4. Water & Society
How societies choose to govern their water economies is underpinned by myriad interactions between technological choices on the one hand and their differentiated socio-ecological, economic, and political impacts on the other.
With the deepening of physical water scarcity in Asia and continued economic water scarcity in much of Africa, these interactions have come to occupy the center-stage in the growing global discourse on water governance. IWMI’s “Water and Society” theme aims to address the key institutional and socio-economic issues that arise as developing countries face the challenges of physical and economic water scarcity and hydrological variability, both existing and as expected with climate change.
The Water and Society theme will concentrate on a host of related research questions at scales ranging from farm to basin, from national to global, and will explore avenues to reform water governance in ways that respond to contextual specificities of different societies. In addition to answering its own set of discreet research questions, the key role of the theme is to provide social science expertise across the institute’s research areas to build evidence-based arguments for making change. What is the best way to facilitate human adaptation to climate change and variability challenges? What can South Asia do to arrest the stagnation in its public irrigation systems? What kind of irrigation investments make best sense for Sub-Saharan Africa in the light of the past experience? What can city governments do to minimize the health hazard from urban wastewater irrigation without compromising its significant welfare opportunities? Beyond basic research questions such as these, the theme also serves as a base for assessing impacts, both of IWMI’s own work and of water interventions in general.
The theme has four components:
- Water governance
- Water economics
- Water, poverty and equity
- Impact assessment
4.1 Water governance
In the face of water scarcity and climate change, improving water governance through integrated water resources management (IWRM) is widely recognized as a critical need throughout the developing world. Experience so far suggests this is easier said than done. To address this challenge, the Water Governance sub-theme will assess how water can best be governed in specific basin contexts. It will undertake practical research in support of a proactive water reform agenda in the developing world in order to both resolve current and avoid future conflicts as well as improve the productivity of existing water uses. The subtheme will focus on the development of models and options for water policies and governance based on sound scientific and economic evidence. It will also consider, rather than assume, the transferability of effective systems of water governance from other countries taking into account local factors that may enhance or hinder successful adoption of potential governance models.
- To improve IWRM in a basin perspective through formulation of location specific policies and institutional arrangements
- To improve performance and sustainability of water management systems, for example public surface and private groundwater irrigation through identification of better governance strategies
4.2 Water economics
The irony of the developing world is that even as water becomes increasingly scarce, it often continues to remain free or at low cost, even for the rich. Bringing prices into play is a critical challenge countries in Asia and Africa are facing in creating order in their water economies. Mastering the political economy of water pricing is critical not only to signal the rising scarcity value of water, but also to direct water to high value uses, to attract needed investment, and to improve water services. At the same time, protecting water access and rights for the poor is critical. Consequently, the Water Economics subtheme strives to develop approaches for using economic instruments for water allocation to ensure productivity, equity and environmental sustainability. In addition, the sub-theme carries out economic analyses of water resources development and management to inform decision makers of the financial and economic viability of alternative investments in water projects.
- To develop techniques to value water from different sources, in different uses, under different techno-economic contexts in order to facilitate equitable water reform
- To evolve practical approaches, and alternatives, to pricing of water resource as well as services to improve water productivity, access, and equity while protecting the rights of the poor and ensuring environmental sustainability
4.3 Water, poverty and equity
Critical issues for the poor center on justice, equity and security in terms of water access rights. Water policies, interventions and projects have profound impacts on how poor men and women access water for various uses. However, the differential impacts of water interventions both technological and institutional, on the poor, the gender roles of men and women farmers and social differences within communities are often forgotten in water intervention practice. The negative impact of failing to explicitly consider these interrelationships can be severe. But the rewards of taking them into account, both in terms of better water use and poverty reduction, can be equally substantial. The Water, Poverty and Equity sub-theme will complement the institute’s overall work to generate policy-relevant knowledge to sensitize and inform water planners and investors of both the value of and mechanisms for considering poverty and social equity issues in decision making.
- To reshape the water-poverty-gender nexus through understanding of how specific interventions can assist women and poor farmers
- To address key issues including differential access and rights to water resources through development of poverty-sensitive water policy, investment and intervention strategies
4.4 Impact assessment
Assessing the impact of IWMI’s research is essential for the Institute to ensure its research programs meet the needs of its stakeholders and partners and as a means to inform and improve future research operations. An understanding of how agricultural water interventions instituted by others have impacted water use, food production and poverty is likewise critical for IWMI’s own research decisions as well as for the policy, investment and implementation recommendations IWMI develops for its target audiences. To meet these needs, the Impact Assessment sub-theme analyses the impact of IWMI’s own research, across all thematic areas, as well as that of relevant projects and programs implemented by others using a range of ex-ante and ex-post analyses conducted in-house and through strategic partnerships
- To use an understanding of past research impacts to improve IWMI’s research operations and priority setting
- To inform future water investments via development of broad understandings of the impacts of various agricultural water management interventions, policy and technologies