The Political Economy of Water Governance. Exploring the Water Situation in Southeast Asia and South Africa

Seminar Paper 2016 19 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Miscellaneous



I. Background

II. Problematique

III. The Politics of Water Governance: Addressing Legitimacy, Public Trust and Credibility
A. Legitimacy and Transparency
B. Public Trust and Accountability
C. Credibility and Participatory Decision-Making

IV. The Economics of Water Governance: Water as an Economic Good

V. Southeast Asian Involvements

VI. Water Governance in the Philippines
Legal Framework of Water Privatization in the Philippines

VII. Water Governance in South Africa

VIII. Analysis

IX. Recommendations



Investing in water and sanitation access is creating improvements to livelihood, environmental health, and service provision. However, reports released by the United Nations Development Group on 17 January 2007 inform the public about the devastating situation of our water resources that is now affecting the entire population’s access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The United Nations released a press statement exposing the fact that Asia is home to 71% of the total number of people in the world without access to improved sanitation and 58% of those without access to safe water (2005). As of 2002 based on the MDG target No. 10, the UNICEF reports that 4 out of 10 people in the world don't have access even to a simple latrine, 2 in 10 have no source of safe drinking water, and more than 3 million children die every year caused by waterborne diseases. (Witoelar)

Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right. This is the very nature why there is a need to revisit materials pertaining to the water governance of countries. This paper will focus on the political economy of water governance in Southeast Asia and South Africa.

Let me start by exclaiming the paradox of our water resource - Water is abundantly scarce. On the one hand, the earth is covered with 70.9% water (wikipedia.org). On the other hand, there is water scarcity experienced almost all around the globe. Why is this so? The key word here is water governance – how water resources are allocated as public goods and how each resource is protected, developed, and utilized as a result of agreed upon decisions and actions by both public and private institutions in a country.

Let us have a common understanding first of what water governance is. In defining water governance, I have adopted the concept of Dr. Ben Malayang who co-authored the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment which describes the current environmental and socio-ecological state of the planet. Water governance is referred to as “the collection of social controls on human conduct relating to water.” (Malayang 2003). He continued on that water governance is simply the decisions and actions of body politic such as water institutions over water resources and how this resource will be allocated for acceptable human- and non-human consumption. These water institutions may be formal such as state agencies and local government units (LGUs) or non-formal regulatory arrangements such as tradition and customs.

II. Problematique

The problem on water governance arises when there is unequal access to water resources as the product of policy controls of the water institutions. Basically, conflict in water access is fueled by how these water institutions exercise their power to control access of water in a society that is why legitimacy, public trust, and credibility play crucial role in authoritative distribution of resources specifically of water resources (Ecogov 2002 as cited by Malayang 2003). Unequal levels of legitimacy, public trust, and credibility stirs up public support for these water institutions at the expense of over-all efficiency of water governance. The definitions of legitimacy, public trust and credibility are being adopted from Dr. Malayang’s work. Legitimacy refers to “the degree that a water institution is accepted by its constituency to be the correct institution to exercise a control.” Simultaneously, the institution’s authority is being recognized by its constituency. Public trust, on the other hand, involves “the extent that an institution’s constituency has confidence that it works to protect their interests and to promote their welfare, and only them.” Finally, credibility is defined as “the degree that a water institution’s constituency has confidence on its ability to execute its mandate.”

III. The Politics of Water Governance: Addressing Legitimacy, Public Trust and Credibility

A. Legitimacy and Transparency

In this section, it would be very difficult to talk about legitimacy without injecting the importance of transparency. Legitimacy and transparency fuel each other. For water institutions to appear that they are working for the common good in terms of equitable water resource allocation, the public must be fully informed of their initiatives. It is in this case that its constituents/the public gain trust and confidence in its mandates therefore facilitates the nurturance of legitimacy. The dissemination of the timely and full information of what each of its water project is doing for them and the simultaneous opened opportunity where the public can voice out support/opposition follow a great degree of public confidence that warrants legitimacy of these water institutions.

B. Public Trust and Accountability

Problems of public trust will not be solved without dealing with the accountability of water institutions. It is in the same light that for water institutions to work on its project efficiently, they must expose themselves to the public about their intention of only promoting the public’s welfare. These water institutions must ensure the public that they will not use their control over water resources to serve their personal interests. There should be no toleration of centralized and personalistic leadership, and rent-seeking behavior in these water institutions. This measure is increasing accountability of water institutions which consequently strengthens public trust over mandates of water institutions. To consider a water institution accountable of its initiatives and action plans, Malayang acknowledges the importance of a fully-functioning command and control system under the leadership of an authority. Another requirement is a well-functioning check-and-balance system where the leadership and its actions and decisions are constantly subject to corrections/suggestions. It is equipped with a system of standard operating procedures (SOPs), rewards and sanctions, and rules and regulations for the efficient functioning of its staff.

