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Water justice is a combination of social and environmental justice that applies to water allocation and management (water governance). It not only examines the distribution of outcomes but also the processes that underpin them. Water justice challenges us to be explicit about the rationales we adopt to justify our water allocation and management decisions.

It is particularly significant when changes in water governance occur due to altered allocations, reforms in the institutional rules of the game relevant to water, or when there are changes in the underlying hydrological regime – especially due to climate change.

Managing for water justice is a necessary yet challenging goal. What can often appear as a just outcome in a specific location or group of stakeholders can also result in injustices in other locations or for other stakeholders. Issues of justice arise when resources are, or are perceived to be in short supply or when access to water is restricted or confined. Concerns about getting one’s fair share arises when an individual or group feels that others are taking more than their fair share from a common or communal resource such as water. This can result in winners and losers in water resource management.

The burden of being the loser can impact negatively on people’s livelihoods and on ecosystem health, which can result in discontent, and potentially conflict. Often the losers are marginalized communities, disempowered individuals or groups, and/or the natural environment. This can result in social and environmental injustice, especially if these injustice are continuously perpetuated.

Recommended Reading

Patrick MJ (2014) The Cycles and Spirals of Justice in water allocation decision-making. Water International, Vol. 39:1, 63-80.

Patrick MJ, Lukasiewicz A. & Syme G.J. (2014). Why justice matters in water governance: some ideas for a ‘water justice framework’ Water Policy Vol 16 Supp 2.

Patrick MJ, Syme GJ & Horwitz P (2014) How reframing water management issues across scales and levels impacts on perceptions of justice and injustice. Journal of Hydrology Vol 519, Part C Nov.