Reductionist and integrative research approaches to complex water security policy challenges

Mark Zeitoun*, Bruce Lankford, Tobias Krueger, Tim Forsyth, Richard Carter, Arjen Y. Hoekstra, Richard Taylor, Olli Varis, Frances Cleaver, Rutgerd Boelens, Larry Swatuk, David Tickner, Christopher A. Scott, Naho Mirumachi, Nathanial Matthews

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This article reviews and contrasts two approaches that water security researchers employ to advance understanding of the complexity of water-society policy challenges. A prevailing reductionist approach seeks to represent uncertainty through calculable risk, links national GDP tightly to hydro-climatological causes, and underplays diversity and politics in society. When adopted uncritically, this approach limits policy-makers to interventions that may reproduce inequalities, and that are too rigid to deal with future changes in society and climate. A second, more integrative, approach is found to address a range of uncertainties, explicitly recognise diversity in society and the environment, incorporate water resources that are less-easily controlled, and consider adaptive approaches to move beyond conventional supply-side prescriptions. The resultant policy recommendations are diverse, inclusive, and more likely to reach the marginalised in society, though they often encounter policy-uptake obstacles. The article concludes by defining a route towards more effective water security research and policy, which stresses analysis that matches the state of knowledge possessed, an expanded research agenda, and explicitly addresses inequities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Environmental Change: Human and Policy Dimensions
Volume39
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Eco-sociological challenges
  • Environmental complexity
  • Uncertainty
  • Water conflicts
  • Water security

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