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Damaged relationships and stunted professional networks are negatively affecting effective water governance, says research institution Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Water Governance Group (CSIR WGG) senior researcher Dr Richard Meissner.
The CSIR WGG is studying water govern-ance of the Greater Sekhukhune district municipality, in Limpopo, to determine the obstacles to effective water governance in rural areas. The overall objective of this Water Sustainability Flagship project is to contribute to the equitable, efficient and sustainable use of water resources and ensure South Africa attains its national, social and economic growth and development aspirations.
A common theme throughout the study is that the networks and relationships between different national, provincial, municipal and community leaders, role-players and engineers are stunted or not effective in facilitating good water governance, owing partly to the interdependence of activities of these actors in a context where trust relationships are not functioning optimally.
These stilted relationships are as a result of professional governance networks between private, public and community organisations not being historically established and not actively strengthened, which is also partially as a result of a lack of general knowledge of the roles of different role-players in the water governance structure.
“We have found neither a lack of skills nor a lack of work ethic to be significant causes for ineffective water management. “There are some skills gaps, but the workers and managers generally are dedicated and qualified.
“The main obstacles to effective water governance in the area studied is the lack of professional networks and unsubstantiated poor perceptions of other actors, leading to animosity that stymies initiatives,” says CSIR WGG senior researcher Karen Nortje.
Another key factor is the lack of understand-ing of the processes that other role-players must adhere to before they can take action.
“Problems are often reported by the various actors, but the lack of knowledge of which actors can take what actions means that reports are handed to the wrong persons or depart-ments and the lack of response leads to nega- tive perceptions, as well as apathy towards responsibility and subsequent water govern-ance initiatives,” she explains.
“Knowledge of the context in which water governance must take place and the problems faced by different actors is the first step in facilitating a broader understanding among all the actors of the roles and responsibilities of others, which will then underpin an effective network to support water governance,” explains Meissner.
Nortje says, for example, city dwellers have more knowledge of whom to report faults to. Yet city dwellers do not necessarily know to which wastewater treatment plant their sewage is sent or which dam they receive water from, which is similar to the situation in rural areas and makes water governance and accountability more difficult.
Cities have much more established and formalised professional networks, compared with those of rural areas, making water govern- ance more broadly understood and, thus, more enforceable and uniform.
“However, the rural areas that are being studied have inherited a significant number of problems. “Managers tend to be overwhelmed without a way to determine which projects or repairs to prioritise so that water and wastewater treatment can take place as part of an effective water governance structure in which communities understand how they affect and how they should use watercourses,” says Nortje.
“The CSIR WGG is working with the relevant stakeholders and our aim is to disseminate information and understanding among the different political and private struc- tures that will lead to the emergence of an effective water governance structure,” says Meissner.
The CSIR WGG gathers detailed informa-tion from the communities and public and private leaders on their perceptions of water management and governance.
“Often, it is as simple as getting the right people to meet with each other, which then establishes the individual connections and understanding that provide the fabric for effective water governance and management,” highlights Meissner.
The importance of individual understanding at community level and at all political layers is paramount to enable effective water govern-ance to occur and take root, concludes Nortje.
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