Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) has been a dominant paradigm for water sector reform worldwide over the past two decades. Ethiopia, among early adopters, has developed a water policy, legislations, and strategy per IWRM core principles. However, considerable constraints are still in its way of realization. This paper investigates the central challenges facing IWRM implementation in the Awash Basin analyzing the discrepancy between IWRM principles, the approach followed in Ethiopia and its practice in the Awash Basin. A decade and a half since its adoption, the Ethiopian IWRM still lacks a well-organized and robust legal system for implementation. Unclear and overlapping institutional competencies as well as a low level of stakeholders’ awareness on policy contents and specific mandates of implementing institutions have prevented the Basin Authority from fully exercising its role as the prime institute for basin level water management. As a result, coordination between stakeholders, a central element of the IWRM concept, is lacking. Insufficient management instruments and planning tools for the operational function of IWRM are also among the major hurdles in the process. This calls for rethinking and action on key elements of the IWRM approach to tackle the implementation challenges.

Introduction

Water management has evolved from being just a local focus to a national and global concern, necessitating new approaches to ensure comprehensive and sustainable resource management, financing, and conflict management (Gourbesville, 2008; Savenije & Van der Zaag, 2008; Ait-Kadi, 2014; Gao et al., 2014). Central to most of the efforts over the last two decades is the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), which has been a nearly universal approach for reforming the water sector (Mostert, 2006; Funke et al., 2007; Hassing et al., 2009; Ait-Kadi, 2014). It is mainly geared towards achieving economically efficient, equitable, and sustainable use of water resources by all stakeholders at catchment, regional and international levels (Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001; Pollard, 2002; Swatuk, 2005; Van der Zaag, 2005).

Despite the apparently all-encompassing concept and principles of IWRM and a growing number of studies globally, it is still a subject of debate (Savenije & Van der Zaag, 2008; Gallego-Ayala & Juízo, 2011; Cook & Bakker, 2012). The major area of debate focuses on its practicability and challenges in implementation (Biswas, 2004). Most countries that have adopted the IWRM approach have been confronted with challenges (Gourbesville, 2008). These are mainly in the process of setting up the laws and regulations, implementing institutions, and management instruments and further following up in the process (Gourbesville, 2008). For example, Ghana faced practical challenges in terms of exercising domestic ownership and leadership of the approach, setting up consistent institutional arrangements and resources limitation (Agyenim & Gupta, 2012). Political challenges (Swatuk, 2005), technical capacity limitation, lack of acceptance by local water managers as well as institutional mismatches across various government departments are among the challenges that South Africa has experienced in the process (Funke et al., 2007). In Mexico, mixed political interests at various administrative levels over the control of water governance were a major factor hindering the IWRM implementation process (Wester et al., 2009). Molle & Chu (2009) have reported that recurrent institutional reforms, weak regulatory frameworks, overlapping mandates and lack of buy-in from government officials were key challenges of IWRM implementation in Vietnam.

Though there has been increasing theoretical consensus on the need for IWRM, empirical evidences in various contexts have brought challenges of diverse nature in different contexts. Many scholars have denounced the gaps in IWRM conceptualization and definition thereby emphasizing the challenges of its implementation (Biswas, 2004; Gyawali et al., 2006; Butterworth et al., 2010). One of the major criticisms of IWRM is lack of clarity on how and what to integrate (Biswas, 2004; Saravanan et al., 2009). This vagueness may be the principal reason behind the ambiguity over its practical implementation. On the other hand, others argue that with all its merits and superior sides, IWRM objectives must be promoted to a better and more inclusive approach to water resources management (e.g. Van der Zaag, 2005; Ünver, 2008). Though the existing criticisms about IWRM are pertinent, there is no clear-cut and universally accepted alternative concept suggested so far (Funke et al., 2007). While these criticisms may be obstacles standing in the way of IWRM realization (Van der Zaag, 2005), having clear-cut definition of IWRM on its own does not guarantee a successful implementation (Funke et al., 2007).

Ethiopia is one of many countries that have adopted the IWRM approach for managing water resources sustainably. Following the introduction of the concept in 2000, the country has set up a water policy, legislation and strategy based on IWRM principles and approaches (Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), 2001). Major institutional reforms, including the establishment of a basin-level water management authority, were implemented to guide water resources use and management. Although the policy is greatly rooted in the IWRM concept, there have been considerable constraints in its implementation and IWRM has not been able to bring the desired changes in water management (Jembere, 2009).

Employing a case-study approach, this paper explores the central challenges in IWRM implementation. A critical analysis shows the discrepancies between the IWRM general concept, the approach in Ethiopia, and actual practices in the Awash Basin. This paper does not evaluate the concepts of IWRM per se but rather intends to identify and analyze the challenges in the operationalization of the enabling environment, institutional arrangements and the development of management instruments.

