IWRM as a Participatory Governance Framework for the Mekong River Basin?

TitleIWRM as a Participatory Governance Framework for the Mekong River Basin?
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2012
Secondary AuthorsÖjendal, Hansson, Hellberg
Secondary TitlePolitics and Development in a Transboundary Watershed: The Case of the Lower Mekong Basin
Place PublishedDordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York
Key themesFraming Concepts in Water Governance, Hydropower, Transboundary Governance

Integrated water resources management (IWRM) has been widely adopted as an over-arching framework for managing river basins. However, tensions are inherent in IWRM between top-down and bottom-up approaches to management. In seeking to move away from fragmented toward more integrative approaches to bio-regional natural resource management at the level of the river basin, IWRM initiatives also tend to centralise. Yet a participatory ideal, or at least rhetoric, is seen in “stakeholder-based” and other more inclusive approaches to basin management. In the Mekong, these approaches are seen in the Mekong River Commission’s basin development stakeholder processes, subarea-based planning, and the establishment of river basin organisations. These are essentially top-down driven approaches to participation. On the other hand, some regional NGO initiatives, broad coalitions such as “Save the Mekong”, community-based networks such as the 3SPN network in Cambodia, and decentralised irrigation management in its various forms, apply participation from the ground up and often seek to challenge projects that result from immense pressures for development of the river and its tributaries for hydropower. We need to move our understanding of IWRM in river basin governance away from a technical, “best practice” approach, toward recognition of its inherently political nature and its embeddedness in cultural practices at various levels.


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