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Managing a Critical Resource

K.J. Joy

Edited by Peter Mollinga, Ajaya Dixit and Kusum Athukorala
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 403, Rs. 780.00


Integrated Water Resource Management, or its more popular acronym IWRM, is being posited by many as the ‘new approach’ that can solve all the problems in the water sector the world over. Ever since the 1992 Dublin international Conference on Water and the Environment and the Rio de Janeiro UN Conference on Environment and Development – better known as the Earth Summit – and the formation of Global Water Partnership (GWP) in 1996, there has been a bourgeoning of literature on IWRM, mostly uncritically acclaiming its virtues. The book under review, the first volume in the proposed series on Water in South Asia to be brought out by South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies (SaciWATERs), is a welcome addition to this growing literature on IWRM as it critically examines the notion of IWRM and brings out the ‘many meanings of integration in terms of what is integrated, who integrates, and how this is done, and how different groups understand and appropriate the concept in different ways’.   The book has twelve chapters grouped under two broad parts. Part I, IWRM: The Concept deals with some of important conceptual issues. Part II, Dimensions of Integration, tries to further detail out the issue of ‘integration’ through illustrative real world case studies drawn from the South Asian countries especially India and Sri Lanka.   The first chapter, ‘IWRM in South Asia: A Concept Looking for a Constituency’, by Peter Mollinga clearly brings out that IWRM is not one idea or a single integrated concept. In spite of the hegemonic definition by GWP, given right at the outset of the book (see p. 21), and its sanitized discourse, it is truly a ‘boundary concept’ which allows different constituencies and interest groups the space and flexibility in attaching different meanings or emphases to the concept and to interact with each other and negotiate the operationalization of these different meanings and their combinations (p. 30). This is not to say that it has no upper bounds; nor it has unlimited elasticity to include anything and everything. It is bounded by certain core ideas. Integration across sectors, hydrological unit (and not politico-administrative boundaries) as the unit for management, establishment of river basin organizations, participative and inclusive governance and privatization/liberalization and role of market, concern for ecology are some of the key ideas. In short the notion of IWRM offers flexibility for varied interpretations, contestations, negotiations and interplay of different interests. It has ...

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