Polycentric Governance: Water Management in South Africa
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers Management, Procurement and Law, Vol. 165, pp. 1-8, 2012, DOI:org/10.1680/mpal.2012.165.0.1
9 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2013
Date Written: March 30, 2012
Water resource management is poorly understood and defined since the characteristics of water resources and their use are locally specific and differ widely from place to place. Beyond that, water as a renewable natural resource does not fall into conventional analytical paradigms. It is an input to many economic activities but also an integral part of the natural environment with important social and cultural dimensions. It has proven difficult to provide an analytical definition of the resource, for legal and management purposes. Recent economic literature, notably the writings of Professor Elinor Ostrom, offer a helpful framework. Her suggestion that water resources should be seen as a ‘common-pool resource,’ best managed under ‘common-property regimes’ in ‘polycentric governance systems’ is helpful, if apparently abstract. The reform of South African water law and management arrangements since 1994 illustrates many of the underlying issues and provides a practical example of Ostrom’s approach. The challenges of implementation highlight the importance of understanding the analytical concepts in their full context as failure to do so can undermine their usefulness and effectiveness as practical management tools. South Africa’s implementation experience reinforces Ostrom’s warnings against seeking single optimal solutions for the complex challenge of water resource management.
Keywords: water resource management, resilience, South Africa
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