Experiences have shown that local resources management yields results which are economically efficient, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable.
Water scarcity threatens us all – menacing well-being, jeopardising livelihoods and sometimes endangering lives. As reported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), the global population has tripled in 70 years while water use has more than grown over six-fold. Within the next 25 years, one third of the world’s population will experience severe water scarcity. Right now, more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water; three billion people (half of everyone on earth) lack access to basic sewage systems. More than 90% of all the sewage produced in the developing countries return to the land and water bodies untreated. For millions of people, freshwater scarcity is defined as much by poor quality as by insufficient quantity. Such statistics, alarming enough, actually understate the scarcity problem.
Managing these disparities effectively and fairly constitutes one of the great imperatives of governance that now confront us. Facts like these generate their own consequences – and raise urgent issues of water management. The scarcity imposes the inevitable questions: who gets how much? At what costs? And, at what price, if any? But, there are deeper questions that also need to be addressed: Who decides? By what procedure? What features of governance will most likely produce management decisions that are fair, effective and environmentally sustainable?
Why local water management?
Decades of research have demonstrated that some of the most powerful responses to water scarcity have been mounted at the level of households, farmers’ fields, villages and city neighbourhoods. Traditional practices point the way to more effective local management of water supplies, particularly when reinforced by science based innovation. And almost always, successful applications of research and management are determined as much by social, economic and political factors as by any choice of technology. Armed with good information and sufficient autonomy, people usually prove to be reliable conservators of their own local resources.
Strategies of local water management can constitute practical and indeed superior alternatives to the large scale, centralised and capital-heavy approaches for rural and semi urban areas that have dominated in the past – and that too often failed to deliver on their promises. Local strategies can also support water management approaches with wider reach.
The three interconnected approaches are: small scale water supply technologies; wastewater treatment & recycling, reuse and watershed management & irrigation. These small and local approaches are cost efficient. They are generally easy to learn, simple to administer and therefore, likely to appeal to the people.
Community based natural resources management, specifically water management, must play a critical part with those larger approaches in solving scarcity problems. Local water management permits a democratising decentralisation of decision and accountability. It empowers people (particularly the poor and otherwise disadvantaged) to take part in the decisions that define their own futures. And it encourages the integration of traditional knowledge with innovative science to promote fair and efficient supply management. In this way water degradation and shortage can be transformed into sustainable sufficiency.Dr Abha Shende Watson Scholar, PhD, PDCP USA, Environmental Management Professional