This event was sponsored by the Comprehensive assessment on water management in agriculture.
Over sixty lawyers, water resource policy makers and managers, NGO representatives, and academics from twelve African states and other countries participated in the international workshop ‘African Water Laws: Plural Legislative Frameworks for Rural Water Management in Africa’ held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 26 to 28 January 2005. The workshop was co-organized by the International Water Management (IWMI), the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) UK, Faculty of Law, University of Dar-es-Salaam,Tanzania, and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), South Africa.
The workshop discussed research findings on local community-based arrangements for developing and managing water for small-scale domestic and productive uses in rural Africa and the impacts of recent statutory water reform. The workshop also compared African experiences with those in Asia and Latin America.
The participants concluded that it is a paradox that IWRM statutory water reform in many African countries seeks to introduce the world’s most formalized water regulation legislation in countries with the world’s highest proportion of informal water users and the greatest need to develop appropriate infrastructure to access the relative abundance of water resources. The reform’s new obligations for centralized registration of productive water uses and fee payment work among few large-scale water users. However, registering millions of remote and illiterate rural small-scale users is logistically unrealistic, so stipulating such obligation just criminalizes a rural agrarian majority. Further, the costs to government to register small-scale water users and collect fees are higher than any revenue. Moreover, the new water rights certificates issued by government distort community-based conflict management arrangements, favoring the literate male elite who now start claiming ‘I paid for water so I can use it’. Land tenure in Africa has important lessons. For rural land, a much easier natural resource to register than water, it is unanimously recognized that any formal individual or collective titling needs to be grounded in the recognition of collective customary land tenure arrangements.
The workshop delegates also identified practical recommendations for African governments, international financing institutions and donors to solve this paradox. There is no intrinsic relation between taxation and water rights and state action on the two should remain disconnected. For years to come, small-scale users should be exempted from centralized registration and fee payment, even just for the sake of logistic realism. Instead, financing streams should be downwards in order to accelerate water development anchored in community-based arrangements to tackle the real cause of water scarcity. In terms of water rights, the state should fully recognize the community-based legitimacy of current water uses. State efforts to mediate in conflicts over water should prioritize small-scale water uses for livelihoods, and build upon highly effective community-based dispute resolution procedures.
The 33 research papers upon which the workshop was based are available at: www.nri.org/waterlaw/workshop
Workshop statement (download pdf (2MB) )
For further information contact: Barbara van Koppen at: firstname.lastname@example.org