C. Credibility and Participatory Decision-Making

Finally, credibility fosters essentially participation in decisions and actions of the larger public rather than being captured by the very few officials and staff of water institutions. If water institutions welcome collective insights from the public, then they will gain social license of their project’s methods and implementations. The effective execution of mandates will facilitate the credibility of these water institutions. However, they cannot by themselves rate their own performance.

Credibility is best measured if there is involvement of all the stakeholders of these water institutions in participatory decision-making and participatory action. Its major stakeholders, e.g. women, indigenous people, elderly, youth, farmers, poor, etc., must be well-represented and water institutions must assure the inclusion of the voiceless, invisible, or marginalized water users.

To conclude this part, it is easy if we related transparency with the water institutions’ mandate while accountability involves the efficiency of the execution of water institution’s mandate aiming for public good. Finally, participatory decision-making and action is about how effective the water institution in carrying out its mandate. (Malayang 2003).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Here is an illustration to give you a visual representation of the relationship among the three main ingredients of public support on water institution mandates. Any water institution must use this framework as the ultimate basis of how they will utilize their control over water resources and how they will sustain influence over water policy and management.

IV. The Economics of Water Governance: Water as an Economic Good

Let us now have a different perspective – the economic arguments of water governance. International declarations mostly by major donors have viewed water as an economic good which means that water, like any other commodity, is subject to control and pricing. Unfortunately, with this conception of water, the public perception shifts away from water identified as a common/social good; therefore, that which entails shared responsibility.

Let us trace the process on how a common good acquired a computed valuation for which only the sectors of society who can pay have access. The general valuation of water is derived from the use of water, reliability of supply, and by the quality of water. Theoretically, the value placed on the water must equal the costs of acquiring it. In detail, the composition that makes up the cost of acquiring water is as listed: full supply cost, full economic cost, and full cost (Rogers, et. al. 1998)

Borrowing from the definition of Rogers, et.al., the Full Supply Cost comprises of the “costs associated with the supply of water to a consumer without consideration of either the externalities imposed upon others nor of the alternate uses of the water”. Basically, this is the Operation and Maintenance (O & M) Costs, and capital charges added up. The following are the operation definition of its components:

- O & M Cost: these costs are associated with the daily running of the supply system. Typical costs include purchased raw water, electricity for pumping, labor, repair materials, and input cost for managing and operating storage, distribution, and treatment plants.
- Capital Charges calculate the capital consumption (depreciation charges) and interest costs associated with reservoirs, treatment plants, conveyance and distribution systems.”

Full Economic Cost is “the sum of the full supply costs, opportunity costs associated with the alternate use of the same water resource, and the economic externalities imposed upon others due to the consumption of water by specific actor.”

In line with this discussion, Opportunity Costs relays the idea that in consuming water for the self, the others are being deprived of that same amount of water consumed by the self. Economic Externalities, on the other hand, pertains to the unintended consequences, such as contamination (negative) and irrigation (positive), of producing water such that it would be acceptable for human/non-human consumption.

Finally, Full Cost of Water Consumption is equated with full economic cost and Environmental Externalities. Environmental externalities are those unintended results of water production associated with the public health and ecosystem.

However, the idea of full cost of water has worsened the water access situation in most developing countries. It is emphasized in the 2002 report of the World Water Council (WWC) that water is vital for human survival wherein each human needs a minimum of 20 liters of water a day for sanitation to account for the maximum benefits of combining waste disposal and related hygiene, and to permit for cultural and societal preferences; basic water requirement for bathing is suggested to be about 70 liters per person a day; basic water requirement for food preparation ranges from 10 to 50 liters per person in a day; and each person needs to meet the minimum drinking water requirement of 4 to 6 liters of water in a day without a comparable change in food intake or activity. (Gleick 1996)

Unfortunately for developing nations, access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and irrigation is a struggle. Inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation is seen to be directly related to poverty (WWC 2002). For the developing countries, it is really a struggle for them to access water given their income. Since water is a basic need for human survival, rural communities have no choice but to pay the cost of water priced by industrialized societies.

The economic application of efficient allocation of scarce resources, in this case of water, may be acceptable in the market but its economic assertion undermines itself especially for those experiencing extreme poverty who are denied access to the use of a very basic need.



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University of the Philippines – Philippine Military Academy
sanitation water governance southeast asia south africa



Title: The Political Economy of Water Governance. Exploring the Water Situation in Southeast Asia and South Africa