Due to the high importance of water for life, governments have recognized their duty to deliver on sustainability goals for water management, e.g. under international human rights law, EU’s water policies and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (e.g. SDG 6: ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all). However, the possibilities for governments to design and implement sustainable water systems, is, to large extent, dependent on whether state institutions are regarded as trusted and legitimate, both by affected stakeholders and the wider public.

Project description and objectives

The project will evaluate the impact of stakeholder-based approaches on trust among the concerned actors and public trust in governments. This will be done by exploring local and regional cases linking sustainable catchment management to sustainable water use.

Case studies are conducted in four different countries, focusing on their specific water governance challenges: Sweden, Netherlands, Norway and South Africa.

For the countries in focus in this application, the types of issues vary but are equally pertinent: drinking water shortages in South Africa, water quality threats posed by mining industries in Norway, and droughts provoked by infrastructure developments in the Netherlands.

In Sweden, we explore how the governance of hydropower on traditional Sámi lands affects the trust within the Sámi population towards the Swedish government and its institutions. This research combines surveys and interviews. We also expect to conduct participatory action research interventions together with Sámi partners, notably colleagues among reindeer-herding Sámi communities (samebyar).

The purpose is, based on the findings and in close collaboration with local and national non-academic actors, to propose strategies to enhance trust in government and, hence, ultimately increase the effectiveness, sustainability and legitimacy of water governance.

The project is funded by the Joint Action “Water Challenges for a Changing World” (JPI WATER), with SEI financed by the Swedish research council Formas. It is coordinated by Wageningen University and, in addition to SEI, also involves The African Climate & Development Initiative, the University of Cape Town and The Arctic University of Norway.