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Bo G. Appelgren

Senior Officer, Land and Water Development Division, FAO, Rome

Disclaimer: The positions and opinions presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.


1.1. SCOPE

This paper draws heavily on the case of the Southern Africa Region, and tries to apply the lessons learnt to the Near East Region situation. It derives its factual elements from a background paper on Management of Water Scarcity: National Water Policy Reform in South Africa in relation to Regional Development Cooperation in Southern Africa, prepared for FAO in 1997 by Mr L. Abrams.


The Near East is a region which is not without contradictions: whilst it has great wealth and enormous resources, it is also stricken with problems and poverty; whilst it has a range of climate types, most of the area is semi-arid and subject to wide seasonal and annual variability. The growth in population in the region and the demand for agricultural and industrial development is putting increasing strains on water resources. There has been extensive political upheaval in some of the countries over a number of decades, affecting the whole region. Within this context, the proper management and equal distribution of water resources, on which development potential and prosperity depend, is critical. Most of the area is currently facing conditions of water scarcity or will be in the near future.

There are numerous difficulties, however, facing the proper management of water resources, related to a wide variety of factors, including:

This document sets out some of the differing circumstances relating to water scarcity in the countries, and suggests possible solutions. Particular attention is paid to policy and legislative reform.



“In popular usage, “scarcity” is a situation where there is insufficient water to satisfy normal requirements. However, this common-sense definition is of little use to policy-makers and planners. There are degrees of scarcity: absolute, life-threatening, seasonal, temporary, cyclical, etc. Populations with normally high levels of consumption may experience temporary scarcity more keenly than other societies accustomed to using much less water. Scarcity often arises because of socio-economic trends having little to do with basic needs. Defining scarcity for policy-making purposes is very difficult.” (Winpenny, 1997)

It is useful to develop four terms for the purposes of greater clarity: water shortage, water scarcity, water stress and water security. These require rigorous definition, which is the subject of considerable international debate.

Water shortage is used to describe an absolute shortage where levels of available water do not meet certain defined minimum requirements. The actual quantity that determines a per caput minimum may differ from place to place.

Water scarcity is a more relative concept, describing the relationship between demand for water and its availability. The demands may vary considerably between different countries and different regions within a given country, depending on the sectoral usage of water. A country with a high level of industrial demand or which depends on large-scale irrigation will therefore be more likely to experience times of scarcity than a country with similar climatic conditions without such demands.

Water stress is the symptomatic consequence of scarcity, which may manifest itself as increasing conflict over sectoral usage, a decline in service levels, crop failure, food insecurity, etc.

Water security is a situation of reliable and secure access to water over time. It does not equate to constant quantity of supply as much as predictability, which enables measures to be taken in times of scarcity to avoid stress.


There are a number of problems related to determining water shortage and water scarcity. In general, national average figures are used, which masks annual variability from year to year, seasonal variability and the regional variability within countries.

FAO regards water as a severe constraint on socio-economic development and environmental protection at levels of annual internal renewable water availability of less than 1 000 m3/caput. At levels of annual water availability of less than 2 000 m3/caput, water is regarded as a potentially serious constraint, and a major problem in drought years.

Water scarcity is a relative concept - it is partly a “social construct” in that it is determined both by the availability of water and by consumption patterns. Because of the large number of factors which influence both availability and consumption, any definition of water scarcity will vary widely from country to country and from region to region within a country. Adopting a global figure to indicate water scarcity should therefore be done with great caution. Whilst a threshold such as 1 000 m3/caput may be useful for purposes of comparison, it should be carefully used because it may understate situations of potentially serious water stress.

Because the concept of water scarcity is a social construct or, put in other terms, a matter of political and economic perception, it may be more useful to describe water scarcity as a particular mix of availability and demand at which water stress occurs, rather than any absolute per caput figure. This means that its determination is more qualitative than quantitative, as the point at which water scarcity occurs may vary widely from one situation to another. In a semi-arid, highly industrialized country or in a country where food security is dependent upon the extensive use of irrigation, the aggregate per caput figure at which water becomes sufficiently scarce to cause internal or transboundary conflict may be a lot higher than in a temperate, less highly developed country.


The causes of water scarcity are varied. Some are natural and others are a result of human activity. The current debate cites the causes as largely deterministic in that scarcity is a result of identifiable cause and effect. However, if water scarcity is the point at which water stress occurs (the point at which various conflicts arise, harvests fail and the like), then there are also less definable sociological and political causes. Many of the causes are inter-related and are not easily distinguished. Some of the causes are considered below.

