What is ‘good’ water governance?

How do we define good water governance? And why is it important to achieve Integrated Water Management outcomes? These questions are fundamental to progressing water management towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Global Water Partnership has developed this interactive map that documents where they have had influence in trans-boundary or country focused water governance such as the Mekong River Basin. These agreements, policies, laws and guidelines demonstrate how they are strengthening institutions to progress towards the SDGs. However, this is only part of the story. While there are significant human resources and diplomatic effort required to negotiate water management protocols, having these alone is not enough to ensure that water is governed in an efficient or equitable manner. In order to achieve good water governance we need to understand how these documents are being used and if we are able to measure the impact these agreements are having on people and the environment.

Van der Bliek et al (2014) explains that water governance needs to be context specific. Furthermore, the article emphasises that people conceptualise water governance differently in a spatial and geographic context. Therefore, simply having water governance targets in the SDGs will not mean that water security issues will be solved by 2030. We need to be thinking broader than governance frameworks and institutions, and engage all stakeholders in a meaningful way to understand the functioning of enabling environments and draw out lessons for regional and trans-boundary development. Van der Bliek calls for a country specific, or indeed regional, benchmark to understand that water needs are spatial in nature and in turn require integrated solutions.

Is good governance essential to water security?

The Asian Water Development Outlook (AWDO) 2016, co-written by the IWC, may provide some critical insight into this need. The AWDO ranks the overall resilience of a country based on four key dimensions that underpin water security:

  1. Household water security
  2. Economic water security
  3. Urban water security
  4. Environmental water security

The AWDO poses the question: is good governance needed to achieve water security?

A key finding from the AWDO is that a country’s overall water endowment is not correlated to its overall water security. This highlights that the institutions and frameworks that govern water allocation and water management in a given context play a role in water security. You can learn more about the lessons learnt on governance and water security from Australia’s urban water reform here.

Building capacity in water governance

At the IWC we challenge water professionals to think, act and solve water management problems differently. For example, our Water Reform and Governance online training course delves into how IWM theory and practice contributes to improved governance. We also draw from real life examples and extract lessons and ongoing challenges for the global water sector in a participatory environment. One of these case studies used is the Murray Darling Basin in the south-east of Australia, which is enduring ongoing competition from various water users, fueling political tension.

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