This paper seeks to complement ongoing discussions around water allocation by offering an analytic framework for examining the evolution of paradigms for water allocation in river basins. It traces this evolution from the hydraulic paradigm through to Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) and the current water security paradigm. Using a society-science-practice interaction perspective, the paper draws attention to the governance processes of water allocation that underlie these paradigms using examples from river basins in southern Africa. It is argued that the process of allocating water resources is often influenced by societal priorities and values that do not necessarily result in maintaining ecosystem health and integrity. The efficacy of water allocation depends on the extent to which implementation takes into account the socio-political dynamics associated with collective action involving multiple water users. While paradigm shifts provide windows of opportunity for strengthening legislation, the mere adoption of paradigms should not be taken as a panacea for addressing challenges associated with water allocation in river basins. This is especially relevant for several countries in southern Africa that are undertaking water reforms with the view of strengthening allocation of water resources at basin scale.
Water security has emerged as an approach for allocating water resources that seemingly reflects current understanding of water resource issues at river basin scale (Mekonnen, 2010; Cook & Bakker, 2012; Hall & Borgomeo, 2013). From a term initially restricted to international relations and hydro-political studies, water security is increasingly being used in academic research and policy discourse (Cook & Bakker, 2012; Staddon & James, 2012). Notably, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)'s Institute for Water Education established a research theme on water, food and energy security (UNESCO-IHE, 2016) while the African Development Bank (AfDB) held a special session at the Sixth World Water Forum (in 2012) aimed at developing strategies and partnerships for achieving water security in Africa (AfDB, 2012). As such, water security is currently receiving considerable attention in academic research, international developmental organizations and governmental agencies. To a large extent, it has toppled over the hegemonic status held by other paradigms such as the hydraulic paradigm and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) that informed water resource allocation in river basins (Parliament of Australia, 2007; Bakker, 2012; Cook & Bakker, 2012; Staddon & James, 2012; ADB, 2013).
In spite of this, concerns regarding the implementation of water security are emerging that suggest a need to pay attention to governance processes that entail achieving water security (Mekonnen, 2010; Zeitoun, 2011; Fischhendler, 2013). Drawing on lessons and insights from the hydraulic paradigm and IWRM, we critically examine water security in river basins and draw examples from Zambia and South Africa. Other scholars have done similar works using different theoretical lenses to explore paradigms for water allocation. For example, Turton & Meissner (2002) applied the concept of the hydro-social contract in examining the emergence and transition of water management regimes in South Africa. Staddon & James (2012) in their assessment of the emergence of water security use the concept of governmentality to narrate the rationalities surrounding the genealogy and discourse on water security. Allan (2005) used modernity theory to understand and predict paradigms for water resource allocation in developed and developing countries. This paper seeks to complement these discussions by using a society-science-practice interaction perspective as an analytic framework to examine water security as a paradigm for water allocation in river basins. In doing so, it draws attention to governance processes that entail achieving water security in river basins. We highlight three aspects of water allocation in river basins: first, the role of dominant societal values and priorities on water allocation and development; second, the contested nature of water resource use among actors in terms of interests, values and perceived benefit of water resources; and third, the role of social relationships among water users in river basins sustaining collective action in local institutions at basin scale.
River basins as complex social-ecological systems
We begin by contextualizing river basins as complex systems characterized by interactions and feedbacks between social and ecological systems occurring at multiple scales (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2012). Complexity refers to the interaction of multiple variables and components that determine properties and characteristics of a system (Holling, 2001). This results in non-linearity and unpredictability of outcomes with often cryptic consequences that extend over an unbounded period of time both in the ecological and social system (Rittel & Webber, 1973). As such, social-ecological systems are subject to influence by a myriad of factors often outside the control of a single actor (Allen & Gould, 1986). The characterization of river basins as complex social-ecological systems highlights the difficulty in identifying the root causes of a problem and the formulation of a solution to address them (Rittel & Webber, 1973). It thus becomes crucial that underlying assumptions of approaches for water allocation take into account real-world complexity as an attribute of river basins and do not take a one-size fits all approach (Rittel & Webber, 1973; Pahl-Wostl et al., 2011).