Population growth The main cause of growing water scarcity is the growing demand resulting from population increase. Whilst the population growth for each country under consideration does vary, the national population growth rates in the Near East are generally high and range between 2.0 and 3.8%. The increase in demand arises out of several factors. These include the direct consumption demands of the population and the demand resulting from development and food production to feed the increasing population.

Food production The region is already experiencing considerable problems in relation to food security and the current food imports of the regions are often quoted as corresponding to an agricultural water demand of another river Nile. This raises the debate of food security and self-sufficiency. Some countries in the region - having realized that there is insufficient water available to ensure self-sufficiency in food production - have opted to ensure food security through economic growth. Others have opted to import food only in time of need. This constitutes a reliance on “virtual water,” which is the water required to produce the food at its point of production rather than needing that water to be available at the point of consumption.

Climatic change and variability There is a great deal of debate regarding the issue of global climate change. Whilst there is a widespread view that global warming is happening, this has yet to be conclusively proven scientifically and the effect of this phenomenon on water resources is unknown. The consensus is that the effect will be to accentuate the extremes, with more pronounced droughts and more severe flooding.

Land use Land use changes have a variety of impacts on water resources. Whilst reduction of vegetation cover may result in greater runoff, it reduces groundwater infiltration and the storage capacity of dams and lakes through siltation. The large-scale draining of wetlands or large-scale deforestation may change the microclimate of a region.

Water quality Pollution of water supplies reduces the availability of water for use. Water contamination can result from a variety of causes including agricultural return flows, industry, and domestic uses. Both surface and groundwater are often affected. Destruction of the riverine environment reduces the natural ability of a river to cope with pollution.

Water demand A growing and unmanaged demand for water will hasten the arrival of conditions of scarcity. The widespread misconception by many people that there is plenty of water and that the only problem is getting it to the right place at the right time still persists as a residue from the era of supply-driven, water resources management. Moving to a deliberate and purposeful policy scenario of demand management is urgently required of governments in the region, although this may not be politically palatable in the short term. Reducing and managing the demand for water, enforcing greater efficiency of use and introducing water conservation measures requires policy and legislative attention.

Financial and institutional Knowing what needs to be done and actually doing it are two separate issues. Because of the overall economic status of the countries, the resources to implement programmes designed to reduce water scarcity vary but are often scarce. This is also the cause of institutional weaknesses which result in overbearing bureaucracy and inefficiencies. Generally, throughout the region, the costs of services are not fully recovered, leading to operation and maintenance (O&M) problems. Institutional and financial weaknesses result in water not being available which could otherwise have relieved water scarcity. A further problem is that of foreign currency requirements. Much of the equipment and information required for effective modern water resources management, such as computers and remote imagery, has to be purchased with foreign currency, which may not be available.

Sectoral professional capacity Closely related to the financial and institutional circumstances noted above is the critical problem facing water sector professionals in the region. The region is not without highly competent and motivated professionals, but their conditions of employment and the incentives are generally poor, with a rapid turnover in staff, particularly in the public service. The lack of sufficient expertise to manage water resources and develop and implement policy is a direct contributor to water scarcity.

Political realities Politicians and decision-makers are the persons who have greatest influence on the allocation of scarce budgets and the adoption of policy. Unfortunately, the conceptual horizons of many politicians do not coincide with the parameters of prudent water resource management, resulting in decisions being made on the basis of short-term political expediency. To have the political will to develop policy and supportive legislation that will introduce the discipline necessary to manage water scarcity requires considerable political courage and foresight. Political tension and conflict within countries and between countries often have a greater influence on de facto policy than the practise of sound water policy.

Sociological issues There are a number of sociological and cultural issues which exacerbate the water scarcity situation. These are often the result of practices which were not originally a threat to the environment but have become a threat as population pressures and modern consumerism increases. The resulting pressures on the environment - for example, from deforestation and livestock - have a direct and detrimental effect on water resources. The long-term impacts of these issues often set the overall political and economic framework from which many of the other causes of water scarcity stem.



Water scarcity was defined in Section 2.1 above, stressing that it is a relative concept describing the relationship between demand for water and its availability, and that conditions of scarcity derive from both reduced availability and increased demand. Conditions in the countries under consideration contribute to both of these factors.

