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Critical review of Integrated Water Resources Management: Moving beyond polarised discourse

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Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) emerged as a popular concept in the water sector in the 20th century. From a highly techno-centric approach in the past, it has taken a new turn embracing Habermasian communicative rationality as a place-based nexus for multiple actors to consensually and communicatively integrate decisions in a hydrological unit. The ‘how to integrate’ approach had remarkable appeal worldwide in promoting authentic participation of all stakeholders. However, critics argue that the domain of water resource management is a political process of contestation and negotiation; the emphasis is on complexities, contextuality, power dynamics and the importance of analysing real world situations. They demonstrate ‘how integration cannot be achieved’ given the power dynamics in social interactions. These apparently contradictory discourses draw on different theoretical paradigms and polarise the discourse on IWRM, without offering constructive alternatives. To this end, this paper offers an option to complement this polarised discourse by examining ‘how integration actually does take place’ in a strategic context thereby facilitating consensual decisions to integrate water management for a sustainable future.
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Keywords: Communicative rationality; Policy; Power dynamics; Strategic action; Water resource management

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Political and Cultural Change, Center for Development Research, Bonn, Germany 2: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: 2009-02-01

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