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Integrated water resources management and the manufactured scarcity of water in Africa.

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The African version of the neo-liberal system known as Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) has had especially dubious results in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa. Two factors – cost recovery and decentralisation of responsibilities without resources – are the primary means by which the poor are financially squeezed, in a manner not unlike other neo-liberal strategies in development policy and projects. The IWRM framework was accepted as best practice during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992 (and included as chapter 18 of Local Agenda 20), integrated into the 1992 International Conference on Water and Environment (commonly known as Dublin Principles), and taken forward in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation during the World Summit on Sustainable Development of 2002. Since then, many countries that agreed at the WSSD to formulate IWRM policies by 2005 have begun to do so. IWRM quickly became the favoured strategic approach of development agencies, international financial institutions, donors, state water officials and some NGOs. Civil society has had uneven engagements with IWRM. An important early critique emerged from Ghanaian civil society, during the early 2000s, when IWRM led to commercialisation and even privatisation of water in urban areas. There was growing concern about excessive cost-recovery and self-management of water in rural areas without the benefit of state subsidies. Water commodification and decentralisation – meaning in practice, fewer resources and more responsibilities for lower tiers of government – also emerged as a problem elsewhere on the continent, where governments are abdicating their responsibilities to supply water and sanitation using the rubric of IWRM. Using household interviews and focus group discussions in the Densu area of Ghana, in the Balaka, Ntcheu and Mangochi areas of Malawi, and in areas of Durban, South Africa where Urine Diversion toilets were supplied to rural and peri-urban households, and basing my analysis on framings provided in theories of water and sanitation governance, new institutional economics and environmental economics, I conclude that implementation of IWRM results in a ‘manufactured scarcity’ of water in rural Africa. The reforms required are extensive, and civil society has only begun to make an impact with its own vision: moving from manufactured scarcity to genuine abundance.


Doctor of Philosophy in Development Studies. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2014.


Theses--Development studies., Water quality management--South Africa., Water--South Africa--Distribution., Droughts--Africa., Water conservation--Africa., Water-supply--Africa--Management.