Stewardship addresses the water crisis effectively through inclusion and participation

Water stewardship ensures security through inclusive, equitable, and sustainable use, emphasising stakeholder participation and collective action to address the water crisis.

Water security cannot be achieved without the inclusion of civil society, and the accountable participation of the private and public sectors. Water stewardship – defined as the “use of water that is socially and culturally equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that includes both site- and catchment-based actions” – can.

Why are we still in a water crisis?

Over the past decade, the water crisis has been ranked among the top three risks facing countries and industries, according to the World Economic Forum 2015. This crisis has caught the attention of businesses around the world: it is affecting consumer goods, food, transport, and energy production systems which depend on water resources, rendering the water crisis not only an environmental issue but also a business risk.

Until recently however, engineering thinking dominated water management focusing on increasing water supply, using a command-and-control approach. The assumption behind this paradigm is that water problems can be clearly defined and solved with technical solutions, often involving infrastructural development.

But this mind-set rests on an outdated understanding of water resources management. In the times of climate change, it has simply failed to deliver, and today most modern approaches recognise the importance of stakeholder participation.

Stewardship partnerships can solve this.

Stewardship partnerships are enabled by policy processes which encourage cooperation and decentralization. This enabling environment is driven by the understanding that partnerships have a comparative advantage because they can respond to local water management issues unresolved by command-and-control institutions.

One approach to address collective tackling of water security is to set stewardship partnerships up, bringing stakeholders from the private, public and civil society sectors together to address common water risks. To do so effectively, the GIZ-NatuReS program, over the past 10 years, has implemented over 45 stewardship partnerships across sub-Sahara and other regions of the world.  A participative process-based methodology, the Natural Resources Risk and Action Framework (NRAF) was developed and applied across various country contexts, namely in water catchments, cities, industrial zones and economic value chains. These stewardship partnerships are built on the understanding that those benefiting from the same resources share common risks, and that these are best addressed through collaboration amongst and across sectors. 

Figure 1: The Natural Resources Risk and Action Framework (Source: Natural Resources Stewardship Programme)

The NRAF framework is a nature-based solution which includes a series of facilitated steps, skills development measures and tailored tools for a partnership lifecycle.

A recent study on this approach has shown that stewardship partnerships positively affect stakeholder participation and representation, as well as their coordination. The study argues that this concerted action addresses pressing water crises hands-on, allowing for more balanced outcomes than command-and-control approaches.

Result oriented collective action

What steps enable effective results for stewardship partnerships on the ground?

Figure 2: Stewardship partnership meeting in the Kilimanjaro region, Tanzania.

The NRAF framework guides stakeholders to act on the root causes of water risks, however, factors in the enabling environment heavily influence the effectiveness of the process. Stewardship partnerships benefit from positive enabling environments, but they also influence these environments through guided action. For example, political willingness to perform a human-rights based social contract between resource providers and users is improved by the increased transparency and subsequent accountability enabled by positive environmental and social results of cross-sectoral initiatives on the ground. Solid environmental risk analyses and value propositions are part of the tools the NRAF framework offers, in addition to many other tools to be used along the five main phases of the partnership journey. These tools bring stakeholder interests and preoccupations to the table, including planning tools for coordinated action across sectors. Substantively including civil society groups and community users – particularly women and youth – in the partnership allows for positive feedback loops to develop. The increased integrity created by collective and balanced decision-making in the partnership addresses typical concerns linked to potential vested interests of the private sector to join such initiatives. 

With everyone at the decision-making table, multi-sectoral stewardship partnerships tackle the water crisis through an intersectional lens, addressing challenges linked to gender, climate change, globalisation, economic prosperity and (sustainable) development pathways.  

Nathalie Richards

Dr Nathalie Richards holds a PhD in Geography on water governance in the East African region and is since 2020 an advisor to the Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS) at the German development cooperation agency (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)). First designing and implementing multi-stakeholder stewardship partnerships in Tanzania, she is now leading on the development of the program’s key methodology, the Natural Resources Risk and Action framework from GIZ’ offices in Frankfurt, Germany.

Sarah Beerhalter

Sarah Beerhalter is an environmental and civil engineer by trade, and currently Programme Director of the Natural Resources Stewardship Programme (NatuReS) at the German development cooperation agency (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)), based in Frankfurt. She has 20 years of experience in the water sector, initially with the German Water Authority of Hessen, followed by her engagement with GIZ in El Salvador, Bolivia and Botswana before taking on her current responsibilities within the NatuReS programme, operating across five sub-Saharan countries.

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