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Published: 1 Oct 2016

Emergence, interpretations and translations of IWRM in South Africa

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South  Africa is  often  regarded  to  be  at  the  forefront  of  water  reform,  based  on  Integrated  Water Resources Management (IWRM) ideas. This paper explores how the idea of IWRM emerged in South Africa, its key debates and interpretations and how it has been translated. It maps out the history, main events, key people, and implementation  efforts  through  a  combination  of  reviews  of  available  documents  and  in-depth  semi-structured interviews  with  key  actors.  While  South  Africa  sought  to  draw  on  experiences  from  abroad  when  drawing  up  its new  legislation  towards  the  end  of  the  1990s,  the  seeds  of  IWRM  were  already  present  since  the  1970s.  What emerges is a picture of multiple efforts to get IWRM to 'work' in the South African context, but these efforts failed to  take  sufficient account  of  the  South  African  history  of  deep  structural  inequalities,  the  legacy  of  the  hydraulic mission, and the slowness of water reallocation to redress past injustices. The emphasis on institutional structures being  aligned  with  hydrological  boundaries  has  formed  a  major  part  of  how  IWRM  has  been  interpreted  and conceptualised,  and  it  has  turned  out  to  become  a  protracted  power  struggle  reflecting  the  tensions  between centralised and decentralised management.

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