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Home / ToolBox / C5 CONFLICT RESOLUTION Managing disputes, ensuring sharing of water


C5 CONFLICT RESOLUTION Managing disputes, ensuring sharing of water

Procedures for consensus building and conflict management are central to successful IWRM. Conflicts can occur for many reasons. Areas for potential conflict include: interdependence of people and responsibilities; jurisdictional ambiguities; functional overlap; competition for scarce resources; differences in organisational status and influence; incompatible objectives and methods; differences in behavioural style; differences in information; distortions in communications; unmet expectations; unmet needs or interests; unequal power or authority; misperceptions, and others. Conflict is not always active: the poor and voiceless may already have lost the dispute.

Conflicts are inevitable in IWRM but need not end in polarisation or impasse. Conflicts can also be positive. For example, conflicts may help in:

  • Identifying real problems needing solutions;
  • Bringing about needed change;
  • Permitting adjustments to be made without threatening the basis of a relationship;
  • Helping to build new relationships;
  • Changing the way we look at issues, clarifying purposes;
  • Identifying what is most important.

Conflict management refers to a broad array of tools used to anticipate, prevent, and react to conflicts. Identifying which tool to select depends on the root causes of the conflict, as well as the type of conflict and its location. Conflict management tools can be classified into three types: interventions for conflict management (C5.1), decision support/modelling tools (C5.2) and (C5.3) tools for consensus building.

A conflict management strategy will involve a combination of these types of tools. In most water resources cases the tools encourage parties to move beyond positional bargaining and the claim/counter claim process. They try to help parties identify the interests which lie behind each sides position, and to jointly construct win-win solutions based on meeting those interests. It must be stressed, however, that not all situations can be resolved with win-win outcomes at least not in the short term. Trade-off and compromise are often necessary. Conflict management involves both social change and social learning. It has many benefits, including its voluntary nature. Conflict management can help to develop quick procedures and solutions to dispute settlement; more control over solutions by those closest to the issues; greater flexibility for crafting solutions than is offered in formal legal mechanisms, and time and cost savings.

These tools are applicable in almost all aspects of IWRM. They are especially useful in early stages of IWRM planning and design. They are least useful in situations where major legal precedent is being set.

It is most important to stress that the ultimate mechanism for conflict resolution is the law and legal procedures. This section focuses on voluntary mechanisms for conflict management, but in many cases beneficiaries of these techniques would not participate without the knowledge that there is ultimate recourse to compulsory adjudication.


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