From local to national policy influence on water insecurity: Emphasis on marginalized groups and scaling up policy engagement at SUMERNET partners’ meeting

The SUMERNET partners’ meeting today affirmed the regional network’s commitment to reducing water insecurities for marginalized and socially vulnerable peoples and emphasized the need for enhanced policy engagement efforts.

Rajesh Daniel By Rajesh Daniel - Oct 7, 2020

Initiating the SUMERNET partners’ meeting was a panel discussion that brought together a range of perspectives about SUMERNET’s work on water insecurity and policy engagement in the Mekong Region.

The panel started with reflections from Dr. Eren Zink, Senior Research Advisor at the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok who manages Sweden’s research cooperation for development in Asia.

Dr. Eren said: “Secure access to safe water is fundamental for human wellbeing. It is also fundamental for sustainable development and a healthy environment. Because water is so fundamental and competing demands to use it are so great, we find water insecurities everywhere.

“As SUMERNET 4 All is demonstrating, the starting point to addressing water insecurities is to understand them,” he said.

He emphasized SUMERNET’s work with marginalized groups: “The voices and knowledge of persons living in poverty, women, youth and other marginalized groups often go unrecognized by persons and institutions in positions of power and influence.

“The network is producing and co-producing new knowledge that is inclusive of marginalized groups. Together SUMERNET is finding new ways to work with stakeholders at all levels and making evidence the foundation for new solutions, policies and compromises,” he said.

Dr. Louis Lebel, co-chair of the SUMERNET Steering Committee agreed that the strength of SUMERNET in the past has been the partners’ work with local communities on local level issues. “Coproduction of knowledge has brought many gains in the past in our work with local communities,” he said. He stressed that, “The new challenge now is our policy engagement at national levels has been limited and needs to be strengthened.”

Dr. Sangam Shrestha explained how his collaborative project in sustainable groundwater management is undertaking assessment of groundwater in the special economic zones of Thailand.  

Dr. Sangam explained that “there are many dimensions to groundwater sustainability, from economic to institutional, in understanding the current state of sustainability of groundwater.

“The multiple stresses in the future are very important given the impacts of climate change including floods and droughts as well as the expansion of infrastructure like dams. This of course needs a regional perspective for policy impact,” he added.

Dr. Chayanis Krittasuthacheeva, director of the SUMERNET programme, provided a brief background of how the network’s ongoing phase of work on “water insecurity” came about. She explained the partnering and collaborative approach where the network partners’ views were obtained to find out, “What is the most critical area of work that SUMERNET must embark upon in the coming five years after almost 15 years of work as a research and policy network?

“It was clear from this exercise that water insecurity was the most critical area for SUMERNET going forward. Access and rights to water was crucial for local livelihoods in the Mekong, especially for the most marginalized communities. It was also an area of work where many sectors can engage,” she said.

Lessons in the research to policy continuum

From his experience in research capacity building, Dr. Erin remarked that one of the keys to enhanced science-policy efforts is to obtain early identification of the people or sectors you need to influence and to build long-term relationships.

Dr. Louis cautioned that viewing the research to policy approach as a “pipeline” can be misleading: “There is no linear logic where the scientists produce research which is then reached to the policymakers for action. The actual policy research work is much more complex,” he said.

He also talked of how much of SUMERNET research and the knowledge produced is also politically sensitive: “We are not always in a position to work on policy since many of the impacts of water insecurity are caused by government actions and policies that results in people being neglected or marginalized.”

From the audience, Dr. Chantana Banpasirichote Wun’gaeo from Chulalongkorn University asked how SUMERNET can go about “building ‘policy communities’ in the Mekong Region as one approach in building policy engagement.

Dr. Chayanis added that a key challenge for SUMERNET in the past has been trying to upscale its policy efforts: “Many of our research projects are very successful in working on the local issues and using the local authority of our local or province-level partners. But it’s reaching or influencing the higher national and regional levels of policymaking that pose a bigger challenge to SUMERNET.”

“There are many competing and collaborative spaces in policy-making ranging from the MRC and LMC to ASEAN and World Bank or other donors. The strength of the SUMERNET as a network of partners working in water insecurity is that it brings many people together to work on critical issues from the local to regional scales,” said Dr. Sangam.

SUMERNET Partners Meeting concluded today (7 October) attended by more than 60 members of the network from the countries in the Mekong Region including SUMERNET project grantees, Steering Committee, Advisors, Sida (the main donor for SUMERNET), and members of the SUMERNET Secretariat based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Learn more about SUMERNET researcher’s perspectives on water insecurity in the Mekong Region in this short film:

 

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