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Governance, Sustainability and Decision Making in Water and Sanitation Management Systems
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Published: 02 November 2011 by MDPI in The 1st World Sustainability Forum session Governance & Sustainability
Abstract: The relationship between governance, sustainability and decision making is receiving increasing attention in academic and policy circles. Governance and sustainability are, however, contested and somewhat imprecise concepts. Both concepts are inextricably linked to local circumstances and therefore need to be defined in terms of the characteristics of the people living in a given place at a given moment. In this paper we present an alternative idea of governance in which the importance of the notion of place is highlighted and the degree of interaction and cooperation between local actors is given more relevance than in conventional definitions. We base our understanding of governance on a previously defined conceptual framework for sustainability build on the three pillars of "place" (the spatial dimension), "permanence" (the temporal dimension) and "persons" (the human dimension), instead of the classic triple bottom line of economy, environment and society. This conceptual framework is arguably more sensitive than the triple-bottom-line approach to understand complex, long-term issues such as environmental governance and inter-generational justice. It also makes the idea of sustainability more adaptable to specific settings and more appropriate to understand local, regional, and global processes. Interactions between persons in a given place are usually triggered by specific problems. These interactions directly affect the overall situation in the future, constantly reshaping the temporal dimension in a continuous process of change. To test the conceptual framework presented we analyzed the governance of the water and sanitation management system in the city of Salta, Argentina. We briefly describe the system, analyze institutional changes in recent yeards and discuss the relevance of differents stakeholders acting therein in order to identify key features that might be useful to detect governance failures and succeses. We organized our finding in a semi-quantitative index that allows a more in-depth analysis of the complex links of governance and sustainability. The index is calculated by aggregating descriptors, indicators and variables in a weighted matrix. Data used to build the index come from literature reviews, information provided by the water company, field visits, and interviews with key actors. We compare our approach with other governance analytical frameworks, highlighting similarities and differences. Some specific recommendations are made to promote a better governance of the system studied.
Keywords: governance, sustainability, water and sanitation, Salta