Methodology

Description of the study area

The Awash River Basin is an endorheic basin of Ethiopia located between 7°53′N and 12°N latitudes and 37°57′E and 43°25′E longitudes covering an area of 110,000 km2 (Figure 1). The river originates from the central highlands of Ethiopia and flows down north-east for a total length of 1,200 km until it terminates by joining Lake Abe, bordering Ethiopia and Djibouti (Berhe et al., 2013). A significant portion of the basin lies within the Great East African Rift Valley. The elevation of the basin ranges from 210 to 4,195 m above sea level. The annual rainfall of the basin varies from about 1,600 mm near the origin to 160 mm close to the northern limit of the basin with a mean of 850 mm. The mean annual potential evapotranspiration ranges from 1,810 mm in the Upper Valley to 2,348 mm in the lower. Temperatures vary from 17 °C to 29 °C mean annual value (Berhe et al., 2013). The total mean annual surface water resource of the basin is estimated to be 4.9 billion (109) m3 of which about 3.85 billion (109) m3 is utilizable; the balance evaporates from the Gedebassa swamp and wetlands elsewhere in the river system (Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy (MoWIE), 2010). There are various water uses in the basin including domestic, irrigation, hydropower and industries with irrigation being the major user. Out of the total surface water resource of the basin, about 44% is diverted for irrigation. The estimated irrigable land potential in the basin is 200,000 ha of which the actual irrigated area is estimated to be 35% (MoWIE, 2010).
Fig. 1.

Map of Awash River Basin.

Fig. 1.

Map of Awash River Basin.

The Awash Basin is one of the most developed in Ethiopia. As part of the IWRM implementation process, the Ethiopian government established the Awash Basin Authority, one out of three basin authorities established in Ethiopia so far. This makes the Awash Basin an illustrative case study of IWRM implementation.

Approach

The study is based on content analysis of the prevailing national water policy, legislations, strategies and development plans as well as stakeholders’ perspectives on the practical standing of IWRM in view of its general theoretical framework. A comprehensive stakeholder analysis was done to identify interest groups and key actors as well as to assess their respective interests, roles and influences associated with water use and management (Reed et al., 2009; Mumtas & Wichien, 2013). Stakeholder groups and key informants under each category were selected from an initial long list using purposive sampling. This sampling method was considered as the most suitable for this study for its use of judgment and deliberate effort to include representative informants in the sample to fit particular objectives (Tuckett, 2004; Onwuegbuzie & Collins, 2007). Accordingly, institutions with direct relevance to water use and management were included in the sample. Individual key informants were then selected from each institution based on their assigned responsibility, knowledge and closeness to the study objective. Following a snowball sampling approach (Ananda & Herath, 2003), interviewees themselves identified other knowledgeable individuals. Further, group discussions were conducted with community members and water user unions. A list of stakeholders and number of individuals contacted for information collection are given in Figure 2.
Fig. 2.

Stakeholders contacted: the small circles indicate the number of interviewees per category.

Fig. 2.

Stakeholders contacted: the small circles indicate the number of interviewees per category.

Results

Implementing IWRM

For a successful implementation of IWRM, key elements of an effective water resources management system must be defined and strengthened (Jønch-Clausen, 2004). These crucial elements for IWRM implementation are as follows:

  • The enabling environment: ‘the rules of the game’ that sets up national policies framework, legislation and regulations.

  • Appropriate institutional framework: defines roles and functions of organizations at various administrative levels.

  • The management instruments: a set of operational instruments and tools for collecting data and information, basin-level resources assessment, and water allocation.

These three elements, which constitute the necessary governance conditions for successful IWRM implementation, have also been the main starting points for implementing countries, including Ethiopia, in the process of reforming their water sectors (Medema et al., 2008). We will use this framework to analyze implementation in the Awash Basin.

The Ethiopian context

A sectoral and fragmented approach to water resources management was the norm in Ethiopia about a decade and a half ago. The then-relevant policies and related legal frameworks tended to have sectoral biases and lacked a comprehensive and consistent approach to water resources development and management. This resulted in poor water use efficiency; prevalence of unrealistic and unattainable plans and programs; uncertainties and ambiguities in planning; and a lack of consistent and reliable operational and management activities (MoWR, 2001).

Cognizant of the growing water demand for development, associated water management problems and dwindling water supply, the government decided to reform its water sector based on IWRM principles (MoWR, 2001). A comprehensive and integrated Water Resources Management Policy was adopted in Ethiopia in 2001 where it became the first stand-alone water sector policy of the country. The policy has the overall goal of enhancing and promoting efforts towards efficient, equitable and optimum utilization of the available water resources for sustainable development. The policy outlines its fundamental principles following the 1992 Dublin-Rio statements, which are summarized as: (i) citizens shall have access to sufficient water of acceptable quality to satisfy basic human needs; (ii) water shall be recognized both as an economic and social good; (iii) water resources development shall be underpinned on a rural-centered, decentralized management, participatory approach and integrated framework; (iv) water resources management shall ensure social equity, economic efficiency, systems reliability and sustainability norms; (v) participation of stakeholders, particularly women, should be promoted in water resources management (MoWR, 2001).

From the policy document (MoWR, 2001), it is clear that IWRM principles inform and underpin the Ethiopian water policy. Since the adoption of IWRM, the hydrologic boundary or river basin is recognized as a fundamental water resources planning and management unit (MoWR, 2001). The current Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) gives, accordingly, high priority to the water sector towards achieving poverty eradication through sustainable development (Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED), 2010).

IWRM in practice in the Awash Basin

The need for comprehensive water management in the Awash Basin

It is well understood among major stakeholders that water management in the Awash Basin is crucial and needs a comprehensive and sustainable approach. The Awash River is the most intensively and diversely utilized water resource in Ethiopia and thus the most threatened from quantitative and qualitative standpoints. Socio-economic developments such as agriculture, domestic water supply, industries and energy are the main driving forces for wide-ranging water problems. The basin hosts three major cities (including the capital, Addis Ababa), extensive irrigation development and widespread industrial activities, mainly in the upper basin.

