Urban adaptation from a water security perspective: the case of Sanandaj, Iranian Kurdistan

Research, Ongoing

Partly self funded - partly internally funded 15/09/15 → 22/04/2021

Over the centuries, indigenous people of the arid areas of what is currently Iran succeeded in maintaining a sustainable environment. These conditions originated from trial and error knowledge of adaptation to the arid climate, while developing social-institutional arrangements of water management at various scales of governance. As the population grew and water resources per capita declined, locally evolved institutional arrangements were gradually abandoned, especially during the 1960s when the central government acquired the authority to control water resources. The government established a complex institutional bureaucracy, based on a top-down hierarchy regarding both the formulation and implementation of policies, which led to increasingly more complex forms of governance. Each layer of public administration has very limited and fragmented relationships with local groups and communities of users. Therefore, the profound changes in the social-institutional arrangement of the governance structure are at the origin of present water scarcity and the decreasing adaptive capacity of the Sanandaj region, Iran.

The research project hypothesizes that in the Sanandaj region the water management paradigm was gradually transformed from so-called folk co-management to a predict and control paradigm since 1960. Consequently, the social-ecological system has been significantly affected by the pressure of this predict and control paradigm. Therefore, another transformation is required in the future, moving towards adaptive governance in order to achieve water security. In this regard, we aim to identify opportunities for building adaptive capacity in a water governance system based on social and institutional learning from the perspective of dynamic and transformative change.

In the research project, a multi-method approach and a sequential perspective is applied to assess possible pathways of adaptive governance in the case study. The analysis will be framed within transition, resilience and institutional theory. Six stages cover the methodology of the research.

  1. Investigating the social-ecological system under focus in order to identify the roots of the water scarcity issue,
  2. Identifying the essential management variables that affect the patterns of interaction between stakeholders in the applicable constellation of governance and observed outcomes, based on the question of how governance is configured,
  3. Identifying the actors’ platforms, through the assessment of a broad group of representatives from different stakeholder groups, including local expert groups,
  4. Analyzing interactions in the system across levels of organizations and individuals. Such interactions between actors will be determined from interviews and document analysis,
  5. Evaluating capacity-building for enhancing the social learning of stakeholders and institutions at various levels,
  6. Proposing key institutional measures to improve participatory decision making and build the desired adaptive capacity.