Strategy and methodology for improved IWRM - An integrated interdisciplinary assessment in four twinning river basins (STRIVER)

STRIVER‌STRIVER developed methodologies for Integrated water resources management () in an Asian-European context. The project had a strong emphasis on local stakeholder involvement, enabling and supporting local capacity development and uptake, and utilised a case study approach to ensure strong real-world foundations for the project. It was funded by the European Commission within the Sixth Framework Programme (2006-2009); the project started in the Summer of 2006 and completed three years later. 13 partners from 9 countries participate as contractual partners in addition to an external advisory board.

The project asked: In the real world, what does good governance mean in the context of IWRM?

Governance is described as consisting of three core elements - accountability, transparency and participation - and was analysed by the project through the use of indicators relating to each of these elements: 

  • Accountability: holding responsible authorities accountable for their actions.
  • Transparency: the availability of information to the general public and clarity in creation and application of rules, regulations and decisions.
  • Participation: providing all men and women with a voice in decision-making either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their interests.

Vague aspects of the broad concept of governance, e.g., democracy, human rights, governmental clientism etc., were avoided in this schema since these are strongly contested concepts.  Instead, and drawing upon previous work of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and others, the IHP-HELP Centre developed an approach to assessing governance in the context of two STRIVER case study river basins based on these indicators.   In the style of a questionnaire comprising 18 key questions, and 60 sub-questions the assessment considers not only whether the law supports the indicators of good governance and IWRM, but also evaluates the extent to which rights and obligations contained within the law are implemented in practice.

The methodology provides a mechanism not only to assess existing laws, policies and institutions, but also the extent to which such governance  arrangements have been implemented in practice. Ultimately the methodology and resultant outputs provide a benchmark by which to identifying potential gaps and barriers to implementing IWRM. The assessment therefore provides a first step to identify viable policy reforms at the transboundary river basin scale.

Mekong Valley STRIVER case study: governing the Sesan

Mekong RiverThe Sesan River is one of the largest tributaries of the Mekong River and has a drainage area of 17,000 km2, with about 11,000 km2 in Vietnam and about 6,100 km2 in Cambodia. The Sesan has its origins in the central highlands of Vietnam and flows through mountain­ous areas in Vietnam’s Dak Lak, Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces before entering north-east Cambodia, where it moves into relatively lowland areas. In Cambodia, the Sesan winds from east to west through Ratanakiri province and into Stung Treng province, where it merges with the Srepok river, another large tributary of the Mekong, before continuing east into the Se Kong River just before this river enters the Mekong River close to the Stung Treng town. The rainy season in this part of the world lasts from August throughout November, with peak flows normally in September-October. Precipitation varies from approximately 1000 mm/y in the lowlands in Cambodia to 2200 mm/y in the highlands of Vietnam. There are two major cities on the Vietnamese side of the border, Kon Tum (13800 inh.) and Plei Ku (170 000 inh.). On the Vietnamese side of the border, the river basin is situated in Kon Tum province and in Gia Lai province. The population density in these two provinces is 32 and 71persons/km2, respectively (Statistical Yearbook of Vietnam, 1999).

After the completion of the Yali Hydropower dam in Vietnam which was completed in 2000 with foreign help, a change in the flow regime occurred, with changes in the amounts and timing (daily and seasonal) of water flowing down­stream from the dam.

The task of the Centre’s project group was to identify the main actors and institutions involved in the governance of the Sesan, and to attempt to get these parties to discuss their common future around the river. Because of historical rivalries and competing ambitions for the river, this was not an easy task. Also, the geographical spread and lack of resources of many of the authorities responsible for water management, fishing and agriculture around the river made meetings practically difficult to organize. Local communities of ethnic groups also lacked the skills and other means to influence the authorities. After a number of stakeholder and village meetings, as well as meetings with national, regional and local authorities, the Centre’s team managed to organize a meeting with representatives from Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong River Commission in Vientiane, Laos. At this two-day meeting, visions for a common future were discussed through the use of future scenarios, facilitated by the Centre’s researchers.

Key lessons learnt:

  • A team of researchers can facilitate discussions in transboundary water governance if they come to be seen as knowledgeable and fair in their treatment of all parties
  • In situations where mutual trust is difficult to establish it helps to organize meetings in a third country which is not directly part of the governance system
  • Scenarios are a useful way of encouraging discussions of all viewpoints and alternatives, and can also help to formulate common visions of the future

Aims and Objectives:  

  • The main aim was to analyze governance systems in the Sesan through a combination of studies of law, policy, actors and institutions in the region
  • A second aim was to formulate recommendations on how to diminish barriers to the improvement of these governance systems
  • During the process the Centre’s group was asked by the Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities to organize a meeting of all parties. Despite considerable difficulties the team managed to do so and a successful meeting was held in Vientiane, Laos. 

Key personnel, partnerships and resources:

The work was funded by the European Union (Research & Development) Framework 6 project, "STRIVER". Professor Geoffrey D. Gooch, Dr. Alistair Rieu-Clarke, and others employed by the Dundee IHP-HELP Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, played major roles in this work.

Lessons learnt: 

The main lessons learnt from this work are that a combination of legal and  analysis, where the researchers look at combinations of law, policy, actors and institutions, can be highly effective. The team also learnt that stakeholder and public participation must be tailor-made to the needs of the local communities, and that it takes time to establish trust within these communities, and with authorities engaged in water governance.

Next steps: 

The next steps will be to follow up the achievements of the first parts of this work and to continue discussions with the parties as to how we can best help to continue to contribute to the development of successful governance systems in the Sesan. 

For further information, please contact:

Professor Geoffrey D. Gooch or Dr. Alistair Rieu-Clarke