Past development activities in the basin resulted in a number of irreversible consequences, such as soil erosion, land degradation and overexploitation of water resources leading to reduced river flow and ecosystem degradation. The uncontrolled expansion of the salty Beseka Lake in the Upper Awash Basin is attributed to poor irrigation management, though a thorough study is lacking. Irrigation, the major water user, relies mostly on surface water from the Awash River and its tributaries. Surface irrigation is the dominant practice, except for a few farms under sprinkler systems. Irrigation application efficiencies are generally low and most of the large-scale schemes have been recently experiencing waterlogging problems in their fields, which are believed to be a result of over-irrigation leading to localized rise of the groundwater table.

Recently, water scarcity during the dry season has become an issue. Shortages occur periodically when spring rains in the upper part of the basin fail. These shortages are, according to some users, exacerbated by the operation of the Koka hydropower dam, located in the upper basin. The reservoir is constructed across the main river course, so that the river flow is completely dammed upstream and water availability downstream depends on Koka's power production and overflow from the reservoir. When little water is released from Koka reservoir, rescheduling of irrigation is required to cope with reduced inflow. Although there are no serious conflicts over water yet, with growing water demand and without significant undertakings to augment supply, it may become a major threat in the near future.

Water pollution from urban drainage, return flows from irrigation and untreated waste water from industries causes water quality problems for downstream users, as there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who depend on the river for domestic consumption, some of them drinking directly from the river. The use of groundwater for rural domestic supply in most parts of the Rift Valley is limited due to its high salt and fluoride content (Ayenew et al., 2008).

The expansion of the salty Beseka Lake presents a water quality threat. To control the expansion of the lake, the government decided to divert saline water from the lake with an acceptable mixing ratio to the fresh water of the Awash River. Though this action may seem insignificant in terms of contributing to downstream pollution now, it may result in an irreversible ecosystem disturbance at a later stage. The Awash River passes a major wetland, Gedebassa, located downstream of the blending point. A good deal of salt content of the river flow is likely to be accumulated in the swamp area which may, through time, lead to swamp degradation. Further, according to the local community, the shortest distance between Lake Beseka and Awash River main course presently is less than 10 km. If it continues, the alarming rate of lake expansion, from 11 km2 to 40 km2 within three decades alone (Goerner et al., 2009), may lead to the salty lake joining the river in the near future unless drastic measures are taken.

These challenges require a holistic and coordinated approach towards sustainable water management in the Awash Basin. The overall drivers-pressure-state-impact-response (DPSIR) of water management problems in the Awash Basin is summarized in Figure 3.
Fig. 3.

Water management problems assessment for the Awash Basin (as adopted from the original DPSIR framework, European Environmental Agency (EEA), 1999).

Fig. 3.

Water management problems assessment for the Awash Basin (as adopted from the original DPSIR framework, European Environmental Agency (EEA), 1999).

Existing efforts and implementation challenges in the Awash Basin

IWRM implementation is a process that mainly deals with water allocation among various competing uses and users (Global Water Partnership (GWP), 2000; Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001). Though there may be situations of agreements among competing uses and interest groups, often this entails negotiated trade-offs between the IWRM goals of economic efficiency, social equity and environmental sustainability (Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001). This requires the synchronized set-up and strengthening of the three IWRM pillars: namely, enabling environment, institutional framework, and management instruments (GWP, 2000; Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001; Jønch-Clausen, 2004). The water sector reform in Ethiopia is aimed at developing and strengthening the implementation framework of IWRM as explored below.

  • (i) Enabling environment

An enabling environment should provide a complete set of multi-level policies and legislations to create favorable conditions for stakeholders’ participation in water resource decision-making at different levels. To this end, since the drafting of the water policy in 1999 and its strategy in 2002, major steps have been undertaken to formulate appropriate strategies, proclamations, regulations and directives within the IWRM framework. Important legal documents include the water sector strategy that was developed in 2002, Water Resources Management Proclamation No. 197/2000, and Basin Councils and Authorities Proclamation No. 534/2007, together with their respective regulations issued in 2005 and 2008 respectively. The purpose of the former was to ensure that water resources in Ethiopia are protected and utilized to bring social and economic benefits to the people while maintaining sustainability of the resource. The latter was proposed as a basis for establishing Basin Authorities to promote and coordinate basin-wide IWRM implementation. The Awash Basin Authority (AwBA) was established in 2007, the second of the existing three thus far in order of establishment, with full regulatory mandate to manage water resources in the basin.

Nonetheless, more than a decade since IWRM adoption, setting up a strong enabling environment for effective IWRM implementation remains a challenge. Stakeholder interviews identified, as one of the major hurdles, the lack of sufficient details in key legal texts, causing ambiguous interpretations by different stakeholders. One illustrative example is the contradictory interpretation of the general constitution among regional authorities and water managers of the Awash Basin. The constitution stipulates that regions are fully authorized to develop and manage natural resources within their jurisdiction. On the other hand, it limits that authority in stating that inter-regional and trans-boundary rivers must be administered at Federal level. Further ambiguity about the exact wording (for example, noting that the policy text mentions only ‘rivers’ and not ‘the whole basin’) has hindered the coordination process between political administrative regions and basin-wide water management institutions.

