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Water Governance Conference: Beyond Tame Solutions for 'Wicked' Problems

Nearly 900 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. This shocking reality will be discussed by water experts at a free one-day conference in

London. They will also address the mismanagement of irrigation, which limits crop yields and livelihoods, and other problems related to water governance at the Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck, on 10 March. Delegates will examine water’s ‘wicked’ problems – dilemmas subject to scientific uncertainty and competing interests – and try to forge new approaches towards tackling these concerns.

The conference, organised by LIDC and the Water for Africa Research Project at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), occurs at a crucial time for water policy, just days ahead of the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul (16-22 March) and World Water Day (22 March).  The London event will serve as a forum to consider and explore the shortcomings of water governance, including policies influencing Water Resource Management (WRM) and Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS).

Leading figures from the water sector will speak at the workshop. The presenters and panellists include Professor Tony Allan, from SOAS and King’s College, London (the inventor of the concept of “virtual water” and the winner of last year’s prestigious Stockholm Water Prize), Professor Sandy Cairncross, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Tom Slaymaker, from the charity WaterAid, and Laurence Smith and Dr Frances Cleaver, from SOAS.

Presenters will analyse difficulties by referring to diverse insights from their experiences worldwide, from India to Africa, and from irrigation to privatisation. The presentations will focus on many topics, including:
  • Why privatising water has failed in sub-Saharan Africa and Malaysia
  • Lessons from involving locals in water governance in the VoltaRiver Basin in West Africa
  • The complexity of water law in India
  • Managing the demands of irrigation and domestic water needs
  • Access to water in slums
  • The challenges of diffuse water pollution

Laurence Smith, from SOAS, will begin the discussions by defining ‘wicked’ natural resource dilemmas and providing examples of collaborative governance arrangements and enabling measures from innovative catchment management programmes that may offer solutions.
Dr Kate Bayliss, from SOAS, and Dr Jeff Tan, from Aga KhanUniversity, will criticise the implantation of privatisation in the water sector. They said: “There were high hopes of privatisation in the water sector in the 1990s. The policy was expected to transform the delivery of water in developing countries. Results have, however, been disappointing. Of all forms of infrastructure, water and sanitation have attracted the least amount of private sector funding.”

Dr Jeroen Ensink, from LSHTM, will focus on managing the competing demands of irrigation and domestic consumption during his talk. He said: “In Pakistan an estimated 50 million people rely on irrigation water for all their domestic needs, including drinking, as a result of high groundwater salinity.”

The need for improved WRM is accepted in national and international policy circles and increased water access is critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). By bringing together WRM and WSS professionals, the conference will be an opportunity to identify similarities and differences in governance problems across sub-sectoral divides, identify knowledge gaps and compare different academic approaches to these concerns. The discussions, in turn, will help create a broader and holistic approach to water governance based on combining the strengths of a range of disciplines, including health, law, sociology, economics and political science.  The event, open to all, is geared towards academics, policy makers, practitioners and students.

The Water for Africa Research Project is based at SOAS and funded by the W Charitable Foundation. Through academic research and capacity building this project seeks to address gaps in understandings of pro-poor water governance in Africa. For further information about the project contact its Administrator Kristin Hamada: +44 (0) 20 7898 4604,  kh23@soas.ac.uk .

Conference registration and programme
The free conference takes place on Tuesday March 10 from 9am-4:30pm at the Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck,
25-27 Torrington Square, <st1:city w:st="on>London, WC1E 7HX
Please email admin@lidc.bloomsbury.ac.uk or telephone 020 7958 8251 to reserve a place.


Click here for the full programme.Please email admin@lidc.bloomsbury.ac.uk or telephone 020 7958 8251 to reserve a place.

By Guy Collender, Communications Officer, LIDC