There are numerous reasons for the circumstances prevailing in the region. It is artificial to divide the causes into separate and unrelated headings as they are all inter-linked. The region is not devoid of natural resources; it is in fact very well endowed, but the resources are unevenly spread, both within the region and within individual countries.


The primary problem is that of poverty, with its associated causes and effects. Some of the countries in the region are largely underdeveloped, and have had their development potential curtailed as a result of widespread and protracted conflict. There is an increasing trend towards more democratic political systems in the region and a greater market orientation. This is insufficient in itself to address the pervading poverty, but without such trends it is unlikely that poverty would ever be addressed.

Poverty is closely associated with high rates of population growth, poor land use management and very low thresholds of resilience in the face of adverse conditions. Drought often renders traditional lifestyles, already on the edge of survival, unsustainable. Poverty often incites a spiral of adverse factors which in turn result in ever worsening conditions.

Added to the human and economic factors are natural factors, such as drought. Natural events are often exacerbated by human impact on the environment. Poor cropping and pastoral practices, deforestation and overpopulation: all these both reduce availability of water and increase demand for water.

Poverty also reduces the national revenue base, which results in insufficient investment in infrastructure and inadequate human resources trained and capable of managing the country’s water. Water management infrastructure, such as storage dams, increases the availability of water and is able to provide a degree of security during dry years (if properly managed). The lack of trained personnel is quoted as one of the chief concerns in many of the countries under consideration, mainly in papers produced by government officials in the countries.


The resources of the region are not evenly distributed. Most of the subcontinent is semi-arid.

In addition to the issues already mentioned above, the availability of water can be affected by a number of factors, including:

All these elements are present in the region and have an impact on water resources.


Water demand increases with development. The problem, however, is that in the past the view has largely been taken that there is sufficient water available to meet the demands of development. Whilst recent years have clearly indicated to policy-makers in the region that the water resources are at best finite, there is little indication that the situation is regarded as dangerous. Whilst mention is made in several policy documents of the need for managing demand, there is little sign of real political will to implement effective measures. Increasing demand for water as a result of development without concomitant management of that demand is, therefore, a contributory factor in water scarcity.


The largest water using sector is agriculture. This is a common reality worldwide. As population increases, ever greater pressure is placed on agriculture to produce food. This in turn results in increased water demand. Water scarcity and food security are therefore directly related.

The requirement of achieving food security in the region is high on the agenda of most governments. How that food security is to be attained, however is seen differently in different countries. Most of the countries equate food security with food self-sufficiency. Realizing that self-sufficiency is not achievable given the climatic conditions, some governments have decided to take the route of ensuring a secure and growing economy, which will enable them to import food when necessary.



The following remarks are made by way of observation and suggestion, drawing on the situation and experiences in Southern Africa and other areas with conditions similar to those found in the Near East. Many of the requirements for achieving water security are dependant on matters external to the water sector per se, but are nevertheless essential. Because water plays a very important part in the life and economics of the region, issues related to water cannot be separated from the social, economic and political life of the countries in the region. No single factor can be sufficient to achieve water security in itself - a combination of several elements will be required to avoid widespread water scarcity problems, namely:

These are considered individually in the following sections, but it must never be forgotten that they are merely constituent parts of the whole.


The first and most important requirement for water security is economic growth in the region. This, however, needs to occur in a way that ensures the raising of the standards of living of all citizens. If growth results in an increasing gap between the rich and the poor, other requirements - such as social and political stability - will not be achieved, which will in turn place a limit on the potential for economic growth. Economic growth is necessary because without a critical mass in the economy governments will be unable to sustain the institutional and human resource requirements needed to manage water resources efficiently. Whilst the development of water resources is a prerequisite for economic growth, it is also dependent on economic growth, which makes water resource development both a consequence of and a requirement for growth.

Economic prosperity enables countries both to avoid situations of water scarcity through improved infrastructure and management, and to survive periods of hardship through being able to import food, thereby gaining access to virtual water resources.


Unfortunately, the southern African region is possibly an extreme example of how political and social instability detrimentally affects economic growth and results in stagnation and the collapse of infrastructure. Without political and social stability it is not possible to develop the water resources of a country, which results in increasing impoverishment of the population and a cycle of poverty which is very difficult to break. There remain countries in the region which are still engaged in internal strife and it is unlikely that these countries will progress with water resource development whilst such difficulties continue. The consequences of continuing conflict affect not only the country within which the conflict occurs but also the entire region. It is therefore in the interests of all countries in the region to ensure that peace prevails in order to permit the sustainable development of resources to continue.