Furthermore, as pointed out by interviewees from major water management institutes, inadequacy of existing regulations and directives resulted in unclear functions and competencies of institutions, mainly between AwBA and other sectoral institutions. For instance, there is not a clear demarcation of roles of the planning and implementation of watershed management activities. The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) claims that watershed management is under its authorization. However, the MoWIE also undertakes watershed management within buffer zones of lakes and dams whereas the AwBA considers basin-wide planning its own role to avoid overlap of efforts by various sectors. Likewise, non-synchronized planning among other sectoral departments such as agriculture, environment, city administrations and investment bureaus led to conflicting ideas in policies and directives. Contradictions and inconsistency of assigned roles and responsibilities of institutions form a major limitation for strong coordination among key actors in the Awash Basin.

Low level of awareness among the various stakeholders on the contents and goals of the policy and associated legislations forms another obstacle to IWRM implementation. Primary stakeholders, who are the heart of sustainable resources management, indicated that they have no or little knowledge about water policy and guidelines. Respondents from major water user institutions in the basin, including small-scale irrigation users, indicated their lack of knowledge, though they expressed interest and willingness to engage when the basic principles and approaches of IWRM were explained. Almost none of the water user institutes or groups had a copy of the policy document as a guide for water use and management. Under the existing situation, clear understanding of IWRM approaches is limited to few higher-level institutions, such as MoWIE and AwBA. Present policy and strategic documents are short of awareness-raising and policy-advocacy mechanisms and arrangements. Specific departments in intermediary and user organizations aimed at policy implementation and communication with decision-makers at different levels are lacking. The survey revealed that, except in AwBA and MoWIE, there is no water policy compliance department or focal person or group in any of the stakeholder institutions, either primary or secondary.

Achieving the IWRM goals requires participation from the top down and bottom up (GWP, 2000; Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001). This is possible only with a strong legal system in place that sets up the ‘rules of the game’ allowing all stakeholders to play their respective roles (Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001). Hence, the role of the government should be facilitator and coordinator as opposed to undertaking top-down programming and management. Challenges in setting up an enabling environment can be regarded as a major hurdle in the process of coordination among stakeholders. Where there is no coordination, there cannot be IWRM realization, and the resulting fragmented approach to water management contradicts IWRM principles and national policy goals.

  • (ii) Institutional framework

Institutional reforms are one of the essential components of the IWRM implementation process. The IWRM reform process, by and large, involves decentralization of functions from the national, sub-national and basin level down to provincial and village level (Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001). The central role of coordination among all stakeholders is imperative to ensure that the goals at all levels are complementary and not contradictory. The existence of an appropriate institutional set-up is key for effective coordination (Molle & Chu, 2009).

As part of the water sector reform process in the Awash Basin, the AwBA was established as the only basin-level institution responsible for overall water resource planning, development and management. The Awash Basin High Council was established, representing each of the five regional states and two administrative cities sharing the basin, with the main purpose to facilitate negotiation and conflict resolution. The mandate of the basin authority includes preparing a basin plan, coordinating stakeholders, developing and applying Decisions Support Systems, issuing water permits, cooperating with the High Council in conflict resolution, enforcing cost recovery mechanisms (such as collecting water fees), performing maintenance of water infrastructures, organizing training and experience sharing, undertaking studies related to water resources management, and ultimately facilitating IWRM implementation. The overall institutional arrangement for water management in the Awash Basin is illustrated in Figure 4.
Fig. 4.

Institutional arrangement for water resources management in the Awash Basin.

Fig. 4.

Institutional arrangement for water resources management in the Awash Basin.

Despite officially assigned authorizations, AwBA faces a number of practical challenges in executing its responsibilities. For example, awareness among stakeholders, both intermediaries and direct beneficiaries, on its mandate is low. The AwBA was formed by restructuring the already-existing Awash Basin Water Resources Administration Agency (ABWRAA). Many stakeholders associate AwBA with its former roles rather than accepting its new mandate. The role of the former ABWRAA was primarily operational, such as the construction and maintenance of waterworks. In contrast, the newly formed Basin Authority has full regulatory mandate over the development and management of water resources within the basin. Primary stakeholders, when asked about the roles of AwBA, mostly refer to operational roles of the former agency. Their expectations and complaints towards the AwBA include issues like canal breakage, siltation, shortage of supply and water prices. There was also resistance from AwBA staff, mostly former ABWRAA staff, to accept their new role. Their previous involvement in operational projects came with regular fieldwork and, hence, associated remuneration packages. Furthermore, the staff are more familiar with the former organizational structure and functions than the new one.

To date, not much has been done to increase awareness among stakeholders, even at a higher level, and the Basin Authority is not universally recognized as the major regulatory body. Table 1 summarizes stakeholders’ perceptions and understanding of the IWRM concept, national water policy and roles of AwBA.

Table 1.

Level of awareness and perception of stakeholders on IWRM, water policy and roles of AwBA.

