Efforts to Change Water Resources Legacies: The Impact of Implementation of National Water Resources Strategy-II on Domestic Users’ Access to Water

Full Name: 
Dr Khumbuzile D. Zuma
Following the implementation of National Water Resources Strategy (NWRS) as a framework to protect water resources, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) shifted from NWRS-I of 2004) decentralising water resources management in 2013 thus launching NWRS-II. In the latter arrangement, Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) were used to transform the water sector that under apartheid regime, notoriously advance hydraulic mission and water allocation prioritising white commercial farmers and industries. The introduction of equitable water allocation however, prompted the use of CMAs as main modalities to ensure local participation in decision-making. Equitable water allocation is underpinned on the rights approach and encompasses access to domestic water services, as well as commitment to equitable water resources allocation for all actors. What remains conspicuous however, is the lack of a provision to address domestic users’ concerns in the water sector institutional arrangement. For instance, notwithstanding water sector evolution, regulation has remained centralised to national government with restricted responsibilities, wherein water resources management and service provision respectively fall under CMAs, water boards and local government. Second, detaching water legislation from the operations means the local government lacks regulatory powers over allocation and access of bulk water systems for commercial purposes. Third, albeit reduction of CMAs to improve cooperation and coordination at regional, provincial and international levels, localised catchment issues aimed at improving people’ livelihoods and sustaining local environment remain excluded from the main concerns and agendas of catchment management forums (CMFs). Using political ecology (PE) lens and framing the study on transformation prompted identification of pertinent actions stimulating tangible benefits in the livelihoods of local people and (indirectly) local environment. PE particularly enabled exploration of power asymmetries used to control, as well as allocate water. Seventy-three research informants were consulted from Inkomati-Usuthu (IU) and Phongolo-Umzimkhulu (PU) which are Water Management Areas (WMAs) overseen respectively by IU and PU CMAs. The overarching use of qualitative instruments and minimal application of quantitative data allowed adequate triangulation of results. Observation of CMFs and other forums however, fixated on analysing the influence of water users and government officials on the formulation of agendas and shaping of decisions and deliberations involving water allocation and associated processes. Meanwhile, semi-structured interviews and focus groups enabled identification of main issues around water resources and services at CMA and community levels, whereas household surveys specifically tracked the severity and impact of issues identified in the CMFs and associated water assemblages. Adopting an integrative approach to treat water as a unit instead of dividing resources from services revealed lack of benefits for humans and environment. Instead, the NWRS-II ascertained its endorsement of power asymmetries wherein unequal power relations produce dominant narratives. The process further guarantees exclusion of domestic and resource-poor water users from decision-making. Meanwhile, politicised water service development plans (WSDPs) remain the chief entry for individual households’ participation in water allocation. Framing distribution, management and regulation of water in event ecology further demystified ecological activities while uncovering scalar politics promoting non-inherent and relational character of water.