical principles of the society in which water resources are used. This means that locally prevailing traditions, social norms and religious beliefs should be considered at all levels of the governance system.
The challenge water governance faces is to develop concepts based on an in depth knowledge and analysis of existing governance systems that are adapted to the given and realistic local governance capacities.