The scientific community concerned with water is being driven by dominant paradigms that force us to think of water and its associated aquatic ecosystems in specific and often rigid ways. The dominant paradigm today, specifically in the field of water resource management, is what we call “Integrated Water Resource Management”, or simply IWRM. This is underpinned by a veritable mantra of texts that seek to extol the alleged virtues of this approach. Central to this paradigm are certain key concepts, the most notable being the river basin as a unit of management, and the notion of subsidiarity that seeks to cascade management to the lowest appropriate level in society as envisaged by what we call the Dublin Principles.
Yet practical experiences show us a different world. On the one hand complexity defies subsidiarity and the river basin is often inappropriate as a unit of management, specifically when that basin supports ecosystems and associated livelihood flows across international borders. On the other hand, levels of “optimization” needed to achieve genuine benefits to a wide range of stakeholders suggest that small is not necessarily better. In this regard the work on benefit-sharing currently being conducted by a team of which I am but one member (see Phillips, Daoudy, McCaffrey, Ojendal & Turton (2006) “Transboundary Water Cooperation as a Tool for Conflict Prevention and Broader Benefit-Sharing”, Stockholm: Expert Group on Development Issues, Swedish Foreign Ministry) is showing us that rather than cascading management down to lower levels in society, we need to move in the opposite direction – upwards to higher levels of optimization from which a greater basket of benefits can be sourced and then shared. My own work on the notion of a hydro-political complex, a theoretical level of analysis and potentially management that exists above the river basin but below the regional economic grouping we call the Southern African Development Community (SADC), suggests the same general trend.
For this reason it is refreshing to find work of the calibre and focus in this book. Here we have a team of scientists that move beyond the constraints imposed by the IWRM paradigm, where both fresh-water and marine aquatic ecosystems are linked, as are terrestrial and aquatic processes. For the first time we can now say with some degree of certainty, that marine processes are intimately linked to terrestrial processes via the freshwater flow of river systems. Furthermore we can now see, with a high level of confidence, that the management of such complex systems cannot realistically be cascaded down to lower levels of society in keeping with the principle of subsidiarity.
In truth, cooperation is needed at many different levels, within a country, between countries, and between ministries and scientific disciplines. If we understand the transboundary waters problematique as being driven by the need to mitigate issues arising when natural flows of water (and the nutrients contained therein) cross artificial jurisdictional boundaries, then this study is a classic. The serious reader of this book will benefit from the refreshing new approach to a complex problem that would not have been researched if the authors were guided by the narrow concept we call IWRM. This book also stands out as a monument to the potential of endeavours across disciplines, across international political boundaries, and across institutions.
Dr. Anthony Turton
Executive Director International Water Resources Association (IWRA).