 Policy-makers (MoWIE) Water managers (AwBA key staff) Other intermediary institutions: MoA, MoEF, Ministry of Industry (MoI) Primary stakeholders (agriculture, industry, hydropower, domestic water supply users) 
IWRM Clear understanding Clear understanding Little understanding except theoretical knowledge of the term Very low awareness 
Good knowledge on the principles and goals of IWRM Good knowledge on the principles and goals of IWRM Limited knowledge on the contents of water policy and interrelations between sectoral policies Have shown high interest when the goals of IWRM were explained 
National water policy Clear understanding Clear understanding of the policy and its gaps   Low awareness except few requirements as users 
AwBA's roles Mainly coordination Coordination among stakeholders Facilitates interaction between stakeholders   
Facilitate stakeholders' interaction Lead planning, implementation and follow-up of water management activities Provision of water use permit Water fee collection 
Water allocation Water allocation Enforcement of water management regulations Water distribution negotiations between users 
Enforcement of regulations Enforcement of regulations   Canal works, operation and maintenance 
Applying economic instruments Applying economic instruments   Enforcement of user by-laws 
Operational activities Operational activities     
Conducting research       
 Policy-makers (MoWIE) Water managers (AwBA key staff) Other intermediary institutions: MoA, MoEF, Ministry of Industry (MoI) Primary stakeholders (agriculture, industry, hydropower, domestic water supply users) 
IWRM Clear understanding Clear understanding Little understanding except theoretical knowledge of the term Very low awareness 
Good knowledge on the principles and goals of IWRM Good knowledge on the principles and goals of IWRM Limited knowledge on the contents of water policy and interrelations between sectoral policies Have shown high interest when the goals of IWRM were explained 
National water policy Clear understanding Clear understanding of the policy and its gaps   Low awareness except few requirements as users 
AwBA's roles Mainly coordination Coordination among stakeholders Facilitates interaction between stakeholders   
Facilitate stakeholders' interaction Lead planning, implementation and follow-up of water management activities Provision of water use permit Water fee collection 
Water allocation Water allocation Enforcement of water management regulations Water distribution negotiations between users 
Enforcement of regulations Enforcement of regulations   Canal works, operation and maintenance 
Applying economic instruments Applying economic instruments   Enforcement of user by-laws 
Operational activities Operational activities     
Conducting research       

IWRM planning, implementation and follow-up activities require sufficient funding, trained manpower and adequate facilities at various levels (Mkandawire & Mulwafu, 2006). However, the AwBA is facing a high turnover of qualified staff. Further, communication infrastructure (including internet connection) in its remote location is poor, and material and financial resources to perform its intended functions are limited.

IWRM principles and policy highlight the importance of participation and stakeholders’ involvement in water resource management (Dungumaro & Madulu, 2003; Van der Zaag, 2005; De Stefano, 2010). However, challenges as described in the previous paragraphs prevented the Basin Authority from exercising its major role of facilitating coordinated basin-wide planning where stakeholders at all levels take part. Part of the problem lies in the lack of explicit policy guidelines and arrangements to create coordination among key stakeholders. The GWP documentation on IWRM does not provide details on how, and at what level, public involvement is required and how stakeholder coordination is to be facilitated. As Molle & Chu (2009) indicated, the mere existence of river basin organizations (such as AwBA) cannot be taken as an assurance that they will fulfill their coordination and negotiation roles as expected in IWRM plans. IWRM requires incremental steps towards the desired level of coordination and continued efforts in terms of awareness-raising and stakeholders' interaction.

  • (iii) Management instruments

Adequate knowledge and information about water availability, demands and competing uses in an easily retrievable and usable system are key for making appropriate water management decisions. Correspondingly, one of the three key elements of IWRM implementation is setting up the management instruments required by the responsible institutions to do their jobs (GWP, 2000; Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001; Jønch-Clausen, 2004). These instruments enable decision-makers to take rational and informed choices between alternatives. Choosing, adjusting and employing the right combination of these practical instruments for a specific local context are essential for IWRM (Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001; Jønch-Clausen, 2004; Saravanan et al., 2009). Though there has been some progress in arranging management tools and instruments needed for the operationalization of IWRM in the Awash Basin, much remains to be done.

National water resource plans are commonly used as major instruments to guide sustainable water resources development and management, accounting for people's diverse interests in water (Saravanan et al., 2009). In Ethiopia, currently there is no definite water resource plan at national level nor for the Awash Basin, though preparatory works are ongoing to develop an integrated basin plan including identification of major strategic issues. To facilitate this process and overall coordination efforts, the AwBA has planned interactive basin-wide stakeholders’ platforms. However, only three of such events have been held to date, with the purpose of publicizing and clarifying its granted mandates, discussing the existing water-related problems, and sharing ideas and receiving feedback on the draft basin plan.

IWRM principles promote stakeholder participation and involvement to maintain their interests and sense of ownership of the process (GWP, 2000; Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001; Saravanan et al., 2009). Real participation happens only when stakeholders are part of the decision-making process. However, in practice, stakeholders were informed only after major decisions were made at a higher level. Only one of the three stakeholders’ meetings held so far was in relevance to major water management decision-making with a particular purpose of sharing a draft strategic plan and collecting feedback from basin stakeholders.

The practical value of IWRM lies in managing a limited amount of water for optimum development for competing users (Saravanan et al., 2009). Therefore, water resource planning requires comprehensive, precise and timely information on water availability. The Awash Basin lacks a comprehensive water resources assessment to properly inform decision-makers on demand and availability. So far, the only available water resource assessment report1 was prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in collaboration with the MoWIE as a pilot program within a broader national plan. This assessment is not comprehensive in that it largely focused on the demand side and, particularly, agricultural water use. The master plan from 1998 is no longer in use as it is outdated and was prepared before the adoption of the IWRM policy. The overall water balance of the Awash Basin is not accurately known. Water use permits are given without accurate information on actual use or incorporating future decisions. Existing development schemes operate without proper monitoring systems and enforcement of regulations and guidelines. For example, existing regulations and by-laws for waste water release from industries into the river system are not effectuated. As became clear in one of the stakeholders' workshops, most industries claim to not have the financial capacity to build a treatment plant or implement alternative solutions. Strictly imposing the regulations and by-laws would significantly affect economic development and, accordingly, a five-year grace period was given to the industries by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), which came to an end by 2014, with no subsequent stipulation provided thus far.

