In the past decade, many African governments have been engaging in far-reaching legislative, institutional and financial reforms in the water sector. These reforms have focused on 'Integrated Water Resources Management' and encompass changes to registration, water rights, water fees, and basin-level decision-making. However, these reforms have generally paid little attention to their impact on small-scale water development, use, and management in rural areas. Yet, the large majority of water users live in rural areas and depend heavily on access to rainfall, streams and ponds, groundwater, and wetlands for their health and income from cropping, watering livestock, and small enterprises. Legislation that would improve poor women's and men's access to water would significantly contribute to poverty reduction and agricultural growth. Potential for such water development exists in Africa because water resources are generally abundant, but highly variable and unpredictable within and over the years. The aim of the workshop 'African Water Laws: Plural Legislative Frameworks for Rural Water Development in Africa' (26-28 January 2005) was to explore the options for a more enabling legislative environment in rural areas.
Small-scale water development, use, and management in rural areas are governed by plural legislative frameworks. This fact has hardly been recognized as yet by water resource managers. Yet, water law follows a similar dichotomy as land law between the formal statutory law for 'modern' urban-based and industrializing and large-scale farming sectors, for whom the recent water reforms seem best suited, and the African rural sectors where implementation is much more challenging. Traditionally, this latter sector has relied upon customary laws and norms to manage access to water. Today, pro-poor water legislation and enforcement should also be based on the evolving more inclusive governance structures in rural Africa.
Recognising the contributions that can be gained from examining experiences further afield, the workshop also drew upon the lessons on (plural) water legislation that can be learnt from the vast body of legal and water-related scholarship in Latin America and Asia.
The outputs of the workshop were to: