Why and How to Use the IWRM ToolBox

Contrary to popular belief, water crises are more of a governance failure, than one that relates to water shortages or technical shortcomings. Most water challenges are political, economic, and social. If we can improve water governance using the integrated approach, we will get closer to a water-secure world.

The purpose of the IWRM ToolBox is to provide assistance in overcoming the largest obstacles to good water governance. The 60 Tools in IWRM ToolBox cover areas from conflicts in regulatory regimes and lack of integrity in water finances, to inappropriate price regulation and lack of technical knowledge on social mapping. The ToolBox advocates for mixed management systems, believing that using an array of different Tools are likely to be most effective; employing, for instance, a mixture of direct controls, market instruments, information and education, assisted community participation or incentives for water reuse.

There is no such thing as a one size fits all solution when it comes to applying IWRM. Thus, users should carefully approach the Tools and thoroughly evaluate which ones can best fit their given country, context, and situation. In order to facilitate this search, the Tools are organized in wider perspectives or thematic areas of IWRM – i.e. Enabling Environment (Tools A), Institutional Arrangements (Tools B), and Management Instruments (Tools C). A snapshot of the Tools’ characteristics and the challenges they aim to tackle are provided in every thematic sub-sections.

Tools A identify what are some of the founding policy, legal, and financial structures that are promoted by IWRM. These first steps are about providing an Enabling Environment, which clarifies the rights and assets of all stakeholders, while ensuring for environmental quality.

Tools B are concerned with identifying some key social, economic, and political systems that are conducive to strong Institutional Arrangements. These entities act as incubators and channels for good and effective water governance to materialize.

Tools C, Management Instruments, lay out elements and methods that enable and help decision makers to make rational and informed choices between alternative actions, in accordance to IWRM principles.

In judging the suitability of particular Tools, four factors need to be taken into account:

  • Political capacity – are there sufficient influential champions for the reform, can the reform produce results within a politically relevant time-scale, can opposing ministries be brought on board or isolated in a way so that reform can go through?
  • Professional capacity – are there the professional skills needed to draft legislation, provide regulation or adjudication, provide conflict resolution etc?
  • Implementation capacity – have the agencies likely to be charged with implementation got the technical, financial and human resources necessary to fulfil the task?
  • Compliance capacity – many of the Tools are designed to change water using behaviour; do users have the knowledge and ability to respond?

Tools must be cautiously selected just as much as they need to be wisely combined. Some Tools are in fact preconditions for others, e.g. laws may need to be amended before private water rights can be acquired or traded. Other Tools are complementary, e.g. demand management is strengthened by a simultaneous cost recovery policy. Integrated water resource management, by its nature, establishes and stresses the interrelationship of actions, so the Tools in the IWRM ToolBox are not designed to be used randomly or in isolation. For a tool to be effective and acceptable it may often be necessary to embark on several changes at the same time.

Multiple changes are typically required in four situations:

  • The tool itself has preconditions – e.g. pollution/abstraction charging or standard setting require the establishment of some form of monitoring/measurement agency.
  • The tool needs to be accompanied by other measures to make it effective – e.g. the introduction of irrigation charges to improve efficiency in use may need to be accompanied by an advisory service to give farmers information about conservation measures and the markets for higher valued crops).
  • The tool creates losers who may need to be compensated to buy acceptance of the reform – e.g. attempts to improve the efficiency of service providers may require payments to redundant labour.
  • The tool may generate unintended and undesirable consequences – e.g. private sector concessions may lead to monopoly power abuses without an adequate system of economic regulation or increased water charges may lead to civil unrest if not accompanied by measures to protect the poor.

The IWRM ToolBox is chronologically organized as if the user was to set up a water governance system from scratch. This, of course, only fits theoretical cases. In that sense, although it is logical to think that creation of policies and institutional frameworks should precede the use of specific management instruments, in reality, the IWRM process may be started before all the policies, laws and organisations are in place. Institutional change, requiring new legislation, is typically a time consuming activity. It is often better to start somewhere, working as far as it is possible with existing arrangements, rather than waiting for the more wide-ranging reform measures to be enacted.

Photo: GWP Senior Knowledge Managment Officer Danka Thalmeinerova presenting the ToolBox in China in 2014.