How countries decide to govern their water resources and services has far-reaching effects on people’s livelihood and the sustainability of water resources.
Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), founded in 1991, is a water institute with a fundamental belief that the best way to tackle water crises is to strengthen water governance among public and private actors alike.
We speak to Ruth Mathews, Senior Manager Water Governance at SIWI, on the institute’s recent work in this area.
Question: SIWI provides strategic water governance support to developing countries. In what areas does SIWI focus?
Answer: At SIWI, I have been working with what we call source-to-sea management. Many of the water challenges we face cannot be resolved unless we take into account the interlinkages between land, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems. Source-to-sea management professes the need for listening to upstream and downstream stakeholders and establishing coordination between different sectors. Building source-to-sea stakeholder engagement and cross-sectorial coordination into governance, finance and management will result in better outcomes from source to sea.
Q: What organizations does SIWI work with in matters of water governance?
A: SIWI hosts the Secretariat for the Action Platform for Source-to-sea Management (S2S Platform), which is a multi-stakeholder initiative that exchanges and generates knowledge, and supports joint action for improved management of land, freshwater, coastal and marine environments.
The S2S Platform has been successful in developing a shared knowledge base and in securing adoption of the source-to-sea approach in policies, strategies and funding mechanisms.
Membership in the platform is open to all stakeholders that are committed to improving management coherence and coordination from source to sea. (https://www.siwi.org/what-we-do/source-to-sea/)
Many of the water challenges we face cannot be resolved unless we take into account the interlinkages between land, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems
Q: What countries would you highlight for their positive work in water governance?
A: We see some steps being made to strengthen coordination from source to sea. Sweden has brought together freshwater and marine management into one agency and China has also institutionalized some aspects of source-to-sea coordination. These efforts are in their early stages and are not yet inclusive of all parts of the source-to-sea system so there is still much work to be done.
Q: In what ways do you think good water governance can alleviate water stress?
A: Water stress occurs when people put too many demands on water resources thereby putting freshwater ecosystems at risk. Water governance that sets limits, that are enforced, to the amount of water that can be consumed from rivers, lakes and aquifers can alleviate water stress. Doing so will increase water security and ensure that water is shared fairly between people, nature and business.
Water governance that sets limits, that are enforced, to the amount of water that can be consumed from rivers, lakes and aquifers can alleviate water stress
Q: What are the pros of empowering local stakeholders to alleviate water stress?
A: We are all water managers as we make decisions about the water we use at home, at work, and make choices about the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we buy. It is critical for all of us to become water aware and to work together to solve the world’s growing water crisis.
Q: Around 276 river basins cross the political boundaries of 2 or more countries. Why do you think there are so few cross-border management arrangements?
A: Gaining agreement within one country on how to allocate water resources across different demands is already a challenge, doing so between countries could be even more difficult. However, we do see that the shared benefits across source-to-sea systems can lead to cooperation. Where the benefits from downstream resources, for example fisheries, are shared by several countries, efforts to reduce negative impacts from upstream activities can be broadly supported.
Q: What can be done to increase transboundary water management?
A: Taking a source-to-sea perspective to transboundary waters can help build an awareness of the interdependencies between upstream and downstream actors and can demonstrate how impacts and benefits move both up and downstream. This knowledge can be used to build the case for transboundary cooperation.