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Updated by Mathews Wakhungu on Apr 25, 2017
Headline for 10 things anthropology can do for Integrated Water Resource Management
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10 things anthropology can do for Integrated Water Resource Management

We have with us an enormous challenge, is it oil? No, for oil, we have alternatives in biofuels and in the worst-case scenario we can revert to our old non mechanized ways. But there are no alternatives to water? Let’s face it, our problems of water scarcity either due to physical deficiency it or inadequate water supply systems, pollution of both ground and surface waters, and water conflicts are not about to reach an end, the agony is bound to increase as our numbers grow each day. Sadly, there is no single solution to these problems, otherwise, those deepest in this misery would have ended the anguish in a stroke. In the wisdom of technocrats, the Integrated Water resources management approach (IWRM) is an idea that was meant to promote the coordinated development and management of water, land, and all related resources to ensure the society benefits without hurting the environmentIWRM.

You may wonder, what do anthropologists do? Well, they can do everything. They are in governments and Non governmental organisations, corporations offering insights into some of the biggest human problems What Anthropologists Do. Though their observation and explanations , engineers, policy makers, and water professionals can gain insights on how to improve their strategies in solving water quantity and quality issues. Here are ten areas of IWRM anthropology can help improve.

1

Totality of water

Totality of water

The backbone of our discussion is that water transcends all natural and human spheres of life. Like how Mauss, a group of French scholars in 1990, observed that the practice of exchange is embedded in all aspects of the society, Olrove and Caton borrowed this idea and considered water as ”a total social fact” meaning, it is rooted into the social, religious, political, economic, and leisure facets of human life. From this perspective, any attempt to look at water from one standpoint should be forbidden. The interconnection across the natural and social spheres by water means that how water is used in one realm affects water use in another. By evaluating the interactions of water in the society, anthropology can illustrate specific relationships that can be altered to change the overall impacts on water scarcity and water quality.

2

Water as an economic good

Water as an economic good

Water has evolved from a free natural resource to a tradable commodity on our supermarket shelves. The line between what should be sold and what should not be sold has become fuzzy, we have changed how people of different culture, class, age, and sex view and interact with water resources. Is our difference in the valuation of water the reason it a daunting undertaking to implement water management strategies among the IWRM? Like other sectors like education, health, the bold trend of profiteering from social services extends to water resources. Whether it is because greed or it is because of the permeation of market thinking into all spheres of like, moral questions can be asked especially on the effects of commodification on equitable distribution of water and people’s right to water.

The use of pricing in the management of water is a strategy that IWRM ought to reconsider, it a simple tool but inefficient in providing equitable and sustainable water services. I am not in any way saying water should be free and resources should not be valued, that will be radical. Instead, I suggest that our decisions in appropriation, conservation, and management of water resources should be informed by the deep understanding of the diverse meaning of value. This is can be through ethnographic work on the different interactions of water and understanding what determines value in different societies.

5

Privatization of water

Privatization of water

When Frederick Chiluba said,> privatization is a bitter pill but it is a bitter pill that will cure, we may have taken it at face value and applied it to everything with the hope that it can cure our inefficiencies in water use. But is has stirred up resistance from water rights advocates. They say that it leads to increase in prices and inequity in accessing water resources. These are valid reasons, and it will be evil to dismiss them because the poor are now paying high prices to private water companies. I have since joined the cause of those criticize privatization because of it oblivious to the reality that not all societies have similar resource ownership rules. In some communities, resources like land, water, and forests belong to the community and is management by elders for communal good.

As much as IWRM proposes the consideration of these cultures in the implementation of its strategies, water managers may not have adequate research tools to assess natural resource tenures across societies. That is where anthropologists come in. In a recent anthropology class I took, I was introduced to how powerful ethnographic accounts can be in teaching us about the diversity ways of life. I learned that in the Trobriand Islanders, a society natives of New Guinea, the land is owned communally and managed by a chief and magician who control planting and harvests activities. You could say that in such societies, all natural resources including water are publicly owned and any attempts to allow a private individual to determine the allocation and use of water would be met with unthinkable resistance. Therefore, IWRM must reconsider where private can be applied based on an evaluation of the culture of resources ownership in that society.