While complexity arising from interacting variables and processes within the ecosystem component has received significant scholarly attention in water resource management literature (Holling, 1986; Solé & Bascompte, 2006; Walker & Salt, 2012), translation into basin management has not been significant (Cote & Nightingale, 2012). We assert that this can be partly attributed to inadequate attention given to complexity arising from variables in the social system component, such as trust and commitment, that result in dynamic change of social relationships (Nkhata et al., 2008; Mosimane et al., 2012; Chaffin et al., 2014; van-Wyk et al., 2014). As actors interact with each other to express, negotiate and agree on water allocation trade-offs, these interactions over a period of time result in the development of relationships that are mediated by variables such as trust, commitment and collective identity among others (Nkhata et al., 2008; Mosimane et al., 2012; van-Wyk et al., 2014). Changes in such variables determine the nature of relationships such as opportunistic or collaborative that often behave in an unpredictable and complex manner (Cousins, 2002; Nkhata et al., 2008).
Within the complex and uncertain context of social-ecological systems, governance and management frameworks form the means through which social actors collectively identify and implement actions. Governance refers to the coordination and regulation of actors as they articulate, negotiate and agree on their interests and identify shared goals and collective agendas with regard to water allocation (Kooiman, 2003). As a process, governance occurs over multiple temporal scales amidst diverse interests and values embodied in mental models among social actors (Kooiman, 2003; Clement, 2013). Mental models provide a frame of reference for social actors as they interact among each other regarding water allocation (Kooiman, 2003; Stone-Jovicich et al., 2011). Importantly, mental models are dynamic and subject to revision and change according to dominant beliefs, values and priorities of social actors and can either be a creative element or source of tension (Stone-Jovicich et al., 2011; Mosimane et al., 2012). The relationship between dominant societal values and management forms a unique perspective in understanding how issues and problems in regard to water resource allocation are identified and framed in society through governance processes, conceptualized through science and eventually addressed in practice.
Management refers to the deliberate and targeted allocation, regulation and improvement of a resource (Schlager & Ostrom, 1992). This is often informed by an understanding regarding the relationship between cause and effect of the phenomenon inspired by science that aims to produce socially desirable outcomes in practice (Medema et al., 2008). This occurs in the form of management frameworks that embody particular prescriptions and statements on how a problem should be addressed (Medema et al., 2008). Water security and IWRM are examples of such frameworks which take into account prescriptions based on an understanding of the nature of challenges associated with water allocation (Medema et al., 2008).
The contested nature of water allocation is a function of the value laden competing mental models of social actors with regard to benefits associated with water resources (Kooiman, 2003; Jones et al., 2011). Differences in values and interests with regard to water resources result in varying and sometimes conflicting resource use perception among users. Resource use perception is the perceived utilization and attached meaning given to a resource (Turton & Meissner, 2002; Feitelson, 2012; van-Wyk et al., 2014). As Feitelson (2012) argues, the normative perception of water is based on the utilization of the resource that varies according to values and norms. This has significant implications on how water is allocated among users including determining environmental water requirements (Feitelson, 2012). The amount of water resource that is allocated for ecosystem functioning is dependent on the values, perceptions among social actors, and the benefit obtained from such an allocation. Often dominant societal values and perceptions do not always reflect or promote maintenance of ecological integrity.
Paradigms for water allocation: a society-science-practice interaction perspective
In this paper, a paradigm denotes the interaction of three spheres of influence: society, science and practice. It forms the mutually agreed ‘lens’ through which actors including water users, regulators, policy makers and scholars determine water allocation in river basins (Kuhn, 1962; Turton & Meissner, 2002; Pahl-Wostl et al., 2011). A paradigm for water allocation is a reflection of societal values and preferences that influences how water resource problems are framed by society, informed by scientific discourse and consequently addressed in practice (Kooiman, 2003; Nkhata & Breen, 2010; Pahl-Wostl et al., 2011). We assert that water security, IWRM and the hydraulic paradigm are paradigms that determine allocation of water resources among multiple and often competing uses.
A crisis in a paradigm for water allocation occurs as a result of a change in the social beliefs and values that enforce the paradigm such that it is seen as no longer reflecting societal preferences. This can also happen when implementation of the paradigm does not match with the underlying assumptions regarding the nature of the water resource problem resulting in the refutation of the paradigm (Kuhn, 1962). Literature reveals two view points on the relationship between societal preferences and priorities in regard to changes in paradigms for water allocation and development. The first perspective is the one taken by Turton & Meissner (2002) who assert that social instability and stability within the hydro-social contract compelled the state to secure water resources on behalf of society through various options such as dam and pipe infrastructure to satisfy human demand for a consistent and reliable source of water. The other is the view expressed by Staddon & James (2012) who argue that the emergence of water security can be seen as the manifestation of the means through which the state influences societal discourse and creates new opportunities for the expression of its influence. We argue that the means of influence lie not in the realm of the state to yield influence on social discourse or vice versa but rather are dynamic, lying both in society and the state and subject to the interaction of contesting interests among social actors.
