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Critical Water Governance

Contextualising Water Security in Colombia, Ethiopia, India and Malaysia

04 December 2023

Photograph of a child's hands underneath a running outdoor tap
Photograph of a child's hands underneath a running outdoor tap

Authors: Mohsen Nagheeby, Jaime Amezaga, Anna Mdee eds.

Global water security – a reliable and acceptable quantity and quality of water, and managing water related risks for all – is foundational to sustainable development. Demand for freshwater is projected to increase by more than 40% by 2050. Coupled with the impact of climate change, water security is now one of the biggest global challenges. The Water Security Hub seeks to adopt a systems approach to deal with water security at both a global and local scale. The interdisciplinary research of the Hub’s governance workstream has made a significant theoretical contribution to linking critical thinking, and its focus on politics and power dynamics, with the systems approach. 

The aim of the governance workstream is to critically examine how a change in a system of water governance may occur to achieve water security and promote sustainable development. Through a number of empirical and evidence-based case studies throughout the world, the governance workstream seeks to deliver a clearer understanding of the underlying context and the power exercised in water governance, in order to reveal the challenges and shortcomings that severely hinder the achievement of water security. In meeting these goals, a more explicit mobilisation of critical water governance will be engaged in local situations around the world. In practice, we intend to use empirical evidence of a systems approach from within our Collaboratories – Colombia, Ethiopia, India, and Malaysia – to develop an overarching systems framework, and transfer a policy for water security (including guidance, best practice and tools, e.g. a water security measurement tool) to inform future global and local development frameworks.

This Joint Report presents the findings of the first stage of an intensive research project conducted by each Collaboratory, in order to contextualise water security in their respective case studies through a critical perspective on water governance. While illustrating the context specific for policy-makers and challenges for development policy and practice, this Joint Report contributes to expanding the knowledge and understanding of the contested narratives around water governance, and the problems and drivers in achieving water security.

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