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Intergrated Water Resource Management - Research Interests and Current Projects

IWRM has been put forward as an approach to water management that is an improvement on the approaches of the past. However, water management is an activity that finds itself at the crossing of so many boundaries, for example the theory-practice boundary, the ecological-societal boundary and the administrative-hydrological boundary, implementation seems to have been elusive and difficult despite significant investment being made in IWRM by international donor organisations. Many examples of management failure seem to indications are that there is a disjuncture between the theory and practice of IWRM.

 Research Themes

Access-sustainability trade-off

At the heart of successful water management is finding a balance between access to water and sustainability of the resource as set out in section 18 of Agenda 21 and agreed on by the international community. In a scenario of increasing anthropogenic demand on water resources and the concomitant increase in water scarcity, these two demands on the resource seem contradictory. The key question in this sub-theme is: What are the system conditions that are both necessary and sufficient to provide access to water whilst simultaneously ensure sustainability of the resource?


Equity, vulnerability and resilience

Achieving the twin objective of providing access and ensuring sustainability does not necessarily translate into improved quality of life for people. Despite success in proving water to people, many communities and households remain vulnerable to the consequences of a lack of water. The key question in this sub-theme is: what are the material conditions needed for access to water to strengthen the resilience of households and address inequities in the quality of life of society?


Resource protection

Ensuring that a sufficient volume of water of good quality is available to provide access and ensure sustainability places an obligation on society to protect water resources. Resource protection is therefore a critical activity in water management. The key question in this sub-theme is: what are the required actions to ensure that water resources are protected from abuse?


Land use

Water use is inextricably linked to land use. This implies that more often than not, to get the water management issues right, the land management issues must be taken care of as well. Natural environments have evolved over millions of years and it is accepted in conservation biology that ecosystems with higher biodiversity is more resilient than ecosystems with lower diversity. In modern times, land use and land use changes is geared towards supporting increasing the quality of livelihoods within the social system. Often, the land use change decreases biodiversity and thus ecosystem resilience. Land use changes also changes catchment characteristics and this has major influence on surface run-off, infiltration and sub-surface flows and thus access and sustainability. The key questions in this sub-theme is: What are the land use practices that compromises the sustainability of water resources in a catchment and at what stage in the life of a catchment does land use practices cause degradation to be irreversible?


Optimal Water use

Using water efficiently contributes to providing access and ensuring sustainability in that more can be done with the same volume of water. Water use efficiency refers either to efficient use or to efficient allocation. Efficient use is about using water sparingly and efficient allocation is about giving water to the user that generates the highest value from a given volume of water. Collectively we speak of optimal water use. The key question in this sub-theme is: In which ways does the concept optimal water use enhances understanding about the impact of different water use practices on providing access and ensuring sustainability?



Governance is a huge issue in water management. Previously, governance was understood to mean: what governments do. However, water governance by governments was perceived to have become inefficient and ineffective and the belief that new ways of governing water needed to be found started. The key question in this sub-theme is: What approaches to water governance will facilitate the provision of access and ensure sustainability?   


  • Environmental Impact Assessment and its role in water resource protection.

  • Social action as a strategy to secure access to water.

  • Land use and the impact on the sustainability of water resources.

  • Development interventions what determine their success or failure?



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