The Sao Francisco River Basin, which intersects Brazil’s water-scarce Northeast, is one such socially complex region, where uncontrolled water use has led to environmental degradation and conflicting water usage.
2002 Urban Fellow
Research Topic: Land Use Planning and Management
Faculty Advisor: Susan Clark
Towards Determining Common Interest: Mapping Social Context in Order to Develop Largescale Watershed Planning and Management Policies.
For the past thirty years the international environmental movement has been calling on nations to address the global environment crisis and the global water crisis by implementing policies to address and reverse unsustainable development practices. In attempts to develop integrative approaches to managing land, water and ecological resources, national policies for water resource management are increasingly recognizing large river basins as the appropriate management unit. Many developing countries are now in the process of reforming laws and restructuring governmental institutions in order to plan and manage natural resources at the watershed level. The move to large-scale watershed management presents special challenges, as the geographic area comprising the basin will inevitably contain a vast social landscape of competing interests and political boundaries that dictate past and present water resource use. The São Francisco River Basin, which crosses Brazil’s water-scarce Northeast, is one such socially complex region where uncontrolled water use has led to environmental degradation and conflicting water usage. The Brazilian Government is currently developing an Integrated Watershed Management Plan for the Basin. A detailed understanding of the social context driving water use within the basin should be considered a necessary element of this planning process. The policy sciences methodology for mapping the social context of a national resource problem is applied to the São Francisco River Basin. A controversial plan to divert the river is used as the overlying conflict. Findings suggest that the multiple participants lack awareness of others participating at the watershed level, especially with regard to the broad participation of civil society organizations and the significance of international participation. Recommendations for improving the planning process include the development of an updated and comprehensive map of the social context and the recognition of the myths used by different interest groups as they seek to advance special interests. Civil society organizations involved in the planning process are encouraged to seek linkages with groups operating outside the basin that express similar values with regard to water and natural resource use.