Sustainable natural resource development is a long-term process, and one that requires foresight and commitment. The time parameters of such development often exceed the time parameters of political office, but require difficult and necessarily costly decisions. A great deal of political will and vision is therefore required to ensure that sustainable development happens. Substantial resources are required to establish the necessary expertise and institutional base to develop and maintain a sound national water management system. Of particular difficulty are the issues of ensuring the financial viability of infrastructure development programmes through the establishment of adequate cost recovery and tariff structures.


Effective reforms of the water sector are required in virtually all of the countries in the region. There are definite indications that the need for reform is accepted in many countries of the region, brought about both by greater dialogue in recent years between countries in the region and by the disastrous effects of drought. There are a number of areas where reforms are needed, and they are considered below.

4.5.1. Water resources management policy

Many lessons have been learnt throughout the world in recent years regarding best-practice in water resources management. There is an increasing sense of urgency to review and adapt policy as the full implications of global fresh water utilization become apparent. Many countries have taken active steps in the right direction but only few them, however, have clear, implementable, water resources management policies. This is partially because of the tendency in the past to concentrate on project planning and implementation, which was largely undertaken within a policy vacuum, leading to unsustainable development in some instances. The development of policy requires a high level of expertise and it is important that in the process of policy development the lessons which have been learnt throughout the world are incorporated, particularly related to resource protection and sustainable management practices.

It is clear that, in addition to water resources management policy, policy is also required in many countries to address the growing situation of water scarcity and the occurrence of drought and water stress. It is imperative that policy development is not undertaken in an isolated fashion within each country of the region. Policies in one country will have an effect on neighbouring countries. Greater cooperation could be achieved through better emphasis on the importance of water in the region.

4.5.2. Multisectoral policy development

Water policy cannot be developed in isolation from the policy framework of other sectors, such as agriculture, industry, power generation, tourism, the environment, and the economy as a whole. A high degree of cooperation is therefore required between government departments, but such cooperation is often conspicuous by its absence.

A difficulty which will inevitably be experienced in the process of the development of sound policies will be the political cost of such policies if they require increased discipline in the use of resources. The need to re-orient attitudes towards the use of water may not be politically popular, particularly if changes could involve review of cost and tariff structures towards more economically efficient use of water.

4.5.3. Legislative reform

Changing policy will no doubt lead to a need to amend legislation in order to effect such new policy and to be able to enforce better practice in the development and use of natural resources. The water-related legislation in many of the countries in the region is based on the water legislation of the former colonial powers, and so much of it is European-based and unsuitable for both the climates of the countries concerned and their cultures.

Legislative reform, however, needs to be very carefully approached in order to ensure that the new legal regime is not worse than that which it replaces. A great deal of legislative reform in the water sector has occurred in many parts of the world in recent years, and substantial expertise has been developed as a consequence. This expertise should be utilized in the region when water legislation is being reviewed.

4.5.4. Institutional reform

Legislative and policy reform will undoubtedly lead to the need for reform of the institutional framework of most countries in the region. Institutional reform involves not only the functions and responsibilities of public bodies, but also the way in which such bodies carry out their duties and in the terms of employment of public-sector staff. The conditions under which staff function, particularly senior professional staff, will largely determine how effective a country is in managing and developing its water resources. The relationships between institutions is critically important, and these should be clearly established in any institutional reform process.

Institutional reform should result in greater accountability, transparency and public involvement in line with the growing democratic ethos in the region. Greater engagement of stakeholders in the oversight and management of water resources will increase commitment to and compliance with new policies and legislation.

4.5.5. Disaster management

Disaster management policy, legislation and institutional arrangements are required both at national and regional levels within the region. Cooperation and support during drought and other disasters has already been shown to be effective in the region, but further work is required. The development of information systems will be important for both early-warning and disaster-management functions.


Water security will ultimately not be achieved without managing the demand for water. Although the current demand in many parts of the region is still less than the resources available, this is not the case in all countries and it is clear that demand will rapidly increase in the years to come. Strangely, the perception persists that there are sufficient resources available, which simply need to be dammed, stored or transferred by some engineering means, and all needs will be met. This is the classic “supply management” ethos, which will never provide a sustainable solution to the region’s predicament. As water development becomes increasingly costly, fewer options for bankable projects are available. The ethos needs to change to “demand management,” which should be promoted as the basis for all policy, legislation and institutional arrangements. A critical element of the management of demand is the proper economic pricing of water.

