- Perspectives on Water Governance
Although fresh water only comprises 2.5 percent of all water resources worldwide, it is essential for sustaining human life. Yet, approximately 1.1 billion people lack access to any type of safe drinking water. As a direct consequence, about 1.6 million people die every year from waterborne illnesses (e.g., diarrhea and cholera) of whom 90 percent are children under five, primarily in developing countries.1 In 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit affirmed the importance of safe drinking water for poverty alleviation as embedded in Goal 7, Target 10 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seeks to halve by 2015 the number of people worldwide without adequate access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
The common feature of the three books under review here is their attention to water. Even then, they cover different types of water resources and uses (surface water versus groundwater; irrigation water versus drinking water) and at different levels of scale (villages, national governments, and international treaties). They also cover different theoretical perspectives, encapsulating a wide-range of disciplines within the social sciences, including development economics, geography, social ecology, political science, public policy, anthropology, and law.
What unites these books, then, is their focus on the centrality of water resources for alleviating poverty and improving human life, fostering equity and fairness, adjudicating social struggles over access to and quality of water delivery, [End Page 144] and forging sustainable and adaptive water management. All the books explicitly explore the role of water and development—i.e. whether water should be managed through a centralized bureaucracy, devolved to local water management authorities, or privatized to foreign companies. For much of the 20th century, state elites and bureaucrats have sought to engineer water systems to control the variability in rainfall and glacial melt and to move water from water-rich to water-scarce regions; these books draw attention to those actors that have been excluded from the state’s modernization agenda. Their focus on non-state actors provides a lens through which to examine societal challenges to the state’s role in directing water policy and the privatization of water services to foreign companies. They highlight the importance of public participation, rights, and equity, all of which are part of a larger literature on accountability, transparency, and fostering a democratic culture.2 Combined, these three books provide an excellent survey of the core issues facing scholars and practitioners concerned with water governance and poverty alleviation. They are also part of the literature that looks at “the new face of water conflict” taking place at the subnational level.3
Jerome Delli Priscoli and Aaron T. Wolf, two of the leading figures in the field of international water, have written a superb textbook on conflict management over transboundary waters. Managing and Transforming Water Conflicts will be used widely in classes on water negotiations and diplomacy. Students and practitioners alike will appreciate its detailed survey of the literature on water conflict and cooperation and its links to research projects and databases on water resources and hydropolitics. Much of the first part of the book succinctly synthesizes the central findings of Wolf’s earlier work on water cooperation and Delli Priscoli’s work on alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Indeed, this survey of the literature provides compelling evidence for their central claim that, over the course of the 20th century, human beings have managed to solve disputes over water.
The book provides a detailed history of major international developments in international water law and negotiations, including discussions of major conventions (e.g., the 1997 Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses) and conferences such as the 1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment that produced the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development. Their knowledge of...