Coping with competing claims on Water in the Incomati Basin through Interactive Science (WIBIS) (South Africa, Mozambique)

A wide variety of driving forces is leading to new claims on water enhancing the competition for water in the Incomati Basin that is being shared by South-Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. The liberalisation of the world markets and national policies have for instance triggered the production of biofuel crops in the Incomati Basin, disregarding water availability and the effect on the livelihood of the local population.

Promotion of biofuel production in the Incomati Basin will add to the strain on stressed water resources and poor urbanized consumers will face higher food prices. This means that green energy does not assist the disadvantaged, e.g. does not contribute to the MDG’s. This example shows that claims on water become increasingly complex to manage, because globalising forces shift the balance of power increasingly to an international level. International trade policies may have a bigger impact on cropping patterns and consequently water use than local water management policies. There is therefore a clear need to identify more harmonized policies as well as options of local communities to improve their livelihood while sustaining Incomati water. To be able to do so, insight is required into the implications of international as well as national policies on water use and water productivity at the various levels.

The main goal of this project is support inter-sector and inter-state (trans-boundary) policy development and sustainable use of the Incomati basin water through building capacity with respect to water valuation and innovative water monitoring. Water valuation is a tool to enhance the ability of decision makers to evaluate trade-offs between different water policies and courses of social actions that alter the use of water and the multiple services it provides. A decision support framework will be developed, and tested, that can be used to assess the implications of water policies on different stakeholders and support negotiations regarding a water sharing agreement. The framework will be designed in such a way that it can explore opportunities for harmonizing of policies across sectors, i.e. to support integrated water resources management. It can also be used both to support local innovations for sustainable water use and to provide feedback to, and influence, the initiators of the claims who may be located elsewhere in the world, like in the case of the blending targets for bio fuels that trigger sugarcane production. In this respect it has relevance not only for developing countries but also for Dutch society and the results will be communicated through the popular media.

To achieve this goal, we will build capacity in interactive science. Our multi-scale action research approach will not only be oriented towards local levels, but also aspires to influence higher scale levels. We will work with stakeholders in a cycle of description, explanation, exploration, and design, with each phase feeding into and supporting the negotiation process. Special emphasis will be placed on identifying drivers of conflict and fields of opportunities.

As conflicts around the use of water often result from weak local and national institutions, avoidance of conflicting claims on water use has to involve also the strengthening of local and national institutions and governance systems through institutional development. The Incomati River Basin has at least seven basin-specific regimes, four non-basin specific regimes and one non-aggression pact. It also contains the first basin-wide Tripartite Permanent Technical Committee ever created in the Southern African region, which was brought to a success when the Interim Inco-Maputo Agreement (IIMA) was signed in 2002. This comprehensive basin-wide agreement recognizes the right of all riparian states to specific volumes of water, elaborating water- formulae, and specifying water quality standards. So, the institutions have shown a high level of resilience –they survived during difficult years- and have evolved substantially since 1999, which is promising for dealing with future claims.

To achieve all this, the following three activities are required:

  1. Actual water consumption and associated biomass production of the various land use activities, sectors and states will be calculated for the Incomati basin in the three states, by means of remote sensing combined with a surface energy balance model. As changes at the local level may have a different impact at the basin level, the implications of changes at farm level on the water balance will be assessed.
  2. Insight will be provided into the socio-economic returns to water, taking social concerns such as poverty alleviation, externalities and a more equitable allocation into consideration.
  3. Possible improvement in inter-sector and inter-state (trans-boundary) policy development and sustainable use of the Incomati basin will be identified and assessed. The first two activities are required for this activity. As initiators of claims are more often –as a result of globalization- actors far away from the actual resource, they do not directly feel the negative impacts on local populations and ecosystems. We will therefore clarify in this project the link between the water resource and water managers, and the distant consumers of the water resource. This involves the creation of partnerships and involvement of actors. Potential users are the TPTC, DWAF, DNA, sugarcane industry, but also international policy makers.

Research on complex issues such as water management requires multiple disciplines. We therefore combine technical expertise of Alterra and Waterwatch (which is a private enterprise), socio-economic expertise of LEI and WRC with institutional expertise from CSIR. This is a public-private of partnerships.. Our project team represents a wide range of expertise concerning issues related to water within agriculture, forestry, ecology as well as economics and institutional aspects. The Dutch team has ample experience with multidisciplinary research approaches to study interactions and competitive effects of policies on land use.

The project will start in the beginning of January 2008 and will be finalized by the end of December 2010. The estimated project budget for a three-year period is K€ 300.