Integrated Water Resources Management and building adaptive capacity

Coordinating management of the different aspects of water issues is an important task, and climate change adaptation cuts across these issues. IWRM principles can help improve the adaptive capacity of this area, reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience, but IWRM as it is currently used is not prepared to do so.

The authors compare principles of IWRM to the needs of adaptive capacity. Specifically:

  1. Integrated management: the use of policy cycles in IWRM has strong parallels to adaptive cycles in adaptive management, but ‘optimum management’, the goal of this IWRM principle, isn’t the best goal for adaptive capacity, where diversity is more important.
  2. River basin management: IWRM promotes river basins as logical units for management, as they are clear, physical points from which to organise resource supply. This also makes sense for adaptation work, but the boundaries of these rarely match up with socio-political borders. Also, adaptive capacity is stronger when it is locally-driven/self-determined, and the mismatch between water boundaries and political boundaries has negative implications for this.
  3. Coherent water governance: IWRM promotes more democratic and decentralised water governance, and this approach makes sense from an adaptive capacity point of view as well: distributed power in policy-centric governance regimes would improve flexibility of decision making and adaptive management.
  4. Intersectoral or multi-stakeholder approaches: IWRM espouses participatory approaches and the inclusion of users, planners and policy-makers at all levels in decision-making and allocation. This kind of community and stakeholder engagement results in flexible decision-making and social learning based on adaptive cycles. However, currently disadvantaged groups will not necessarily be included by the simple provision of participatory opportunities – they will need their participatory capacity enhanced for this principle to be meaningful.
  5. Equitable resource access: Seeing water as a social good means working for its equitable allocation, which helps ensure participation of marginalised groups, which can help foster adaptive capacity (but doesn’t grow flexible decision-making or adaptive management).
  6. Demand management: IWRM’s focus on the users (rather than supply) of water means engaging with the public through outreach and education to promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly demands on water supply. This does encourage public participation, but doesn’t improve flexibility of decision-making or adaptive management capacity.