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Water Resources management

Table of Contents

Water resources management: the challenges

Roles of Governement

Roles of government and official bodies at all levels should be clearly defined and areas of responsibility officially established

Management and service delivery functions need to be clearly identified and institutional responsibilities demarcated. The role of government at all levels and in all contexts may need to be reviewed. Where they have not already done so, governments should work towards providing a sound legal and policy framework for water resources management and becoming the facilitators of service extension and provision, and reduce their role as direct provider of services and builder of public works.

Government is also responsible for establishing regulatory bodies; it is important that these be independently operated, transparent, accountable, and empowered to enforce regulations. All the different uses of water, and the roles of different institutions involved in providing services, need to be enshrined in law (see Part III, Glossary). Service criteria need to be similarly established, preferably by consensus among the various stakeholders.

At national level, governments have a responsibility to develop an integrated water policy, meeting the rational needs of the various users within the limits of available resources, financial and environmental. In any such national policy, geographical and hydrological scales need to be taken into account; catchment areas can be proposed as a useful basis for overall water resources management. Care should be taken that the water policy is co-ordinated with other policies with implications for water use – such as those for agriculture, industry, energy and urban development. To this end, a system of co-ordination among those responsible in the different sectors at national level is needed. An effective co-ordinating body will enable competition between water uses to be resolved, in accordance with the national policy and agreed water resources development plan.

While many countries have water codes or water legislation these are rarely comprehensive and often outdated. They often do not take account of water resources management and conservation, nor have they been established through a participatory process. New laws and enforcement procedures may be needed. As far as possible, they should be formulated permissively rather than restrictively to enable the regime to be enforceable without undue cost and administrative burden. However, common references and standards are needed in relation to water quality and items manufactured by the local water-related industries.

In allocating roles and responsibilities, the need to decentralise the various types of decision-taking to the lowest, most appropriate, administrative tier should be respected.


Participation by all stakeholders is essential for successful water management and usage.

Structures and practices of the responsible authorities therefore need to be designed to facilitate participation of the various categories of users: water companies, industries, farmers, domestic consumers, energy utilities, fisheries, and nature conservation departments.

Responsibilities for water-related services and resource management need to be decentralised to the lowest appropriate administrative level according to the concept of subsidiarity; this allows the contributions of the various parties to be maximised. However, the necessary tools, training and funds must first be allocated so that the resources are available for responsibilities to be fulfilled. Currently, many of the responsible bodies have centralised and hierarchical command structures inadequately geared to consultation and interaction with other stakeholders, especially users. In such cases, organisational transformation may be necessary.

On the one hand, functional responsibilities are best devolved to officials and bodies close to the realities of the situation, including local councils, private companies and organisations able to facilitate consultation with users. On the other hand, the role of the public authority as regulator, facilitator and moderator should develop an organisational culture that is outward-looking, to facilitate communication with all stakeholders.


Involvement of user organisations and the private sector should be encouraged

Partnerships with the private sector need to be encouraged and facilitated; this is especially relevant as government authorities set out to divest themselves progressively of responsibilities for the provision of services. In this context, the private sector is deemed to include Water User Associations and Farmer Groups.

The role of the private sector will vary according to social, economic, environmental and other circumstances, and needs regulation. A suitable relationship between public and private sectors needs to be found to promote the efficient operation of the facilities and collect user fees. Delivery of services and construction of installations may be organised through service providers which, whether publicly or privately owned and operated, should be autonomous. At the same time, vulnerable populations – the underserved and underprivileged – need to be protected from exploitation by market providers since they have no consumer influence.

Government-run water authorities and utilities companies are also in a position to facilitate the transfer of technology to the private sector, encouraging the development of local water supply, wastewater disposal and irrigation manufacturing and service industries. These industries can be both large- and small-scale, able to cater to the needs both of major publicly-financed schemes and of micro-projects and private consumers, including NGOs and community-based organisations.

Capacity Building

Capacity building, especially the development of human resources, the enhancement of skills, the adoption of up-to-date thinking, and improvement of the knowledge base, are needed in many institutions responsible for water resources management and services.

Capacity building should extend to all levels and concerned groups; the importance of professional training and, where necessary, reorientation cannot be overstated. Where a more active role in service design and implementation is envisaged for users, the capacity of intermediary bodies, such as NGOs and local councils, will also need to be enhanced and training provided in technical and organisational activities.

The new emphasis on ‘software’, as compared to ‘hardware’, components of water-related projects means that orientation towards these areas should be built into their design. Interpersonal skills such as communication, negotiation and leadership, as well as knowledge of project management and health education, are as important as functional skills relating to building and managing installations. Engineering staff need encouragement to adopt a partnership approach to service delivery rather than a proprietary attitude towards schemes. Additional technical competencies – hygiene education, soil management, environmental protection, social mobilisation – are likely to be needed.


Given the need to build alliances between stakeholders, the responsible authorities and their partners and users need to feel confidence in management systems and operating procedures. A balance needs to be struck between flexibility and accountability.

All financing and auditing procedures need to be transparent. Systems of financial control need to be rigorous in order to avoid the mismanagement or misapplication of funds sometimes associated with large-scale investments in major construction works.

Management information systems need to be suitable for the organisational level at which the relevant data collection and analysis activities are conducted; inputs and outcomes need to be monitored in such a way that they provide information of value to managers when they require it. This in turn helps to engender a sense of ownership of the system and ensure that it is effectively used. Consideration needs to be given to the level of information technology required for different functions, given cost and human resources constraints. Not all systems have to be based on computer technology, though such technology does offer obvious advantages.

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