Adopting demand management policies and practices will require a high degree of political maturity and will not be popular in many sectors. Awareness creation and advocacy of the demand management ethos is required if it is to gain political currency and broad support in the region.


A further critical requirement for water security is effective implementation of policy and development plans. Having good policy is of little use if it is not implemented. The implementation of policy directed at poverty alleviation and economic growth should be given highest priority. However, these two objectives cannot be achieved without the simultaneous implementation of sound water sector policy because water is central to both the alleviation of poverty and economic growth.

Effective implementation depends on:

Timely and well planned investment in and construction of water sector infrastructure is critical to the assurance of water security, but it is not the primary solution. The philosophy of the dam builders of previous decades was a supply-based philosophy, based on the premise that, given sufficient resources, sufficient dams and catchment transfer schemes can be built to get enough water to any place to meet any demand. With the prevailing limitations on financial and natural resources in the region, and the potentially disastrous impact of such a philosophy on the environment (the resource base), it is clear that supply-based philosophies cannot be afforded.

Whilst the construction of infrastructure may be critical to achieving water security, equally important is the proper O&M of infrastructure. A frequent problem with the planning and financing of infrastructure is inadequate assessment of and provision for the recurring burden - to the government and the country as a whole - of ongoing O&M and replacement costs of the infrastructure. This is particularly a problem when attractive foreign financing packages are available for the capital costs of construction but which ultimately do little more than add to the country’s debt burden.


There is a growing realization that conservation of the resource base is essential for sustainability. This is a new notion which advances the debate about environmental sustainability considerably. Previous notions of the environment being a “user” of water and having to be considered when water is being allocated are increasingly being viewed as inadequate. Such notions often result in inadequate in-stream flows being maintained and the consequent collapse of critical ecological functions within the river system. Many rural communities in the region depend on these functions as important components of their daily survival strategies.

Proposed new legislation in South Africa could establish a “Reserve” that would include the resource base. Thus, in South Africa, allocation of water for all uses would be out of the water remaining after the Reserve is accommodated. This means that the environment is no longer considered as a competitor amongst other competitors or simply another “user.”

Sustaining the resource base as the source of water is essential in maintaining water security in the region. International cooperation is required in the region because there are many instances of the resource base for the waters of one country being situated in another.


Information management - including information gathering, analysis and dissemination - is essential to achieving water security. The monitoring of the use of water and the status of water resources is required both to enable ongoing management of water and to provide early warning of potential situations of water scarcity. Information management is expensive and is only cost effective if it is well done and if there is the political will to act on the information provided. Because it is often not viewed as a “productive” use of capital, particularly in resource-poor environments, information management is often difficult to motivate and sustain.

Collaboration between countries in the region concerning information management is important, as is the sharing of information. Both lead to a common understanding of shared resources and provide an improved basis for negotiation and agreement for the equitable utilization of resources. It is important that technical detail is attended to in this regard, in relation to data specifications and standards, to ensure that information is comparable and transferable between the various national systems.


When all factors are considered, water resource management remains a human activity, and will only be as good as the competence of the staff involved. Attention to the training of national professionals and the building of local capacity is therefore critical to the attainment of water security. Dependence on expatriate skills should be reviewed and progressively decreased as local capacity is increased. The development of the competence of government officials is particularly important.

The development of personnel is a long-term and expensive exercise, however, often with limited returns as trained persons are attracted away from government service by more lucrative offers from the private sector and better working conditions. Hence conditions of service are very important in attracting and keeping good people. This, however, is closely associated with the economy of the country as a whole, and, in general, developing countries provide very poor conditions of service. This is an intractable problem and probably one of the most important factors in achieving water security, although it is one of the least obvious.


Parts of the region have been arenas of human conflict for many decades. Conventional wisdom in the water sector generally regards water security as a complex physical and technical problem to be solved with economic and engineering tools. This is an inadequate analysis, and will continue to fail to find lasting solutions to the problems of water scarcity whilst the very human issues of greed, trust, arrogance, concern, the need for security, etc., are not factored into the overall equation.