Furthermore, there is no regular review and adjustments in water use and quality standards or economic instruments such as quota, pricing and subsidies. A majority of those interviewed indicated that the existing water price is low and needs to be adjusted. Informants from large-scale irrigation schemes in the upper basin pointed out that waterlogging in their field is becoming a problem, which they blame on over-irrigation due to the low water fee. Some users suggest increasing the water fees, not only for the sake of resource conservation but also to encourage optimum irrigation application and avoid waterlogging.

Advancing IWRM in the Awash Basin

Some progress has been made with the implementation of the national water policy in the Awash Basin. However, the comparison between the IWRM operationalization steps, as described by Jønch-Clausen & Fugl (2001) and GWP (2000), and what really happens in the basin reveals that there are major discrepancies. Unclear and overlapping institutional competencies and low level of stakeholders’ awareness on policy and mandates of relevant institutions have prevented the Awash Basin Authority from fully exercising its role as the prime institute for basin-level water management. As a result, coordination between stakeholders, a central element of the IWRM concept, is lacking. Insufficient management instruments and planning tools add to challenges in the IWRM implementation process. Table 2 provides a summary of discrepancies between the IWRM implementation steps in theory, using the three pillars proposed by GWP (2000), and in reality. The table also lists possible remedial actions that are feasible in the short and medium term.

Table 2.

Summary of the existing implementation challenges and useful changes that need to be achieved in the short-to-medium term in the Awash Basin.

IWRM implementation elements and milestones (GWP, 2000; Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001State in the Awash Basin Useful changes that need to be achieved in the short-to-medium term 
1. Enabling environment
  • Policy development sets water management objectives within the framework of overall national development goals

  • Enable all stakeholders to play their respective roles

  • Promote both top-down and bottom-up participation of all stakeholders

 
  • Low level of awareness on IWRM and content of the national policy among major stakeholders, mainly beneficiaries

  • Lack of sufficient details in major legal documents

  • Non-synchronized planning with other sectors resulting in overlapping efforts and costs

  • Inadequate regulatory framework

  • Lack of practicable mechanisms for coordination and participation in the policy and strategy

 
  • Extensive policy advocacy targeting other sector departments, politicians, environmentalists, target beneficiaries, and the general public

  • Continued awareness-raising, information-sharing and interactive discussions among stakeholders

  • Clear out controversial issues in the legal documents through including more specific regulations and comprehensive stakeholders' discussions to reach to consensus: e.g. inclusion of new regulation to demarcate the authorization of AwBA from that of regional states (see Section 3.3.2) with regard to managing the whole basin and not the River course only as often being misinterpreted

  • Assigning policy compliance departments/focal persons at beneficiary organizations

  • Include specific regulations about water quality standards, waste water discharge and environmental flow requirements; strengthen the existing ones

  • Include particulars about coordination and participation mechanisms in the strategy document

 
2.  Institutional roles
  • Critical for IWRM policies' implementation

  • Commonly consists of basin-level water management authority as a main body

  • There should be clear demarcation between roles of responsible institutes

  • Establishes adequate coordination platforms

  • Avoid overlaps of efforts

  • Matching stakeholders' interests and institutional responsibilities

  • Enforcement of a range of rules and regulations

  • Facilitates information-sharing, idea exchange and community networking

 
  • Lack of practical acceptance and recognition of AwBA's authorizations by majority of the stakeholders

  • Insignificant action and involvement of the Basin High Council

  • Inadequate discussion platforms for stakeholders to create common understanding on key issues of IWRM

  • Limited participation in water resources planning

  • Absence of lower-level branch offices (only one in the present situation)

  • Non-strategic location of AwBA resulting in low internet and other ICT facilities limitations, and high human-resource turnover

  • Financial capacity limitations

 
  • Ensuring recognition of AwBA through persistently explicating its new roles and authorizations after the IWRM reform

  • Active functioning of the Basin High Council for a common understanding and better coordination among Regional States in making water-related choices

  • Knowledge and information-technology hubs establishment and more branch offices of AwBA

  • Arranging regular stakeholders meetings, at least biannual, where representatives come together, discuss prevailing issues, share strategies and plans, and receive feedback to facilitate participatory planning

  • Sorting out the ICT limitations of AwBA or change of location for sufficient communication infrastructures

  • Improving the existing system to retain quality trained staff

  • Human-resource capacity building and strengthening including upgrading multi-disciplinary qualification and providing continued IWRM training and experience-sharing

  • Resolving budget limitation for comprehensive and effective basin planning, training and IWRM implementation

 
3.  Management instruments
  • Tools and methods that enable decision-makers to make informed choices from alternative management options

  • The instruments have to include:

