Policies with relation to water resources (A1.02)


Governments, at both the national and local level, develop policies, plans and programmes of action that directly or indirectly affect water resources management. These include policies and plans for land use (particularly at the local level), environmental protection and conservation, economic development (in such areas as energy, agricultural, industrial developments), and trade.

In most counties, water is dealt with by many ministries, for example, agriculture, transport and navigation, power, industry and environment, but there may be little coordination between them. In addition, their focus is likely to be more on development type issues, as suggested above, than on water resource management itself.

It is therefore important to recognise the direct impact of non-water policies on water use and management. Tools for co-ordinating policies and ensuring that water implications are taken into account (and that other sectoral interests are recognised in water policies) include the establishment of institutional arrangements (see Tools B), such as:
Interministerial co-ordinating bodies (e.g. in the Office of the President);

  • Apex bodies for water resources;
  • Catchment co-ordination bodies;
  • Local co-ordinating teams.

To succeed, cross-sectoral mechanisms for co-ordination need to be driven by strong political champions, committed senior bureaucrats and internal financial and administrative support. The mechanisms should be set up at the level, at which the policy is formulated.
Cross-sectoral understanding and commitment is difficult to achieve, but many tools can be used to support the process, including assessment of water resources and needs (C1; C2), and planning processes where recognition of other sectoral needs and priorities are made explicit (C4). The legal framework itself can set out procedures for working with other economic and social activities.

Lessons learned

Developing processes to introduce an integrated approach with non-water sectors can be complicated and costly, exacerbated by politics and widely differing vested interests.

Generalisations are thus difficult but the following typically stands:

  • The participation of different stakeholders often clarifies the issues, but an overall agreement among all parties may be difficult to achieve. Government then has a role as a policy maker, but in the full knowledge of stakeholders' positions and implications for water management.
  • Tools such as GIS (C3.01) and Shared Vision Planning (C3.03) can provide an effective interface between regional land use change (e.g. deforestation of tropical forests, urban expansion into rural areas), watershed management, and development proposals. They can support local planning procedures and participatory processes as well.
  • Effective cross-sectoral relations are particularly hard to achieve where strong vertical lines of command between local, provincial and state, and national government restrict lateral interchange and cause bureaucratic rigidities. Innovative participatory (C5) and awareness raising tools (C8) can be of use here.
  • Some problems are simply intractable – where there are clear winners and losers severely limits scope for painless co-ordination, giving rise to a need for conflict resolution (C5.03).
  • Where decisions are based on good cost and benefit data (C2.06), trade-off decision are more transparent.