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May / June 2003

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OPINION - Confusing Cause and Effect


Founder : Len Abrams
Water Policy International




  Development of Policy  



Water plays a central role in all aspects of life - public and private, at all levels from international waters to the household level, it plays a critical role in the natural environment, in our economies, in food security, in production and in politics.  The governing of how water is used, who uses it and how much is used is consequently very complex and is the substance of a substantial body of law at local, national and international levels.  

Because of its value and its importance in all aspects of life, water is a highly political issue.  Access to water is a question of power.  Lack of access to, and control over, water is both a primary indicator and a primary cause of poverty.  The politics of water is expressed in water policy.  Policy may be written or unwritten - often the de facto policy of a government department or local government, what is actually carried out on the ground, is quite different to the published policy.  Water legislation is a tool for the implementation of policy and usually reflects the current ruling policy.  Legislation usually lags behind policy because of the lengthy processes involved in developing new legislation.  Occasionally legislation is developed or current legislation is amended without the the benefit of clear policy - this usually leads to problems.

The issues which need to be addressed in water policy and reflected in water law are the following (These are fully explained in the section on water policy development):

1    Water Supply

The issues which need to be addressed include

2    Water utilisation

3   Water quality

4    Water and the environment

5    The economics of water

6    Water resources development policy

7    Trans-boundary water policy

Amongst the issues which need to be addressed in trans-boundary water policy are:-

  • Legal entitlement to abstraction and utilisation in terms of internationally recognised practice.
  • General policy and principles related to equitable sharing and co-operation.
  • Water utilisation requirements, present and future. This exercise is critical to "stake a claim" to the rightful proportion and share of water. This requires multi-sectoral planning and development policy in the framework of a national macro-economic plan. This will provide the projected water needs for agriculture, drinking water supply, the environment and tourism, industry, power generation, mining, forestry, fisheries etc.
  • The review of all related agreements and treaties related to international waters.
  • Protection of the environment and matters relating to water quality, the control of alien species, catchment protection including the issue of incentives for up-stream countries to protect the catchment etc..
  • Questions of trans-boundary water economics and the value of water, including issues related to the sale of water across boundaries.
  • Information management and decision making tools. Policy and procedures on the sharing of information with other Basin States should be developed.
  • The monitoring of agreements and utilisation by Basin States.
  • The principles and policy regarding River Basin Institutions.
  • Principles, policy and procedures regarding the planning and execution of works which may influence to Basin characteristics.
  • Principles and policies in regard to emergencies, disasters, aggression and conflict.
  • Matters related to confidentiality and sovereignty.
8    Information management and monitoring

9    Institutional framework

10    Human resource development

11    Research and development

12    Navigation

13    Public safety

14    Disaster management policy

15    Legislative implications

15    Strategic planning and implementation



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