Expanding the Hydroinformatics Agenda: Information and Inequality behind Water Problems

Expanding the Hydroinformatics Agenda: Information and Inequality behind Water Problems

Antonio A. R. Ioris (University of Aberdeen, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-907-1.ch001
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Abstract

Hydroinformatics tools have increasingly offered a contribution towards the assessment of water management problems and the formulation of enhanced solutions. Nonetheless, the search for improved basis of water management requires not only a combination of technical and managerial responses, but also a firm action against socioeconomic injustices and political inequalities. This chapter problematises the role of hydroinformatics in situations of established inequalities and acute management distortions. A case study of the Baixada Fluminense, in the Metropolitan Area of Rio de Janeiro, illustrates the challenges to reverse unsustainable practices where water problems have been exploited by local and national politicians. Although the hydroinformatics community is certainly aware of the social dimension of water management, the aim is to further emphasise the centrality of issues of power and political disputes. The chapter concludes that the agenda of hydroinformatics needs to expand in order to combine state-of-the-art information technology with a critical understanding of how social and spatial differences affect the use and conservation of water systems.
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Introduction: The Need To ‘Expand’ The Hydroinformatics Agenda

The search for new basis of water management represents one of the most relevant areas of public policies concerning the use and conservation of natural resources nowadays. Governments, regulators and academics have increasingly recognised the socionatural complexity of managing hydrological systems and called for a better integration of sectoral demands to deal with a growing, manmade scarcity of water (Shiklomanov, 2003). Water management is currently experiencing a transition from the previous focus on hydraulic infrastructure works to a new phase based on the adaptive, co-evolutionary coordination of improved responses that should be implemented at multi-actor and multi-scale levels (van der Brugge & Rotmans, 2007). A range of ‘soft-path’ solutions have been advocated to complement investments in the physical water infrastructure, such as low cost community-scale systems, decentralised decision-making, water markets and equitable pricing, the application of efficient technology and environmental protection measures (Gleick, 2006). Most of the emerging responses have been informed by the principles and instruments of environmental governance, which entail a transition to more flexible procedures that go beyond the traditional forms of intervention (Conca, 2006). Governance entails the “formation and stewardship of the formal and informal rules that regulate the public realm, the arena in which the state as well as economic and societal actors interact to make decisions” (Hyden et al., 2004: 16). Instead of the conventional exercise of authority, the search for governance is supposed to create lasting and positive changes according to goals such as openness accountability, effectiveness and participation (Batterbury & Fernando, 2006). A more sustainable management of aquatic systems is expected to emerge from the integration of multiple processes and the active involvement of stakeholders (Davis, 2007), as in the case of the EU Water Framework Directive, which commands that the public should help to define the “rationale, framework, outcomes and validity” of the decision-making needed to achieve and maintain the good ecological status of all water bodies (European Commission, 2003: 14). Nonetheless, if the theory and the practice of water management continue to incorporate the requisites of environmental governance, there is also growing evidence of persistent inadequacies, such as the superficial involvement of the public, capture of the process by elite groups and insufficient transfer of responsibilities to the local level.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Environmental Justice: A political and academic process whose objective is to understand and remove the inequitable environmental burdens borne by groups and economically disadvantaged areas, and to promote a fair access to natural resources and ecosystem services.

Interdisciplinarity: A process of answering a question, solving a problem, or addressing a topic that combines, in a systematic and productive fashion, the knowledge and methods of multiple disciplines. Normally, the aim of interdiciplinary studies is to find a common ground between physical and social sciences that had historically been largely divorced.

Water Regulation: The formulation and implementation of legal requirements and government policies.

Collaborative Governance: An interactive and adaptive process that aims to transform and improve social relations by creating new knowledge networks among interdependent actors and interests. It provides the kind of response repertoire that is required to begin coping more effectively with complexity and uncertainty that characterise contemporary water management questions.

Water Management: The application of methods and techniques for the use and conservation of water and related ecology.

Expanded Hydroinformatics: The combination of state-of-the-art information technology with an understanding of how social differences and power imbalances affect the use and conservation of water systems.

Environmental Governance: The search for more flexible and innovative forms of environmental regulation that combines state and non-state actors in the assessment of problems and the formulation of holistic and adaptive responses.

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