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B2.1 Participatory capacity and empowerment in civil society


Appropriately organised, the public (civil society) can become a central partner in IWRM. They can therefore become fully responsible for some elements of water management. Hence, effective IWRM requires that government institutions will enable and enhance the active participation of the public – as water users, as voters, as holders of expert local knowledge, as tax/charge payers and/or as providers of labour.

For people to perform management tasks and influence overall management, they need to be organised, e.g. in water users’ associations (WUAs). Other groupings include consultative groups, community groups and lobby groups.

Such organisations are necessary to give voice to the public. Initially their sustainability may well require external financial and structural support, e.g. to cover travelling costs, set up a secretariat or finance external expertise. Water users’ associations are usually small and deal with only one or a few aspects of water management. To ensure an integrated approach, they must form an integral part of the broader organisational framework (B1). This is especially so in large and complex water systems with many geographical and cross-sectoral interdependencies. In such cases, WUAs may form an “association of associations”. The level of participation depends on the context.

Participatory management has been shown to be most successful if the public is involved enough to be aware of the general goals and needs. Therefore, individuals and civil groups need information, skills and “water awareness” (C4, C8).

Participatory management can be helpful in almost all efforts to implement IWRM, particularly in cases of competing use or geographic disputes. Stakeholders and interest groups may need formal training in some activities – for example in managing a community based system, or in measuring and monitoring water use in participatory irrigation approaches. They also need support in the form of access to information and technical knowledge (C4.3).

Lessons learned

  • All relevant categories of water users should be represented in the association. The sustainability of water users’ associations or other consultative groups is strengthened if they are genuinely ‘bottom up’ rather than government- or project-mandated ‘top down’ organisations.
  • Public participation needs to be carefully managed to avoid being taken over by minority or particularly articulate groups, or by the ‘community elite’; where this happens decision making becomes overly influenced by groups with limited legitimacy.
  • External funding and structural support can be essential initially for ensuring “balanced” public participation in which the less affluent or vocal groups also contribute to decision making. However, sustainability and effectiveness depend ultimately on self-reliance.
  • Sustainability also depends upon the existence of an agreed set of formal roles and a recognition of the importance of informal rules, as well as reliable mechanisms to enforce such rules and settle disputes.

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