The value of water: political ecology and water reform in southern Africa

The value of water: political ecology and water reform in southern Africa

How does a political ecology perspective enrich understandings of water management

This article explores water reforms in Southern Africa in general and in Zimbabwe in particular. The article argues that water reform constitutes a relevant site to examine the strengths and weaknesses of political ecology.

The article concludes that:

  • political ecology does not necessarily begin with observations of environmental change followed by discovery of natural or societal variables that account for that change
  • the notion of a "liberation ecology" is problematic in Zimbabwe and southern Africa. This is because the “people”, (a generic category around whom liberation is catalysed), are a a highly problematic category in Zimbabwe where the government and the party claim to speak for the people. There is no "people" in Zimbabwe, rather groups of people in different economic sectors, with differential power. Such power differences lead to ongoing political contestations
  • there also will be deep disagreements between different economic actors about the price and quality of water, as well as some unlikely agreements. There are contradictory interests at work which a political ecology framework must take into account
  • water management necessarily entails reliance on multiple sciences and perspectives. While participatory and democratic frameworks may work in small watersheds, the large size of Zimbabwe’s Catchments poses issues of representation and voice. Thus, while one can envision a small micro-catchment by catchment process, linking this at the national level to economic, social and environmental priorities is challenging

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