Conflicts in common resource management is often due to the differences in material interests as well as the inability of stakeholders to agreement on the management (Adams, Brockington, Dyson, Vira, 2003). As population density increases, common resources have to be abandon in one aspect or another given the tragic prophesy of the commons (Hardin, 1968). Water resources are one great common natural resource that is under threat from the commons tragedy. The golden rule of management of natural resource is that “natural resource management should strive to retain critical types and ranges of natural variation in ecosystems” (Holling, Meffe, 1996). With this in mind, the water resource management of Singapore and Kerala India is looked upon especially with the perspective of a North South Approach.

The discourse on natural resource management is best put forth building upon the governance theory on how to put sustainable development into effect as well as looking forward to future developments of sustainable efforts (Jordan, 2008). Natural resource governance and management can benefit from how common pool resources had been managed. “Lessons from successful examples of CPR management provide starting points for addressing future challenges. Some of these will be institutional, such as multilevel institutions that build on and complement local and regional institutions to focus on truly global problems. Others will build from improved technology (Ostrom, Burger, Field, et al, 1999).” Instead of the usual discourse whereby North represents success and oppressor and South represents failure and the oppressed, the development of both Kerala in institution sustainability and Singapore in sustainability with improved technology with regards to water, both a scarce and an abundant natural resource are both success stories and models for both North and South alike. Ecosystems play a critical role in the recycling and redistribution of nutrients. This fundamental service underpins the health of plant and animal species everywhere (MA, 2005). Despite the extreme differences in per capita of Singapore and Kerala India, both realize the importance of social capital and resource management in which “relations of trust; reciprocity and exchanges; common rules, norms, and sanctions; and connectedness in networks and groups” (Pretty, 2003) have to be integrated into the management of natural resources.

Kerala Water Sustainability Program

Kerala had long recognized that the availability of water and water usage is uncertain and laid down policies in accordance to such uncertainty. “Adaptive co-management draws explicit attention to the learning (experiential and experimental) and collaboration (vertical and horizontal) functions necessary to improve our understanding of, and ability to respond to, complex social–ecological systems (Armitage, et al, 2009).” Kerala sought to adapt water sustainability with regards to its local conditions. By recognizing that access to water is a common heritage having economic value and is the responsibility vested with every citizen and community with public ownership by the State and stakeholders having the rights to water without owning it in its Water Policy 2008, it made the entire state co-managers of its water resources. Having done so, it had clearly defined its water resources and has through extensive usage of micro watersheds help to conserve and optimize the water resources of the state. Secondly though it recognized the needs for piped water, it has refrained from spending all its budget on the provision of piped water but has concentrated in keeping the ground waters from pollution so as to ensure sustainability of water supply without having to embark on the conversion to piped water which it can ill afford. To ensure clean water for its population, it has also through its Water Policy 2008 initiatives prioritized water according to various users with the first priority given to domestic users, followed by agricultural usage and so on. With limited resources, Kerala had firstly applied the principles of co-management of a scarce natural resource such as water among its stakeholders and also through localized methods conserve the water it had as well as prioritized the usage of water according to the needs of its population. Accordingly, Kerala has managed to achieve water sustainability without the need for extensive loans and cost overruns. Through co-management, Kerala had achieved “social learning essential both for the co-operation of partners and an outcome of the co-operation of partners (Berkes, 2009)” so as to bring about sustainability with the resources it had. “Two most common rural water supply systems in Kerala are (i) publicly owned systems and (ii) collectively owned demand driven systems. Unlike publicly owned systems, demand based systems has complete participation of users at all levels of decision making including operation and maintenance and collection of revenue. As a result, the system satisfies all dimensions of sustainability as envisaged in the basic frame work (Kesavan et al, 2008).” The water sustainability of Kerala occurred due to co-management through all aspects of stakeholders, careful husbandry of water resources, using traditional wells instead of piped water, careful prioritization of water usage and conservation of water through the knowledge of water resource distribution by using micro watersheds extensively. In contrast, the extreme example representing the North perspectives which is Singapore “started emphasizing the importance of increased local participation in natural resource management (Zachrisson, 2004)” due to the paradigm changes in technologies. The usage of adaptive co-management in the Singapore case was due to a totally different necessity.

Singapore Water Sustainability Program

As a country with the highest population density, natural resources are few in comparison to the needs of the population. Singapore’s water resources comprises only of a few rivers that are replenished with tropical monsoon rains. Given the sparse natural resources, adaptive co-management is essential for Singapore to be self-sufficient in water supply. Catchment area is projected to be two-third of Singapore. Singapore’s natural management has always been adaptive in nature. Co-management is done at the National levels through frequent campaigns to conserve the catchment areas and to prevent the wastage of water. Singapore co-management policy for water sustainability is based on ABC Waters Program. A – Active Community space to involve all Singaporeans to participate. B – Beautiful landscape to ensure love and care for the nature. C – Clean by improving public education to improve water quality as well as people-water relationships (Ong, 2009). Co-management is not difficult for a country the size of Singapore which is 700 square kilometers. However, the adaptive part of the management for water sustainability is tough given the size of Singapore. There is a limit to storage capacity of reservoirs. To preserve the natural resources as well as to cater to the unpredictable monsoon effects especially due to global warming, NEWater is envisioned. NEWater is actually recycled water a toilet to tap approach which involved a lot of buy in from stakeholders and from those queasy about drinking their own “urine”. “The Singapore prime minister drank a bottle of NEWater at a national festival, and the crowd cheered. The subtext was clear—patriotic Singaporeans drink wastewater” (Upson 2010). Singapore succeeded where Australia failed to convince their public on the recycling of sewage water. The addition of recycled water allows Singapore to maintain natural water resources and also to augment them in times of needs by the production of NEWater as and when required. Such a step greatly helped in the quest for water resource sustainability of Singapore.

Compare and Contrast Conclusion

As a First World (North) Nation, Singapore had the money and technology to enable nature resource sustainability. But it had put in a lot of efforts into co-management and to ensure buy-in of its stakeholders through various campaigns. Adaptive mechanism is put into place through the usage of technology. In contrast Kerala, belonging to a part of the (South) Nation had through its innovative use of co-opting localized conditions for nature resources and adopt a co-management style to ensure sustainability of its water resources. The cons of Singapore’s co-management styles are the extreme cost that would not be affordable to a developing nation. The cons of Kerala co-management methods are with the ability to cooperate. This will be fine in days of abundance but when shortage occurs, there is a lack of adaptive measures. Another danger in Kerala’s approach is that of out of state pollution which may damage the equilibrium that had been established through co-management in the state of Kerala. Adaptive co-management is definitely an advantage, but more often than not, it will involve setting up of redundancies through extra natural reserves conservation or in Singapore’s case, the usage of technologies both of which will incur expenses. In conclusion, it is not to say that Kerala’s method is inferior, just that they had done what their environment and financials allow them to do.


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