Governance can be defined as the government's ability to make and enforce rules, and to deliver services. Water governance refers to the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place in a particular country to manage water and deliver services. How a country manages its water resources determines the health of its people, the success of its economy, the sustainability of its natural environment, and its relations with the neighbours. Good water management brings tangible benefits to a country. Thus, good governance is a cornerstone on how to develop and manage water resources, and the delivery of water services at different levels of society.
In its first Water Development Report (2003) the United Nations strongly stated that the “water crisis is essentially a crisis of governance and societies are facing a number of social, economic and political challenges on how to govern water more effectively”. A lack of effective management of interdependent stakeholders can hinder the efficient design and implementation of water policy reform. While it is apparent that drastic action should be taken, in reality, water problems are complex and not at all easy to resolve.
While the Government has an overall responsibility, non-state actors, be the private sector actors or non-governmental organizations, have become more prominent in managing water, allocating resources and organizing service provision. The process of integrating water resources management is now reaching adulthood. Societies have already become more conscious of the problems of water scarcity and how they are all closely inter-connected. Water provision and governance of water systems are of a complex nature, involving many different stakeholders at different levels and shaped by the political and institutional context of a country.
In many countries, reforms for effective water management are hampered by an unclear allocation of roles and responsibilities, territorial fragmentation and limited capacity at the local level. Managing water resources involves understanding complex systems with both human and natural components. To manage these systems successfully, institutions with divergent interests and expertise must work together.
Water policies need to be tailored to local characteristics and concerns. Whether in developed or developing countries, whether water is scarce or plentiful, common challenges can be identified so that proper responses can be developed. To tackle these challenges, countries need to take stock of lessons learnt, identify good practices and develop tools to create effective, fair and sustainable water policies. These solutions should be developed and implemented with the inclusion of all stakeholders and at all levels of government.