Institutional Arrangements (B)

It is often said that the current water crisis is mainly a crisis of governance, much more than a crisis of water shortage or water pollution per se. In the context of IWRM, governance is defined as the range of political, social, economic and administrative institutions that are in place (or need to be in place) to develop and manage water resources in sustainable manners. This section identifies four institutional roles that must be fulfilled for water governance systems to achieve sound IWRM practices: B1 – Regulation and Enforcement; B2 – Water Supply and Sanitation Services; B3 – Coordination and Facilitation; and B4 – Capacity Building.

While governance may be seen in narrow political and administrative terms as decision-making by “the government”, good governance actually requires that all institutional actors involved managing water resources, including citizens, organisations and private entities, work in a common direction. Poor governance leads to increased political and social risks, institutional failure and lowered capacities to deliver. Therefore, good water governance requires clear legal frameworks, comprehensive water policies, enforceable regulations, institutions that work, smooth execution and citizen-based mechanisms of accountability, as well as strong interconnections between these entities. Water problems are often caused outside of the water sector; it is “good governance” in general rather than simply “good water governance” that is needed.

There are several key approaches and principles that are essential foundations to establishing institutional arrangements that support good water governance:

  • Institutions should be transparent and open, especially when it comes to policy decision-making and finances.
  • Systems of communication and inclusiveness ensuring that stakeholder engagement is maintained and can be enhanced must complement these transparency mechanisms.
  • With time water issues seem to only intensify in complexity, policies must therefore be developed in a way that the interconnectedness between different actors and various dimensions is adequately highlighted.
  • The different systems involved in water governance should also work towards equitable and ethical solutions. Legal and regulatory frameworks should always aim to be fair to all voices raised by myriad of interest groups and seek for equity between women and men.

While operating and performing their respective functions, institutions must be accountable, efficient, responsive, and sustainable. To begin with, good institutional governance requires for accountability; which is, in the process of doing, each institution must be able to explain and take responsibility for actions taken. Clear obligations for each institution should be defined by the appropriate legislative and executive powers. Without genuine recognition and backing of their legal status, institutions cannot function properly. Economic efficiency calls for serving more with equity and minimum waste. Appropriate price regulations and standards for limiting the damage to the environment should be specified in that sense. At last, in order to be responsive and sustainable, policies must deliver what is needed on the basis of demand, clear objectives, and evaluation of future impact and, where available, of past experience.

This section’s Tools identify four main institutional functions that are essential to achieving strong institutional arrangements, and thereby, that are also conducive to good water governance. Regulation and Enforcement (Tools B1) deals with institutions that are responsible for the regulatory, implementation and assessment roles. The roles and features of public, private and community based water supply and sanitation service providers are outlined in Tools B2. Coordination and Facilitation bodies are presented in Tools B3 (i.e. transboundary organisations for water resource management, national Apex bodies, civil society organisations, river basin organisations, and impact assessment committees). Finally, Tools B4, Capacity Building, deal with entities and platforms that can help to enhance the institutions themselves, and by the same token, improve water governance at large.

Institutional arrangements are key to social equity, economic efficiency, and ecological sustainability in water management. The three key elements of IWRM, represented in the categories of Tools A, B, and C, are interrelated and complementary. Institutional arrangements (Tools B) rely on an enabling environment (Tools A) to be effective and sustainable, and the necessary management instruments (Tools C) cannot be fully realised without the appropriate system of institutions, particularly regarding stakeholder participation.

In contrast to the traditional vision, institutional arrangements that are founded on IWRM principles work towards a greater long term goal alongside fulfilling their own respective institutional functions. Institutions should try to orient their specific individual functions in ways that can best serve the broader shared objectives. In institutional arrangements guided by the IWRM paradigm, institutions do not see themselves as separate and/or dominant players but rather as components of a team. As part of this collective, institutions walk alongside each other towards the mutual strategic goal of providing an environment promoting water security for all. The IWRM strategy hopes that this vision will translate into law.

Top photo: Launching Conference Governance & Financing for the Mediterranean Water Sector.