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Water SA

On-line version ISSN 1816-7950
Print version ISSN 0378-4738


POLLARD, Sharon  and  DU TOIT, Derick. Integrated water resource management in complex systems: how the catchment management strategies seek to achieve sustainability and equity in water resources in South Africa. Water SA [online]. 2008, vol.34, n.6, pp.671-679. ISSN 1816-7950.

It is increasingly evident amongst practitioners and academics alike that the management approaches of the past have failed to deal adequately with the challenges posed by complex and rapidly changing systems. Indeed the call for integrated approaches such as those embodied in integrated water resource management (IWRM) reflects such concerns. This is because these systems are characterised by complexity in which an understanding of linkages, multiple drivers and unpredictable outcomes is critical. It is also widely recognised that the management of such systems requires an iterative, 'learning-by-doing' approach that is reflexive in nature and builds learning into the next management cycle. We suggest that any attempt to define and implement viable and effective governance of water resources, as well as rehabilitation measures, requires understanding that catchments are complex systems showing the aforementioned characteristics. As a corollary, an adaptive management approach appears best suited to such conditions. In this paper we argue that South Africa's highly-acclaimed National Water Act and associated policy documents such as the National Water Resource Strategy is an example of a policy document that reflects this thinking, as is evident in the guidelines for the development of catchment management strategies which are introduced and described. These offer a framework for the development of a holistic, systems understanding which is strategic and adaptive. In particular, under such a framework, we select the two cornerstones of the Act - sustainability and equity - to explore this theme. We show that under such a framework ensuring that both these principles are achieved is not through one simplistic management action but through an integrated, systems approach. The development of strategies is driven by principles which help one to navigate issues that emerge in complex systems in a flexible way. Visioning and scenarios offer important management tools for establishing a hierarchy of actions that can achieve the overarching principles and that can accommodating change. In complex systems, the users must be part of deriving management solutions since this is where and how they learn. Self-organisation, identity and embeddedness are all essential characteristics of building resilience in a catchment system.

Keywords : complex systems; integrated water resource management; catchment management strategies; sustainability; equity.

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