As such, an existing paradigm for water allocation reflects the dominant preferences and values of actors as they interact and influence the expression of a collective agenda. In line with this, Allan (2005) argues that in most developing countries, the legislation for water allocation may reflect allocation of water resources for multiple uses in a river basin while in practice reflects allocation for single use purposes. As such the de jure practice for water allocation may contradict the de facto practice for water allocation. Using the society-science-practice interaction, we proceed to examine paradigms for water allocation and insights into governance processes associated with allocation of water resources in river basins.
The hydraulic paradigm
For most of the 20th century, water management followed an approach referred to as the hydraulic paradigm (Turton & Meissner, 2002; del Moral et al., 2014). These were predominantly a set of shared best practices with a common goal of building water infrastructure aimed at securing societal demand for water as a priority (Varis, 2005). The last half of the 20th century saw the proliferation of dam infrastructure projects often sanctioned and financed by the state and international monetary organizations on a large scale (Molle et al., 2009). For instance, the construction of the Kafue Gorge Dam and Itezhi-Tezhi Dam in Zambia, in 1971 and 1978 respectively, aimed to secure water allocation primarily for hydropower generation for industrial and residential use. Similarly, the construction of the network of dams on the uMngeni River (Henley, Nagle, Midnar, Albert Falls and Inanda) aimed to secure water allocation for domestic supply to the increasing population in the urban centres of Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa (Still et al., 2010).
The hydraulic paradigm for several countries in southern Africa reflected societal preferences and priorities for allocating and developing water resources in order to meet demand for reliable sources of water for hydro-power, domestic, industrial and agricultural development (Swyngedouw, 1999; Turton & Meissner, 2002; Pahl-Wostl et al., 2011; Staddon & James, 2012). However, under this paradigm, little attention was paid to the dynamic and often conflictive nature of social relationships among stakeholders. The top-down approach of allocating water resources in river basins neglected certain interests such as local communities and the needs of the environment while prioritizing large-scale hydraulic infrastructure projects. This created adversarial relationships between water users and state authorities with regard to water allocation in river basins.
As such the predominant agent of change in this paradigm was the state through sanctioned engineering works that formed the basis for securing access to water resources (Turton & Meissner, 2002). In this way, the state took up the mantle – or as Turton & Meissner (2002, p. 6) called it the ‘sanctioned discourse’ – for securing and supplying it to a growing and thirsty population through engineering works (Swyngedouw, 2007). In such a supply-oriented paradigm, water users were perceived as mere recipients of water, who were supposed to be grateful to the state often with little participation in decision-making processes (Turton & Meissner, 2002). For instance, the process of construction and the later operation of the Kafue Gorge and Itezhi-Tezhi Dam on the Kafue River in Zambia created distrust among local communities whose interests were perceived as not being taken into account during the construction of the dams (Nalubamba, 1978; Gossert & Haugstetter, 2005).
Another example of the hydraulic paradigm is that of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project between Lesotho and South Africa which aimed at diverging water from the Orange/Senqu River in the Lesotho Highlands into the Vaal River catchment in South Africa (Meissner & Turton, 2003). While the technical aspects of the project were developed and predicted to progress in a linear manner, commencement and implementation of the project was delayed significantly by the changing nature of relationships between the two party states as a result of changing interests, perceptions of mistrust, unwillingness among certain actors and changing socio-political context (Turton & Meissner, 2002).
These cases, although occurring at different scales, provide insights into the dynamics and complexity of social relationships as actors with contested interests interact with regard to water resources allocation and development (Turton & Meissner, 2002). Using Kuhn's logic, the ‘crisis’ in the hydraulic paradigm in both cases of the Kafue River in Zambia and uMngeni in South Africa began as a result of the emerging concerns regarding the existing water allocation regimes enforced through the dam network (Gleick, 2000; Parlem et al., 2010). The desire by society to have free flowing rivers unhindered by large dams became very prominent (Swyngedouw, 2007). In Zambia, for instance, clear on-the-ground observation revealed that the altered flooding regimes as a consequence of the construction of the two dams directly affected local livelihoods through changing vegetation patterns and composition, reduction of cattle grazing lands and reduced wildlife habitat (Nalubamba, 1978; Rees, 1978; DHV, 1980, 2004). These impacts brought protracted discussions regarding revision of the existing water allocation regime among stakeholders (DHV, 2004; WWF, 2004; King & Brown, 2014).