The building of sound personal relationships and trust between parties in the region is critical to the development of lasting solutions to water security. All of the technical resources and tools available will not substitute for trust. The basis for agreement on water issues has conventionally been the establishment of a congruence of self interest, but without a basis of trust and good relationships, however, the finding of this congruence can be a lengthy and exhausting process.

The impact of human relationships in the quest for water security needs a great deal more study and attention.


Climatological and hydrological realities are no respecters of political boundaries. One of the lessons of the past few decades is that no country of the region remains unaffected by the fate of another country. Cooperation in the region is therefore not so much a matter of altruism as of enlightened self- or mutual interest.

As an example of regional cooperation, the cause of improved water resources management and cooperation has been substantially enhanced recently by the establishment of the SADC Protocol on Water (Annex 2). Cooperation needs to be strengthened both through technical processes and through the building of mutual trust and confidence, as noted above.



Since South Africa’s elections in April 1997, there has been a significant process of reform in the water sector. The objective of the reform process has been both to create a modernized and rational water resource management and service delivery system and to ensure greater equity in access to resources. This section provides a brief summary of some of the main elements of the reform process.


After the elections in South Africa, one of the main priorities of the new government was to address the backlog in basic services throughout the country, and particularly amongst the previously disadvantaged population, mainly resident in remote rural areas. Thus a White Paper on Water Supply and Sanitation Policy was published in November 1997 after consultations. This had the effect of clarifying development needs and facilitating investment in the sector, and led to the allocation of the equivalent of some $US 700 million of state funds to basic water and sanitation service development over the next three years.

In a parallel process, a set of Principles was developed to guide the reform of water resources management policy and legislation. These were widely debated through workshops and public hearings held in every province, after which they were adopted by Cabinet. Based on these Principles, a White Paper was prepared on National Water Policy, which set out the government’s policies regarding water resources management and utilization.

Emanating from the policy development process came the legislative reform process.


Two Bills were introduced during 1997, namely the Water Services Bill and the National Water Bill. Two separate Bills were produced because of the difference between water services supply and water resources management. Water supply is, in terms of the constitution, ultimately the responsibility of local government, but the national government has the responsibility to establish national framework legislation, including national norms and standards, and parameters for the setting of tariffs. Water services legislation is thus concurrent legislation and requires a particular legislative process. Water resources, on the other hand, are regarded as a national asset and are entirely within the legislative ambit of the National Assembly.

The National Water Bill introduces a number of measures which will have far reaching consequences in South Africa. Some of these are:


The institutional framework for the water sector at the time of the 1997 elections was disjointed and illogical. This was as a result of the segregation of the country into nominally independent “homelands” through the policies of apartheid. The policy and subsequent legislative reform process has as one of its objectives the rationalization of the institutional framework of the sector. The institutional framework envisaged by the new water legislation in South Africa is set out in Annex 1 of this paper.


Water scarcity is a threat which hangs over the subcontinent of Southern Africa. It is a looming reality which pervades all development possibilities. It is a highly complex phenomenon; one which is affected by a wide variety of social, political, economic and natural factors. Water scarcity is clearly both a cause and an effect of poverty.

Whilst few people in positions of responsibility could claim to be ignorant of the threat and the negative impacts of water scarcity, little has been done in the past to effectively plan for and mitigate against the effects of water scarcity. It is clear that the threat of water scarcity is being taken a lot more seriously in recent years, particularly as the El Nino effect has re-appeared during 1997 on an unprecedented scale, presenting Southern Africa with the spectre of climatic disruption once again.

The way forward lies in giving effect to the factors mentioned in Section 4 above when discussing critical requirements for water security. The many factors required to ensure a safer future for the region are all inter-related. These factors apply throughout the region more or less equally to all of the countries, and their applicability in the Near East Region remains to be discussed and adopted.


Winpenny, J.T. 1997. Managing Water Scarcity for Water Security. A discussion paper prepared for the First FAO E-mail Conference on Managing Water Scarcity, 4 March to 9 April 1997.

Keating, M. 1993. Combating Desertification and drought. Agenda for change. UN Centre for Our Common Future, Geneva, Switzerland. (See pages 21-22)

Ohlsson, L. 1995. Water and Security in Southern Africa. [SIDA] Publications on Water Resources, No. 1.

Annex 1: The water sector institutional framework of South Africa

In South Africa, one objective of the past few years has been to rectify the staff complement, particularly at management level, of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, through an affirmative action programme to ensure that the staff is representative of the population of the country as a whole.