3

The Spirituality of Water

The Spirituality of Water

In 2001, some authors attempted to explain the relationship between spirituality and religion. I think they were convincing…. at least to me.> Spirituality is the personal quest to find answers about life about meaning and the relationship sacred beings, it is this pursuit that religious rituals are born Water, spirituality, and religious rituals are inseparable, that’s why for Christians, being immersed in water signifies the death in sin and the birth of a new life. Holy water, ritual washing, and even worship of water deities are examples of how people use water for religious purposes. To others, being at a water body invokes certain spirits, I can dare say that water is embedded in religion.

Surely, can we have a meaningful conversation about water management without considering its place in religion and spirituality? That is what IWRM attempted to do, it ignored the role religious plays in the allocation, distribution, and use of water. To Christianity, Islam, Hindu and other religions, water is a gift from God and it is a public property, it should be free and equally accessible to all. Whether such principles are practical or not is worth another discussion, but it shows that water is valued differently and should be managed with the consideration of religious principles. We must first observe and recognize the religious and spiritual dimension of water, understand how people value water and how they use it before contemplating how we can devise religion sensitive water strategies, and find ways to use the religion to manage water.

10

Local Knowledge

Local Knowledge

I may have seemed mean and ungrateful because of the scathing attacks on the performance of IWRM in some areas of water management, but I appreciate the proponents for beginning a conversation on the direction we should take to solve our water problems. I applaud their recognition and proposal to use local knowledge in managing water resources, at least they are not like technocrats who scorn peoples’ traditions and think of them as backward. However, anthropology possess superior tools and methods that can contribute to water management by adding on the wealth of indigenous knowledge on water. Through their patient and close observations, they can document water practices, values, tools, and traditional water technologies can inspire modern solutions.

9

Stakeholder participation

Stakeholder participation

The management of water is a complex undertaking as it connects many interest groups. Whenever a decision is to be made, it requires consultation and consensus between parties with varying interest and cultures. Some may be rich others poor, industrious other lazy, quarrelsome others agreeable, it involves people with such different characters, yet they must come together for a common goal. While IWRM recognizes the importance of involving interested groups, the problem is with determining who is an interested party and who is the most important. The failure of IRWM projects has been linked to the complexity of choosing who should be involved, and whose opinion matters because it delays decision making and affects the commitment of interested parties in water management initiatives.

Several methods have been used to identify interested parties and determine their roles, but they have fallen short of the expectations for not being inclusive enough. IWRM specialists have embraced the use of anthropology in understanding stakeholders and their roles because they have recognized that human practices and culture are not homogenous, we must understand how different individuals interrelate and value water resources. Anthropology does not necessarily challenge what water managers know about stakeholders, but it answers key questions about people, where do they live, how are they connected to the resources in question, how do they govern themselves, what is importance and what is their importance and role in the decision-making process. That is why we should find ways to use anthropology to inform stakeholder analysis.

6

Gender Mainstreaming

Gender Mainstreaming

The debate on whether we are doing too much for gender equity rages on and I do not want to be drawn into that debate. But let us can agree that in some societies, women are affected most by water problems because of the position they hold in the family. Historically, women have been marginalized and relegated to subordinate roles in the community and advantage has been given to their male counterparts. In my African family, my mother or sister would never complain about walking long distances to fetch water, cook and after that boil water for my father to shower, it is their responsibility based on our culture. Luckily, IWRM has recognized that women are at the center of production and water interactions in the household and can cause long lasting change on how we view and use water.

