The Journal of Hydroinformatics

An enquiry into the place of systems analysis in the politics of water and the environment
By J. Philip O’Kane

Over the last fifty years, economic growth has doubled, and expanded our technological capabilities for dealing with various kinds of hydrometeorological phenomena. Yet water-related problems have become ever more frequent and severe. This paradox is the result of our narrow, fragmented perception of reality. Our piecemeal way of thinking reflects academic fields and government agencies, based on a disciplinary treatment of phenomena. Yet most water-related problems are not in fact the result of ‘natural processes’ alone. They are increasingly directly attributable to human actions, thoughts and decisions, which in turn are based on understandings, attitudes, needs and values. O’Kane advances the notion of systems thinking as a central concept to enforce the sociotechnical point of view within our current practice. In essence, technical parts cannot be separated from social parts; stakeholders must participate in decisions concerning their water environment. The paper suggests that if we would follow Goethe’s way of science for dealing with phenomena we may become better participants in the creation and delivery of social justice for our fellow beings

Realising social justice in the water sector
By M. B. Abbott, European Institute for Industrial Leadership (EIIL), Château Latour de Freins, Brussels B-1180, Belgium and Z. Vojinovic, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Westvest 7, Postbus 3015, Delft DA, 2601, The Netherlands

How can water professionals address the needs and concerns of all members of a society in a socially just and ethical manner? Pushing beyond simple costs and benefits analyses, the work of Abbott and Vojinovic argues that water management requires much deeper social, moral, and philosophical considerations. Water professionals must consider what is ethically legitimate and widely acceptable. Does scientific analysis provide an adequate method for making decisions, or should we introduce an additional point of view which cannot be addressed within the spirit of modern science and traditional economic analysis? Such questions apply both to the ‘developed’ and so-called ‘developing’ countries, where cities are increasing at a much faster rate and water-related problems demand far more urgent solutions. This article suggests that current water management practice should adopt a social justice approach, asking what is the right thing to do, not just how much will it cost.