Critics of IWRM need to note that as a paradigm, it only marks the broad contours of the emerging discipline of water governance that is subject to change with time
The new economics of water will definitely have to move in a direction that will be a clear departure from the reductionist neoclassical economic thinking.This paradigm shift to IWRM from a traditional constructionist engineering paradigm of water supply augmentation is not free from conflicts. Based on the various contending thoughts and ideas, the notion of IWRM has been conceptualised in the form of the following points:
a) Water is not a stock of material resource to be stored for human use only, but an integral component of the global hydrological cycle: The large engineering constructions for storage, diversion and use of water for economic purposes yields short-run benefits, but has massive negative implications for the natural ecosystem and for the human community reliant on the ecosystem services. IWRM, on the contrary, treats water as a flow and acknowledges the critical role of the hydrological cycle in sustaining the ecosystem. b) Economic growth and supply of water are delinked. While neoclassical development economics links economic growth with resource availability, IWRM delinks the two and emphasised the shift towards demand-side management than supply augmentation. c) The multidimensionality of water demand along with those of the natural ecosystems needs to be acknowledged. The emerging transdisciplinary paradigm of IWRM talks of the existing trade-off prioritisation between the two classes of competing water needs: those of the natural ecosystem and those of the human society, while there are competing demands within the human socio-economy. By understanding the trade-offs, prioritisation of water needs can be arrived at through a better understanding of social, cultural and economic values. d) Objective analyses are needed for an integrated and comprehensive approach to assessing interventions on hydrological flows by considering the integrity of the hydrological cycle. The new paradigm rests on the creation of an interdisciplinary knowledge base through a multi-disciplinary team of natural and social scientists. Water and its associated ecological economic systems are complex due to the complex links and interrelations with other systems and any approach from a single disciplinary domain are inadequate to address real-life problems. e) Floods and droughts are not “disasters”, but are integral components of the eco-hydrological cycle. f) Newer and more holistic social and economic instruments should be developed for the assessment of projects and efficient, equitable, and sustainable utilisation of water resources as also for the reduction of damage to their quality from pollution. The new economics of water will definitely have to move in a direction that will be a clear departure from the reductionist neoclassical economic thinking. Ecological Economics combining the social, ecological and broader ethical concerns need to be incorporated into the newly emerging instruments. This has also been discussed later in this module. g) Traditional top-down institutional governance frameworks need to be replaced by more updated and modern governance systems that are democratic, participatory, equitable, and sustainable.The above tenets of IWRM can also be treated as guidelines for promoting IWRM at various scales. One needs to note here that these tenets are still evolving, and in no way exhaustive, and that’s what makes IWRM an emerging and dynamic discipline. Refinements, augmentations, modifications, eliminations, and additions are always occurring on its disciplinary trajectory as the challenges of water governance are getting more and more complex. But, on the whole, the “integration” in IWRM has been best summarised by Malin Falkenmark while describing IWRM as the principle to integrate land, water, and ecosystems to promote the three E’s – two human-dependent ones (social equity and economic efficiency), and one related to the ecosystem (environmental sustainability).
Some of the water professionals at the highest level have raised questions on the concerns related to the integration of disciplines that IWRM intend to bring about, while some raise questions on its operationality.So, taking cue from the explanations provided above, it can be inferred that IWRM provides a framework for certain guiding principles for water governance. However, it has its intense and ardent critics, some of whom like Mark Giordano and Tushaar Shah have even gone to the extent of stating that “… the current monopoly of IWRM in global water management discourse is shutting out alternative thinking on pragmatic solutions to existing water problems”. Some of the water professionals at the highest level have raised questions on the concerns related to the integration of disciplines that IWRM intend to bring about, while some raise questions on its operationality. Asit Biswas states “…The definition of IWRM continues to be amorphous, and there is no agreement on fundamental issues like what aspects should be integrated, how, by whom, or even if such integration in a wider sense is possible”. According to most critics, IWRM fails to acknowledge the fact that water management is also a political process entailing contestation, conflict and negotiation; it largely precludes the social complexities, processes, institutional contextualities, power equations, and the interplay of all these processes creating the complex reality. Critics, therefore, keep on demonstrating how integration becomes unachievable given that the H2O or water discourse is actually the H2O-P3 (people, politics and power) discourse. All the critiques keep on drawing from apparently contradictory discourses emerging from divergent theoretical paradigms and have hardly provided any constructive alternative to the policy world. Here lies the problem. One needs to note here that IWRM, as a paradigm, is not meant for setting any operational manual. Rather the paradigm marks the broad contours of the emerging discipline of water governance that is subject to change with time and the accrual of new knowledge. Therefore, various water policy documents around the world delineate their policy guidelines under the broader guiding principles provided by IWRM. This is exemplified by some recent important state-of-art policy documents in India, namely, the Draft National Water Framework Bill 2016, A 21st Century Institutional Architecture for India’s Water Reforms, and the Draft National Water Policy 2020. The EU Water Framework Directive also acknowledges the centrality of IWRM. In some other countries, for example, South Africa, Australia, and Russia, serious attention has been given to the social and ecological concerns in the context of water governance, as the existing trade-offs between competing water uses are better understood in an integrated framework. This also calls for a systems approach to water governance in general, and in particular river basins, which are integrated with every part responding to changes in other parts over space and time.
One needs to note here that IWRM, as a paradigm, is not meant for setting any operational manual. Rather the paradigm marks the broad contours of the emerging discipline of water governance that is subject to change with time and the accrual of new knowledge.Therefore, as a paradigm IWRM provides for a broad base to integrate and create a trans-disciplinary knowledge base. Rather, in certain senses, most of the other approaches like the water-food-energy nexus or the integrated river basin governance rest on the IWRM principles. There is hardly an alternate framework or a framework to challenge the holism presented by IWRM. To be precise, IWRM should not be understood as an implementable plan or a management strategy: It is a set of principles or canons on the basis of which better management strategies and governance set-ups can be created, and at various scales ranging from the micro-watershed to a river basin. In large parts of the world, water conflicts have been occuring due to a fragmented approach towards water management. A serious correction was needed there: IWRM has provided that pathway to salvage that situation.
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Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh is a Director at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India. In that capacity, he heads two centres at the Foundation, namely, the ...Read More +