But, many strategies to address gender inequity in access to water resources have struggled due to socially constructed limitations imposed to women, some cultures even limit what they participate in. The place of women in the society and the restriction placed on them affect the implementation of water initiatives and their usefulness to those who need the most, women. For example, the Network for Water Anthropology noted that in Ecuador, women in an indigenous community were reluctant to use irrigation systems at night and it is through changes to suit their ways of life did they accept to use it. Anthropology can continue to contribute to water management by ensuring solutions to our water problems are sensitive to culture and the positions of women. It can explain who does what, when, where, and more importantly, who benefits from water initiatives

7

Social learning

Social learning

The way people interact with water is based on a culture that has been in existence for years and changing their behaviors is a painstaking endeavor. Now, we do not even seem to agree whether learning can change how we behave or what type of learning can change our behavior. But somehow, we must find ways to pass our knowledge and experiences to other people enable them to solve their water problems. This kind of learning is inevitable for IWRM to be successful, it may be on how to use water saving technologies, ways to reduce pollution or ways to recycle water.

You will hear of awareness creation workshops in communities to save wetlands or some on how to handle wastewater. But do such unending PowerPoint presentations, and torturous talks from technocrats change how we act? In fact, I should not be blamed for thinking they are just ways for facilitators and participants to make money. My uncle lives for such workshop, when he comes home, we get to hear exciting tales of his journey to the city, the stay at an exquisite hotel, and those sumptuous three-course meals. We ought to place emphasis on learning through interaction with other people by not only participating in their activities or by sharing real accounts of their life experiences. Ethnographies by anthropologist are a great way people can share experiences without being present. Anthropology can facilitate the exchange of experiences that can lead to change in how we use water. Surely, a film or written account of the daily lives of a community recycling water would leave a lasting image than a presentation full of scientific and engineering jargon.

8

Water Politics and Conflicts

Water Politics and Conflicts

The availability, allocation, distribution and use of water resources subject to politics because it touches on the social, economic, and religious well-being. Recently, our fights have been about oil, but are slowly come to times where fully fledged wars are being wedged between countries because of water, In fact, the Darfur conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and left people displaced has been over water resources. Darfur Conflict Water politics is an enormous problem we must urgently address. As much as IWRM recognized the importance of politics in the implementation of water management initiatives, it will be unrealistic to expect it to venture into investigations to understand the complex political processes in our society, let us leave that for anthropology.

How people are organized, who makes water decisions, what informs these decisions are just some of the questions anthropologist would love to answer for water professionals. Already, anthropology has shed some light on water politics and administration but the accounts are not sufficient. With a simple google search, I came across people like Jessica Budds looking at the political struggles in water assessment in Chile in 2009, and Ben Olorlve in 2002 studying the water conflicts between local and state governments in Lake Titicaca in Peru. Certainly, anthropology can help us understand the causes and nature of water politics in our societies, and identify avenues to not only solve water conflicts but also introduce new ideas in water management.

4

Acceptance of water technologies

Acceptance of water technologies

We may not increase the quantity of water, but through technologies, we can conserve the little we have, reduce pollution of our water sources and our impacts on the natural systems. IRWM strategies are heavily dependent technology to address water problems but their low acceptance in the society could be the reason IWRM remains a theory. For example, in 2012, Christian Wells and a group of other researchers found that in Belize, many residents had not considered using waste water reuse technologies but they were at least interested. The situation is different in Kenya, my experience taught me that even with water scarcity, water recycling technologies were not a popular idea to the public, to them wastewater should just remain waste.

Anthropology can help water managers understand which technologies can be applied in water management and how they should be introduced in different societies. In a captivating film by Maurice Godelier, a French anthropologist interacting with the Baruya people in New Guinea in 1969, he is strongly against the view that traditional way of life was not important and he advises the Baruya against wholesale adoption of new practices brought by the outside world. The Baruya chose to adopt some practices and discarded those they did not want The Story of the Bayura. In fact, by observing interactions of communities and water resources, water managers can develop and implement appropriate water resource management strategies based on local knowledge and technologies. When technologies preserve the social fabric of a society, water management technologies would be readily acceptable, that is why the integration of cultural perspectives from anthropology can be beneficial in water management.