    • Water resources assessment and basin planning

    • Demand management options

    • Social change and conflict-resolution mechanisms

    • Regulatory instruments including environmental flow requirements

    • Economic instruments

    • Information management and exchange

 
  • Lack of comprehensive water assessment

  • Absence of functional basin development plan

  • No efficiency improvement plan and strategies

  • Inconsistent water permit system

  • No regular water quality monitoring system

  • Weak enforcement of existing regulations

  • Little/no community awareness creation efforts

  • Low water price with a fixed rate per volume for all uses and users

  • Flawed information management system, limited data availability

 
  • Undertaking a holistic water resources monitoring and assessment, developing water resources model for equitable allocation in consideration of environmental flow requirement

  • Develop and evaluate alternative management options, combine suitable ones, formulate strategies and action plans

  • Prepare and implement realistic efficiency plans considering various level of users' capacities

  • Awareness-raising to encourage efficiency-oriented communities

  • Improve water quality network for regular assessment of the situation and reporting to key institutions and stakeholders

  • Facilitate negotiations to prevent disputes over water and ensure participatory conflict-resolution

  • Enforcement of regulations and continued follow-up to ensure equitable and economical water sharing

  • Water price increase and application of tiered pricing to promote efficient use and equitable benefit distribution

  • Improving knowledge and information-sharing, action researches, strengthening links with research institutes

 
IWRM implementation elements and milestones (GWP, 2000; Jønch-Clausen & Fugl, 2001State in the Awash Basin Useful changes that need to be achieved in the short-to-medium term 
1. Enabling environment
  • Policy development sets water management objectives within the framework of overall national development goals

  • Enable all stakeholders to play their respective roles

  • Promote both top-down and bottom-up participation of all stakeholders

 
  • Low level of awareness on IWRM and content of the national policy among major stakeholders, mainly beneficiaries

  • Lack of sufficient details in major legal documents

  • Non-synchronized planning with other sectors resulting in overlapping efforts and costs

  • Inadequate regulatory framework

  • Lack of practicable mechanisms for coordination and participation in the policy and strategy

 
  • Extensive policy advocacy targeting other sector departments, politicians, environmentalists, target beneficiaries, and the general public

  • Continued awareness-raising, information-sharing and interactive discussions among stakeholders

  • Clear out controversial issues in the legal documents through including more specific regulations and comprehensive stakeholders' discussions to reach to consensus: e.g. inclusion of new regulation to demarcate the authorization of AwBA from that of regional states (see Section 3.3.2) with regard to managing the whole basin and not the River course only as often being misinterpreted

  • Assigning policy compliance departments/focal persons at beneficiary organizations

  • Include specific regulations about water quality standards, waste water discharge and environmental flow requirements; strengthen the existing ones

  • Include particulars about coordination and participation mechanisms in the strategy document

 
2.  Institutional roles
  • Critical for IWRM policies' implementation

  • Commonly consists of basin-level water management authority as a main body

  • There should be clear demarcation between roles of responsible institutes

  • Establishes adequate coordination platforms

  • Avoid overlaps of efforts

  • Matching stakeholders' interests and institutional responsibilities

  • Enforcement of a range of rules and regulations

  • Facilitates information-sharing, idea exchange and community networking

 
  • Lack of practical acceptance and recognition of AwBA's authorizations by majority of the stakeholders

  • Insignificant action and involvement of the Basin High Council

  • Inadequate discussion platforms for stakeholders to create common understanding on key issues of IWRM

  • Limited participation in water resources planning

  • Absence of lower-level branch offices (only one in the present situation)

  • Non-strategic location of AwBA resulting in low internet and other ICT facilities limitations, and high human-resource turnover

  • Financial capacity limitations

 
  • Ensuring recognition of AwBA through persistently explicating its new roles and authorizations after the IWRM reform

  • Active functioning of the Basin High Council for a common understanding and better coordination among Regional States in making water-related choices

  • Knowledge and information-technology hubs establishment and more branch offices of AwBA

  • Arranging regular stakeholders meetings, at least biannual, where representatives come together, discuss prevailing issues, share strategies and plans, and receive feedback to facilitate participatory planning

  • Sorting out the ICT limitations of AwBA or change of location for sufficient communication infrastructures

  • Improving the existing system to retain quality trained staff

  • Human-resource capacity building and strengthening including upgrading multi-disciplinary qualification and providing continued IWRM training and experience-sharing

  • Resolving budget limitation for comprehensive and effective basin planning, training and IWRM implementation

 
3.  Management instruments
  • Tools and methods that enable decision-makers to make informed choices from alternative management options

  • The instruments have to include:

    • Water resources assessment and basin planning

    • Demand management options

    • Social change and conflict-resolution mechanisms

    • Regulatory instruments including environmental flow requirements

    • Economic instruments

    • Information management and exchange

 
  • Lack of comprehensive water assessment

  • Absence of functional basin development plan

  • No efficiency improvement plan and strategies

  • Inconsistent water permit system

  • No regular water quality monitoring system

  • Weak enforcement of existing regulations

  • Little/no community awareness creation efforts

  • Low water price with a fixed rate per volume for all uses and users

  • Flawed information management system, limited data availability

 
  • Undertaking a holistic water resources monitoring and assessment, developing water resources model for equitable allocation in consideration of environmental flow requirement

  • Develop and evaluate alternative management options, combine suitable ones, formulate strategies and action plans

  • Prepare and implement realistic efficiency plans considering various level of users' capacities

  • Awareness-raising to encourage efficiency-oriented communities

  • Improve water quality network for regular assessment of the situation and reporting to key institutions and stakeholders

