Water Users Associations in Tanzania: lessons for IWRM policy
With the intention of implementing IWRM according to good practice, governments and development agencies have promoted the setting-up of Water Users Associations (WUAs) as a broadly applicable model for water management at the local level. WUAs are promoted as key to the rolling out of IWRM principles trough a decentralized and participative process. In this paper we focus on the translation of the IWRM policy model into local practices. We argue that particularly in a context of human and financial capacity severally impaired, pre-designed institutions or models are re-adapted or re-shaped by local institutions.
We develop these arguments by discussing the case of Water Users Associations in Tanzania. We first analyse the challenges encountered in the setting up of these organisations in a complex context, in the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania. Next, the paper evaluates the effects of these reinterpretations, providing from-the-field lessons and alternatives for policy-makers to consider, including investigating the role of the private sector. This research shows that processes fundamental to the implementation of IWRM principles - such as the formalisation of water rights for water allocation - face severe challenges due to pre-existing sets of ‘informal’ rules in terms of land and water access. Although WUAs are formal newly designed institutions set-out in complex informalised local contexts, there is an opportunity for them to act as mediators between small water users and basin organisations and the private sector - offering a voice to take into account local realities. As mediating institutions, WUAs offer a potential to fulfil conservation and equity concerns linked to the principles of IWRM.
The research for developing these arguments is based on participant observation, interviews and focus groups conducted over 6 months between 2015 and 2016 in the Great Ruaha River in Tanzania. Interviewees range from irrigators to water users associations members and leaders, private sector investors, basin organisations, policy makers and funding organisations.