The new Water Services Bill is complex, as are the institutional arrangements provided for in it, but there is an urgent need to establish a rational framework throughout the country for service provision. This is one of the major objectives of the Bill, and which it has a good chance of achieving.

Below are some definitions of institutions, based on the Water Services Bill draft text. The text in italics is quoted directly from the draft Water Services Bill.

Water Service Authority” means any municipality responsible for ensuring access to water services. In other words, a water service authority is local government. This is in accordance with the Constitution, which sets out that local government is responsible for service delivery.

Water Services Provider” means any person who provides water services to consumers, but does not include a water services intermediary. A water services provider is therefore any person, organization or company which actually supplies water. It may be the water services authority itself (i.e., the local government) or any organization appointed by it.

Water Services Intermediary” means any person who is obliged to provide water services to another in terms of a contract where the obligation to provide water services is incidental to the main object of that contract. This appears to be an organization which performs the function of a water service provider as an extra function to its normal or main activity. An example would be a mine which might provide water to residents in the area surrounding the mine or to a farmer.

Water Service Committee. There is no definition of a Water Service Committee in the bill, but it is a body which acts as a water service provider when the Water Service Authority is unable to exercise its duties. A Water Services Committee may not be established if the Water Services Authority is “willing and able” to provide services effectively in an area. It must be dis-established when the relevant water service authority is in a position to exercise its functions. A village water committee in a rural area without effective local government may fall under this category.

Water Boards are also not specifically defined in the Bill. Their primary function is to supply treated water in bulk to water service authorities (or water service providers, as the case may be), although they can also function as service providers and supply water direct to consumers in some instances.

Note: Some of these details could change as the Bill passes through the legislative process.

Annex 2: SADC Protocol on Water


Water in the region is a scarce resource with 70 percent of the regional surface waters shared between two or more member states. At the same time, a good number of states are prone to devastating droughts which all leave a trail of misery in their wake, drastically affecting humans and animals alike.

It is also projected that, in the next 20 to 30 years, three or four SADC Member States will be facing serious water shortages if nothing is done now. It was in recognition of the importance of a coordinated approach to utilization and preservation of water that the SADC Member States signed the Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems at the 1995 Summit in South Africa. The main thrust of the Protocol, which is a legally binding document, is to ensure equitable sharing of water and also ensure efficient conservation of the scarce resource.

Article 1: General Principles

For the purpose of this protocol, the following general principles shall apply:

1. The utilization of shared watercourse systems within the SADC region shall be open to each riparian or basin State, in respect of the watercourse systems within its territory and without prejudice to its sovereign rights, in accordance with the principles contained in this Protocol. The utilization of the resources of the watercourse systems shall include agricultural, domestic, industrial and navigational uses.

2. Member States undertake to respect and apply the existing rules of general or customary international law relating to the utilization and management of the resources of shared watercourse systems and, in particular, to respect and abide by the principles of community of interests in the equitable utilization of those systems and related resources.

3. Member States lying within the basin of a shared watercourse system shall maintain a proper balance between resource development for higher standard of living for their peoples and conservation and enhancement of the environment to promote sustainable development.

4. Member States within a shared watercourse system undertake to pursue and establish close cooperation with regard to the study and execution of all projects likely to have an affect on the regime of the watercourse system.

5. Member States within a shared watercourse system shall exchange available information and data regarding the hydrological, hydrogeological, water quality, meteorological and ecological condition of such a watercourse system.

6. Member States shall utilize a shared watercourse system in an equitable manner. In particularly, a shared watercourse system shall be used and developed by member States with a view to attaining optimum utilization thereof and obtaining benefits therefrom consistent with adequate protection of the watercourse system.

7. Utilization of a shared watercourse system in an equitable manner within the meaning of paragraphs 4 and 6 requires taking into account all relevant factors and circumstances including:

a. Geographical, hydrographical, hydrological, climatic and other factors of a natural character;

b. The social and economic needs of the Member States concerned;

c. The effects of the use of a shared watercourse system in one watercourse state on another watercourse state;

d. Existing and potential uses of the shared watercourse system; and e. Guidelines and agreed standards to be adopted.

8. Member States shall require any person intending to use the waters of a shared watercourse system within their respective territories for purposes other than domestic use or who intends to discharge any type of waste into such waters to first obtain a permit from the relevant authority within the States concerned. The permit shall be granted only after such State has determined that the intended discharge will not have a detrimental effect on the regime of the watercourse system.