Integrated Water Resources Management
As a paradigm, IWRM emerged as a result of increasing concerns with the hydraulic paradigm. The emergence of IWRM represented a major shift in water resource allocation. As a paradigm, IWRM aimed to reflect changing societal preferences and priorities for allocating water resources to meet ever increasing human demands for reliable sources of water for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses while ensuring sustainability of ecosystems. The changes were reflected in the Global Water Partnership definition of IWRM as outlined below (Agarwal et al., 2000, p. 23):
‘A process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.’
Concerns regarding the environmental costs of water infrastructure projects were raised as early as 1977 as evidenced through the United Nations’ report at the International Water Conference in Mar del Plata (Snellen & Schrevel, 2004). It was partly because of these concerns that the subsequent International Conference on Water and the Environment was held in Dublin in 1992. The Dublin Conference acted as a precursor to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro (Turton et al., 2007). In several ways, the Rio summit raised the profile of environmental issues leading the global community to consciously start recognizing and integrating the political and economic dimensions of conservation as a means of achieving sustainable development (Tickner & Acreman, 2013). The concept of sustainability thus became a meeting point for proponents of economy driven development and those who were concerned with the environment (Allan, 2005). The Dublin Principles endorsed in Rio de Janeiro formed the core of the IWRM paradigm marking a significant shift from traditional approaches under the Hydraulic Paradigm (Snellen & Schrevel, 2004).
Following Medema et al. (2008) the IWRM paradigm represented a call for an integrated approach for water governance that deliberately recognized the ecological connectivity of water resources. This is articulated in the guiding pillars of the IWRM paradigm that included equity, efficiency and ecological protection through an integrated approach (Agarwal et al., 2000). Integration entailed the coordination of designated institutions of water and associated resources and the recognition of different uses (conservation, irrigation, ecosystem maintenance, hydropower and water supply) and priorities of different water users (for example, up-stream and down-stream users; social deprived groups) (Mitchell, 2005; Grigg, 2008). Molle (2008) argues that little attention was given to the process of integrating different institutional actors and the antagonistic and ambiguous nature of integration. In Zambia, for instance, the IWRM dimension of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) project on the Kafue Flats in Zambia illustrated the difficulty of institutional integration (WWF, 2004; Schelle & Pittock, 2005). Differences in organizational structure between conservation organizations such as the WWF, community based organizations and profit making organizations such as Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) constrained efforts of establishing working relationships among stakeholders towards an integrated decision-making system for the Kafue Flats (DHV, 2004; Schelle & Pittock, 2005).
Conceptual ambiguity is another criticism of the IWRM paradigm in the available literature (Biswas, 2008; Medema et al., 2008). It is posited that the IWRM paradigm failed to clarify the processes through which coordination would occur to warrant effective implementation (Medema et al., 2008). In a review of success stories and practices of IWRM in Thailand, Molle (2008) states that the establishment of local water management institutions such as River Basin Organizations did not spontaneously result in equal participation among stakeholders. This is a similar case for IWRM implementation in South Africa which was internationally hailed as one of the most innovative IWRM based water reforms in the world (Karar et al., 2011). In 2012, South Africa delineated nine water management areas for the establishment of catchment management agencies with only two established since then (Department of Water Affairs, 2013). Analysis of the performance of IWRM in South Africa confirms the inadequate attention to the socio-political context, history and dynamic nature of social relationships among actors such as commercial farmers and previously marginalized small-scale farmers as they interact in securing access to water resources through Water User Associations (WUAs) (Laube, 2009; Förster et al., 2017). These concerns resulted in the emergence of water security as an alternative paradigm for guiding water allocation in river basins.
Water security as a paradigm emerged as part of the web of securities such as food security, environmental security and energy security. It explicitly highlights the threat of not safeguarding access to water resource in the face of human and non-human induced degradation. There is no standardized definition of water security in literature but rather widely used definitions. Examination of various definitions and framing of water security in literature (Grey & Sadoff, 2007; Clement, 2013; Scott et al., 2013; United Nations University, 2013) shows the various focuses, issues and scales at which water security is considered. For example, Grey & Sadoff (2007) highlight the role of investments in water related infrastructure in harnessing the productive potential of water resources. Scott et al., (2013) refer to water security as the adequate quantity and quality of water in the face of change. The United Nations University (2013) highlights the capacity of social institutions in securing access to adequate quality and quality of water resources. As such, it is difficult to refer to water security without considering the productive use of water resource for society (human water security) (Grey & Sadoff, 2007).
