The Enabling Environment (A)

A proper enabling environment establishes the rights and assets of all stakeholders (individuals as well as public and private sector organizations and companies, women as well as men, the poor as well as the better off), while ensuring for environmental quality. The enabling environment essentially consists of “rules of the game” that are laid out as to achieve a sustainable balance between the social, economic and environmental needs for water. These rules can be defined by the use of: (1) Policies; (2) Legislative Frameworks; and (3) Financing and Investment Structures.

The enabling environment is determined by national, provincial and local policies and legislation that constitute the “rules of the game” and facilitates all stakeholders to play their respective roles in the sustainable development and management of water resources. The purpose for such enabling environment is to provide a set of solid foundations establishing the priorities and best ways which can help water governance structure reach their goals, while balancing out the social, economic and environmental demands for water resources. IWRM must be seen as a guiding strategy in creating the Tools of this enabling environment, i.e. policies, legislative frameworks and financing structures.

In order to achieve efficient, equitable and sustainable water management within the IWRM approach, both top-down and bottom-up strategies for the participation of stakeholders needs to be promoted – from the national-level down to the catchment or watershed level. Therefore, Institutional Arrangements (Tools B) should be set up so that lower levels of authorities have agency in both: (1) establishing their own respective “rules of the game”; and (2) also give their say in articulating policies at the upper-echelons. Along those lines, institutional decision-making processes should be governed by the principle of subsidiarity, that is, a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. System of water governance that are well decentralised are conducive to the practical implementation of policies.

The three key elements of IWRM, represented in the categories of Tools A, B, and C, are interrelated and complementary. An enabling environment (Tools A) should be developed in order for management instruments elaborated in Tools B to be most effective in the long run. Similarly, having an enabling environment will not achieve water management without the instruments and institutions putting it into practice.

Setting up a proper enabling environment entails that stakeholder involvement cannot be understood as limited to the realm of governmental institutions. Since the “rules of the game” indeed apply to everyone, private companies, NGOs, community-based organizations, women and disadvantaged groups as well as other sections of civil society should all be provided with genuine opportunities to actively participate in formulating these collective baselines. All these organizations and agencies have an important role to play as there exist many different perspectives on enhancing access to water, bringing about an equilibrium between conservation and development, and treating water as a social and economic good.

In the context of water governance, the enabling environment involves Policies, Legal Frameworks and Investment and Financing Structures:

  • Policies – setting goals for water use, protection and conservation. Policy development gives an opportunity for setting national objectives for the management of water resources and water service delivery with concerns for the overall development goals. Water policies are by nature tied to multi-sectoral approaches.
  • Legal Frameworks – the rules to follow to achieve policies and goals. The required water laws cover ownership of water, permits to use (or pollute) it, the transferability of those permits, and customary entitlements. They underpin regulatory norms for e.g. conservation, protection, priorities, and conflict management.
  • Investment and Financing Structures – allocating financial resources to meet water needs. Water projects tend to be indivisible and capital-intensive, and many countries have major backlogs in developing water infrastructure. Countries need smart national and international financing approaches and appropriate incentives to achieve development goals. Financial resources need also be allocated to public sector financing e.g. for the management of the resource, not only the water services. This requires comparatively small budgets, which give huge benefits because proper resource management minimizes the risk of misallocations by applying IWRM, securing sound data acquisition etc.

Top photo: GWP South Asia workshop on programme financing.