9. Member States shall, without delay, notify other potentially affected States and competent international organizations, of any emergency originating within their respective territories.

10. In the event that implementation or execution of any planned measures is of the utmost urgency in order to save life, or to protect public health and safety, or other equally important interests as a result of an emergency situation, the Member State planning the measures may, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 9, immediately proceed with implementation or execution, provided that in such event a formal declaration of the urgency of the measures shall be communicated to other Member States.

11. Member States shall take all measures necessary to prevent the introduction of alien aquatic species into a shared watercourse system which may have detrimental effects on the ecosystem.

12. Member States shall maintain and protect shared watercourse systems and related installations, facilities and other works in order to prevent pollution or environmental degradation.

13. Shared watercourse systems and related installations, facilities and other works shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes consonant with the principles enshrined in the SADC Treaty and in the Charter of the United Nations and shall be inviolable in time of international as well as internal conflicts.

Article 2: Establishment of River Basin Management Institutions for Shared Watercourse Systems in the SADC Region

1. Member States hereby undertake to establish appropriate institutions necessary for the effective implementation of the provisions of this protocol.

2. Without prejudice to paragraph 1 above, Member States undertake to establish the following institutions:

(a) A Monitoring Unit based at the SADC Environment and Land Management Sector (ELMS);

(b) River Basin Commissions between Basin States and in respect of each drainage basin; and

(c) River Authorities or Boards in respect of each drainage basin.

Article 3: Objectives of the River Basin Management Institutions

The River Basin Management Institutions shall have as their main objectives:

(a) To develop a monitoring policy for shared watercourse systems;

(b) To promote the equitable utilization of shared watercourse systems;

(c) To formulate strategies for the development of shared watercourse systems; and

(d) To monitor the execution of integrated water resource development plans in shared watercourse systems.

Article 4: Functions of the River Basin Management Institutions

In order to attain the objectives set out in Article 3, the River Basin Management Institutions shall, in consultation with watercourse States, perform the following functions:

(a) With regard to National Water Resources Policies and Legislation:

(i) Harmonization of national water resources policies and legislation; and

(ii) Monitoring compliance with water resource legislation and, where necessary, recommending amendments thereto and the introduction of new legislation.

(b) With regard to Research, Information and Data Handling:

(i) Collecting, analysing, storing, retrieving, disseminating, exchanging and utilizing data relevant to the integrated development of the resources within shared watercourse systems and assisting Member States in the collection and analysis of data in their respective States;

(ii) Reviewing the provisions of National Development Plans relating to the water course systems;

(iii) Designing and conducting studies, research and surveys relating to the environmentally sound development and management plans for shared watercourse systems;

(iv) Stimulating public awareness and participation in sound management and development of the environment including human resources development; and

(v) Promoting, in accordance with the national development plans of the Basin States, the formulation of integrated master plans for shared watercourse systems.

(c) With regard to Water Control and Utilization in shared watercourse systems:

(i) Recommending regulations of the flow and drainage;

(ii) Promoting measures aimed at flood and drought mitigation;

(iii) Recommending and promoting measures to control desertification, soil erosion and sedimentation;

(iv) Monitoring the utilization of water for agriculture, domestic, industrial and navigational purposes;

(v) Monitoring the establishment of hydro-electric power installations; and

(vi) Monitoring the generation of hydro-electric power.

(d) With regard to Environmental Protection:

(i) Promoting measures for the protection of the environment and the prevention of all forms of environmental degradation arising from the utilization of the resources of the shared watercourse systems;

(ii) Assisting in the establishment of a list of substances whose introduction into the waters of a shared watercourse system is to be banned or controlled;

(iii) Promoting environmental impact assessments of development projects within the shared watercourse systems; and

(iv) Monitoring the effects on the environment and on water quality arising from navigational activities.

(e) With regard to the Hydrometeorological Monitoring Programme:

(i) Promoting a hydrometeorological monitoring programme in consultation with other SADC sectors.

A financial and regulatory framework for the River Basin Management Institutions referred to in Article 2 shall be annexed to this Protocol and shall constitute part of the Protocol.

For further information on the Shared Watercourse Systems Protocol, the Annex to the Protocol and its respective articles, please contact the SADC Sector Coordinator or SADC Secretariat.

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