It is within the context of thresholds for productive use of water resources while ensuring ecosystem protection that water security discourse is usually framed (de Loe et al., 2007). In reality, the process of placing primacy on ecosystem protection is influenced by societal priorities and values that do not necessarily result in the maintenance of ecosystem integrity (Feitelson, 2012). Since 1994, for instance, the operating rules for the two dams – Itezhi-Tezhi and Kafue Gorge – on the Kafue River in Zambia have been enforced through a regime that gives priority for water allocation to hydropower generation over other uses such as ecosystem services, agriculture, residential use and ecosystem functioning (DHV, 2004; King & Brown, 2014). While provisions were initially made for releasing water in order to mimic natural flooding patterns on the Kafue River, these dam operating rules aimed to maximize water storage and release for optimum production of hydropower before considering other uses (King & Brown, 2014). Similarly, the uMngeni River in South Africa allows for the release of an ecological reserve allocation from the dam network on the river which ideally would be 156.2 million m³/a representing 21% of the Mean Annual Runoff (MAR) from the Inanda Dam on the uMngeni River (Republic of South Africa, 1998; Still et al., 2009). Currently, only a base flow allocation of 15.8 million m³/a is permitted with no allowance for ecological reserve (Dickens et al., 2007; Still et al., 2009). In both the Zambian and South African cases, water for ecological reserves is ranked as a priority water allocation use in the legislation (Republic of South Africa, 1998; Ministry of Tourism Environment and Natural Resources, 2010).
These examples illustrate the significance of conceiving the water security paradigm as entailing the recognition of societal preferences and hydrological contexts. As Still et al. (2010) illustrate, water security in river basins is more about balancing multiple uses than strictly aiming to adhere to scientifically determined ecological reserve allocations. While there is general agreement on the need to allocate water in order to secure vital ecosystem services, environmental flow allocation generally tends to have low priority in most arid and semi-arid areas (Vörösmarty et al., 2010). In most cases, the challenge lies in the scientific uncertainty regarding how much should be allocated to the environment which undermines the position of the environment as a user of water. The lack of clarity in determining environmental flows gives room for greater influence of dominant societal values and preferences on how much should be allocated to the environment (de Loe et al., 2007).
On the Kafue Flats of Zambia, for example, one of the main reasons given by some stakeholders for the lack of enforcement of new dam operating rules has been inadequate information to predict and simulate inflows and outflows of water in the main hydropower dams (King & Brown, 2018). The lack of detailed and accurate information has potentially provided a reason for the continued operation of dams without due regard to the need to enhance the integrity of the ecosystem. Indeed, establishing a decision-making system for determining environmental water requirements is an expensive process. A few countries in the world are in the process of establishing a mechanism for determining and allocating water for the environment including Canada, United States of America (USA) and South Africa (de Loe et al., 2007).
Based on the foregoing, we assert that water security in river basins is more of a challenge of water allocation that entails recognizing trade-offs among multiple and often competing uses while placing primacy on allocating water for ecosystem functioning and services (Bakker & Morinville, 2013; Tickner & Acreman, 2013). Water security defined in such a manner evinces the subjective and inter-subjective basis of the paradigm (Everard, 2014). The subjective dimension of water security highlights the presence of a threat or risk (social or ecologically induced) that challenges the ability of society to secure water resources, as highlighted in several definitions of water security (Grey & Sadoff, 2007; Clement, 2013; Scott et al., 2013; United Nations University, 2013). The applications of water security in subjective terms suggest a context specific nature of the paradigm. For instance, the water security issues of China as outlined by Xia et al. (2007) are quite different from the issues raised in the National Plan for Water Security for Australia (Parliament of Australia, 2007). The water security paradigm, therefore, seemingly allows for broad and integrative framing while allowing for a context specific operationalization that reflects priorities and preferences of society with regard to water use and development (Cook & Bakker, 2012; Bakker & Morinville, 2013).
