Sustainable Catchment Management: Principles and Practice

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The worlds freshwater is commonly discussed in the literature as being a finite resource under increasing pressure from the greater demands being placed upon it globally (Postel 2000, Hamdey 2003, Oki and Kanae 2006, UNEP 2007). It has consequently become a highly contentious resource, and in recent years the focus of much debate on how best to manage it; with the latest favoured paradigm (particularly in developed countries) being that of holistic sustainability – achieved using the ‘best practice’ of basin-wide management (Biswas 2004, Watson 2007). Such an approach is particularly emphasised in key policies such as Agenda 21 and the Water Framework Directive, with the latter enforcing the creation of River Basin Management Plans by law for all EU member states. This paper will discuss whether there really is a world water crisis, and if so to what extent river basin management (RBM) can help to address this using case examples such as the Murray-Darling basin to discuss this in context. According to the research of Oki and Kanae (2006 pp1068) the global consumption of renewable freshwater resources is well below its Malthusian limits, with only 10% of the maximum available blue water and 30% of green water being presently used.

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Similar RBM regimes also exist under other political systems such as throughout the whole of the European Union (due to Water Framework Directive legislation) and South Africa (since 1998). In the latter Gregersen et al (2007) states that although the regime is working it is not yet sustainable, since such management systems take several years to develop and offer no ready made solutions. Therefore at its national level it is not fully able to address the water crisis, although it seemingly is on the way to try to do so through using a management system which looks to achieving this from the outset. It must be said however that most of the successful RBM regimes are in developed ‘formalised society’ countries where the fundamental water stresses are often far lower in the first instance (see figure 1). Such systems cannot be directly transferred between political institutions easily due to the context in which the regime was fundamentally formed to meet within the founding country regarding the hydraulic and climatic conditions, demographics, socio-economic conditions and the structure of the water sector (Barrow 1998, Hunt 1999, Shar et al 2005).

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Consequently Palestine is in a water crisis since it cannot meet its own water needs (Frederiksen 2003). To be effective therefore in the first instance RBM plans need to be authoritative, equitable, coordinated and true to RBMs initial purpose. Only then can it help in addressing the world water crisis. In conclusion therefore it can be successfully argued that RBM is a worthwhile management option to pursue in relation to addressing the world water crisis. Where such regimes are well established and operational, such as in the Murray-Darling catchment, its sustainability approach to management allows for all of the demands and threats/pressures to the freshwater resource (such as excessive nutrient runoff from poorly managed land) to be identified and dealt with equitably and accordingly within the basins long-term carrying capacity. But, given the contextual fit of each country with regards to its current resource base, water pressures, and demands/needs, it may mean that in the grand scheme of things RBM may not be the most suitable management option to address the crisis with on its own. Interestingly RBM is according to Shar et al 2005 harder to implement in developing countries due to its developed background, but it is such countries where the water stresses are already at high stress levels and expected to worsen from most through the predicted population growth and climate change pressures (UNESCO 2009).

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