  • Facilitate negotiations to prevent disputes over water and ensure participatory conflict-resolution

  • Enforcement of regulations and continued follow-up to ensure equitable and economical water sharing

  • Water price increase and application of tiered pricing to promote efficient use and equitable benefit distribution

  • Improving knowledge and information-sharing, action researches, strengthening links with research institutes

 

Discussion: implications of the general framework for applying IWRM

As the case of the Awash Basin clearly illustrates, IWRM implementation challenges can be attributed to the inconsistent understanding of the concept among practitioners and the lack of basic guidelines for its implementation. Since the development of the concept, opinions and suggestions on the IWRM definition and methodologies have varied widely (Butterworth et al., 2010; Agyenim & Gupta, 2012; Lubell & Edelenbos, 2013). High prominence has been given to policy and institutional reforms aimed at managing demand and allocation of water resources among users at all levels (Butterworth et al., 2010). But the question of ‘what’ and ‘how’ to integrate has not been answered unambiguously, leading to different implementation challenges in developed and developing countries (Biswas, 2004; Butterworth et al., 2010; Agyenim & Gupta, 2012). Figure 5 presents some of the different expressions of ‘Integration’ in IWRM by different authors and in different contexts/cases.
Fig. 5.

Different interpretations of integration in the IWRM framework.

Fig. 5.

Different interpretations of integration in the IWRM framework.

The IWRM process in Ethiopia and the Awash Basin has put more emphasis on the integration between users and multiple uses, but appears to have failed in other dimensions such as integration between sectoral plans, water and land resources, and political and technical integration. For IWRM to thrive, the fundamentally political nature of water management should be taken far more critically, apart from focusing on hydrological boundaries/river basins as a basic unit of management (Swatuk, 2005; Merrey, 2008). This is necessary as economic systems and societal needs go beyond hydrological margins (Merrey, 2008). Ideally, all possible aspects of integration have to be considered for which coordination among stakeholders is the basic step to be taken in the process (Hassing et al., 2009). However, operational constraints such as financial, institutional and political setbacks could affect how far coordination can be taken as one of the first steps in the integration process (Hassing et al., 2009; Butterworth et al., 2010). This implies that the problems and solutions for bringing a strong integration, and ultimately IWRM realization, in different regions may not be universal. In the particular case of the Awash Basin, coordination as a key step for integration could be improved if extensive awareness-raising and consensus-building are carried out, institutional linkages are critically specified and continually strengthened, as well as authorizations and accountabilities of the institutions being clearly defined. Similar experiences have shown that poorly defined, discordant and disparate arrangements of sectors and water management institutions have become the major setback for integration to move ahead (Chereni, 2007). This may necessitate the development of an adaptive strategy for IWRM implementation in order to develop the right mix for a given country or region that could practically fit in to the specific context.

Conclusion

This paper discussed the practical experiences and challenges in terms of the enabling environment, institutional context and management instruments that are generally regarded as the pillars of IWRM implementation. The three elements were viewed within the framework of the general IWRM principles, national water policy, sector strategy and practical status in the Awash Basin, based on stakeholders’ perspectives. The Awash Basin case shows that the three elements are interconnected and cannot be seen and addressed separately. Deficiencies in one of the elements have an effect on the progression of the others. For instance, the challenges and gaps in the enabling environment have resulted in confusion of assigned institutional mandates, as well as overlapping functions and competencies. This in turn has been a major stumbling block for a strong coordination among stakeholders for planning and decision-making in water resources management. Likewise, low level of awareness among the larger groups of stakeholders about the basic principles of IWRM, the sector policy and associated institutional arrangements has complicated the tasks of the implementing institutions. The Awash Basin Authority, as the main basin-level water management body, has not been able to properly execute its most important functions of creating coordination. Consequently, this has led to gaps in the operationalization of IWRM. The operational function of IWRM mainly depends on the availability of comprehensive water management instruments and tools that are currently non-existent or still under development in the Awash Basin.

Therefore, setting up of the basic implementation framework in itself is not sufficient for IWRM realization, and its implementation is a process and not a one-time happening. The main features of IWRM elements change over time, and necessary amendments in the process need to be made in accordance with the specific local context. For instance, as technical and socio-economic needs grow and development advances, water management issues become more complex requiring more coordinated planning and stronger cross-sectoral integration. Challenges should, thus, be identified continually in the process, and continued revisions and updates have to be made to the policy, legal, and institutional frameworks in line with identified challenges. Ultimately, public awareness and building common understanding among stakeholders should be given high priority throughout the process as it is essential for coordinated action. On the whole, in the IWRM approach, it is clear that without coordination there cannot be integrated planning and, hence, integrated water resources management. IWRM should have strong focus on sectors working together to manage the different interdependent uses of water. Practical approaches and experiences with IWRM implementation should be further researched and shared across regions around the world. Lessons drawn from case studies that compare theory and practice could help improve the implementation of the important concept of IWRM in Ethiopia and beyond.

Acknowledgements

This article is supported by funding by the Netherlands Fellowship Program and the Schlumberger Faculty for the Future Fellowship program. We would like to thank the two reviewers for their constructive feedback. We would also like to thank people from Ethiopia who have given us valuable information for the study.

1

Coping with Water Scarcity – The Role of Agriculture: Water Audit for Awash Basin, Ethiopia. Final Report (GCP/INT/072/ITA).

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