The inter-subjective dimension of water security highlights the socially constructed meaning of threats and risks and how society perceives security and insecurity in regard to the benefit associated with utilizing water resources (Brauch, 2007). In many cases, what is securitized is not so much the ‘resource’ but rather the benefit accruing from the resource (Staddon & James, 2012). This understanding can be deduced from the case of the uMngeni River's prestigious annual paddling event known as the Dusi Canoe Marathon that attracts thousands of canoe marathon enthusiasts (Still et al., 2010). As part of the preparations for the marathon, the organizers of the event set upper and lower flow limits to ensure that the sport is not constrained in any way. In so doing, water releases from the Inanda Dam have always been guaranteed since 1990. Water insecurity in this case would be the lack of a secure allocation of water for the sport. In this context, water security can be viewed as involving a balance between various securitizations of water resources among actors – including the environment as a user. Such a balancing process is premised on the need to recognize multiple group interests, differences, and claims that form the basis of mutually acceptable trade-offs that take into account responsibility of actions and empathy for other users (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2013).
Allocation of water in river basins thus involves the expression of a claim by an actor towards water resources (Staddon & James, 2012; Lankford, 2013). One way in which this claim is expressed, based on the notion of securitization of water, is through dam infrastructure (Staddon & James, 2012; Lankford, 2013). The resulting effect of such securitization is the alteration of how actors relate directly to water resources and indirectly to each other through the resource (Lankford, 2013). For example, the two major dams on the Kafue River which are separated (450 km) by a stretch of land are both owned and operated by a single utility company, ZESCO. This utility usually expresses its claim to the resource to include this stretch of land. In addition, the utility company expresses this claim temporally by virtue of releasing water from the dam in order to generate power at the other dam downstream (King & Brown, 2018). As a consequence, users downstream, such as irrigation farmers and water utility companies, have to constantly negotiate with ZESCO on water releases to enable them to express their claim on the resource. In this way, one can argue that water security in river basins takes on an additional dimension of managing claims among water users through water infrastructure that either constrains or promotes the expression of claims to the resource by other users (Lankford, 2013).
The expression of claim to water resources is mediated by relational variables such as trust, leadership, commitment and meaning among actors that facilitates collective learning and response to uncertainty associated with water resources (Folke et al., 2005). For instance, the poor rain season of 2014/2015 in Zambia resulted in below average water levels in the two Dams (Itezhi-Tezhi and Kafue Gorge) on the Kafue River and severely affected the ability of water users to secure water resources from the Kafue River (Government of Republic of Zambia (GRZ), 2015). The drought season witnessed some periodic incidences in which local communities downstream of the Itezhi-Tezhi expressed concern regarding the inability of the dam operator to communicate schedules for release of waters thereby putting their grazing lands at risk (Chief Mukobela, Personal communication, June 9, 2016). It can be asserted that relational variables such as trust and empathy affect the ability of all stakeholders in the basin to manage uncertainty and change (Chaffin & Gunderson, 2016). It thus becomes almost imperative to better understand the processes and nature of relationships among actors as they express, articulate and agree on trade-offs regarding water resource allocation in order to achieve water security in river basins.
To facilitate a standardized approach for implementing water security, several water security indexes have been developed. For example, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently developed the Asian Water Development Outlook for Asian and Pacific countries to measure progress towards water security (ADB, 2013). In addition, Lautze & Manthrithilake (2012) developed an index to evaluate water security status and scenarios at national level. While this is commendable and provides a guide for implementation, the process of achieving the goals is unclear (Bakker & Morinville, 2013). Hence, water security risks are incurring the same criticisms of discursive closure as IWRM of over simplifying a phenomenon and not adequately taking into account complexity and uncertainty (Clement, 2013). We argue that water security indexes do not adequately contribute to improved decision-making processes in basin authorities at basin and sub-basin levels (Bakker & Morinville, 2013). Achieving water security entails paying deliberate attention to the governance processes that constrain and/or promote collective action among water users (Marjolien & Renn, 2011).
This paper aimed to examine water security as a paradigm for water allocation in river basins using the society-science-practice interaction. We assert that challenges associated with water security in river basins are more to do with governance processes associated with allocating water resources. While paradigm shifts provide windows of opportunity for enhancing water resource management, the mere adoption of paradigms in policy frameworks is not a panacea for challenges associated with water allocation in river basins. This consideration is especially relevant for southern Africa in which several countries are in the process of establishing local institutions for water resources management at basin scale. Whether water security is more innovative than previous paradigms for water allocation lies in the degree to which implementation addresses dynamics associated with collective action among water users in local institutions at catchment and sub-catchment scale.
We wish to acknowledge the funding contribution of the International Water Security Network which is funded by Lloyd's Register Foundation, a charitable foundation helping to protect life and property by supporting engineering-related education, public engagement and the application of research.