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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

The hydropolitics of water management

Anna Caestari

The hydropolitics of water management

Water is not only a human right because of its importance for sustaining life, but it also has strong economic significance. This dichotomy is particularly sharp in many developing countries, where economies are still largely based on griculture, which consumes a large proportion of the total water withdrawals: 70% globally, 82% in the developing world This is one of the reasons why water shortage has occurred in many regions, and in some cases has led to harsh conflicts over water resources. Many countries will face water shortage by 2030. Southern Africa has a great agricultural potential but its water resources are not evenly distributed. The northern part of the region receives high precipitation, between 1000 and 4000 rnrnly, while the southwest only 250 rnrnly. A large proportion of the population does not have adequate water supply already. Conditions are critical in both cities and rural areas.

The urban population is increasing, thus putting extra pressure on the already inadequate infrastructure of many African cities. On the other hand, several rural settlements suffer isolation and complete lack of infrastructures. In a semi-arid country like South Africa, importing water to cities may mean the impoverishment of other areas, where the resource is needed for the livelihood and health of local communities.

A developing state uses, and sometimes abuses, its natural resources in an attempt to develop. The history of the industrialized world has plenty of such examples. In the last decades, the
importance of "environmental capital" has been widely understood, but from time to time, it is still underestimated when compared to strong economic interests.

The international community together with the sovereign states of Africa are trying to bring the continent to development without undergoing impoverishment of natural resources. In South Africa, the water policy attempts an equitable allocation. Policy makers hope to guarantee basic access to all (as a human right, fundamental for health and hygiene), but also to collect proportionate fees for larger consumption (economic good). Many neighbouring countries are not undergoing the same kind of policy. In Zambia and Zimbabwe, poor sectoral policies have exacerbated the disparities in accessing water. A small proportion of the population has safe and continuous access to water. This inadequacy may seriously compromise the whole development process. Mozambique still suffers the consequences of the war. Nevertheless, its National Water Policy, produced in 1995, takes into account the principles of sustainability. Mozambique also tries to resolve the tension between water as an economic good and a human right through differentiated tariffs.

International governmental and non-governmental organizations have exerted great effort to relieve the African people from the burden of underdevelopment. Many endeavours have remained isolated and consequently ineffective. More coordination of these efforts is needed. This, along with a strong collaboration with the national governments and a participatory approach with the people, could deliver valuable solutions. The key aim of this research is to develop a basis for comparing the efforts made by these neighbouring countries to deliver a sustainable solution for water management. The work is endeavouring to analyse how the proximity of these countries, which have different natural characteristics and levels of development, may help each other to implement good sustainability principles through closer cooperation.

Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.