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Individuals improve sustainability of Hungarian water policy

Individuals improve sustainability of Hungarian water policy

Individuals and groups of individuals have been influential in changing the Tisza River water policy in Hungary, according to a new study. A shift away from engineering solutions towards sustainable flood management was achieved through new policy ideas being recognised by civil servants at the national level and a regional coalition championing the ideas at the local level.

The Tisza River is the longest tributary of the Danube. Before the recent changes in water policy, management of the Tisza for 150 years was based on engineering solutions, such as building dikes and straightening the river for flood control. Much of the floodplain had been drained for extensive farming. This system had replaced traditional river management which had been organised around a mosaic landscape structure, community management of local water infrastructure and shallow periodic flooding of the area.
Partly funded by the EU ADAM1 and NeWater2 Projects, the study examined the role that individuals played in developing and implementing a new water policy for the Tisza River using information from interviews with national and regional organisations (ministries, water authorities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), municipalities, farmers), group discussions with stakeholders and a review of previous studies and policy documents.

Five strategies that individuals may use in bringing about a transition in water policy were explored.

Developing new ideas. The researchers found new ideas regarding the water policy arose from two main sources. An NGO, called Bokartisz, was instrumental in initiating ideas about integrated floodplain management and floodplain rehabilitation. Their ideas were a bottom-up approach based on 20 years of practical local experience, involving local municipalities, researchers, farmers and NGOs.

Building coalitions to sell ideas. The second source of ideas evolved during development of a new water plan by administrative agencies, such as the area water boards. Bokartisz formed a regional coalition which used the local experience of their members from municipalities, NGOs, civic organisations to build support from the scientific community and to communicate with the central administration and promote the development of the new water policy.

Recognising and exploiting windows of opportunity. A series of devastating floods and a cyanide spill from a Romanian gold mine focused public and political attention on the Tisza. A window of opportunity opened in 2002 when the Government realised that existing water policy did not solve the flooding problems. A new Ministry of Environment and Water recognised that international financing was available for new policies on river rehabilitation.

Using multiple venues. New forums for exchanging ideas were created by key players in water policy transition. The national Government created an inter-ministerial committee and offered five public tenders to support the drafting of the new water policy. The tenders enabled a wider range of stakeholders and local views to be represented in the planning of the water policy.

Orchestrate and manage networks. The Bokartisz coalition widened their campaign to include lobbying of local interest groups, press coverage, and the provision of training sessions, especially for farmers. Existing networks were influential in changing the Tisza water policy. These included the informal network of water authorities and contractors, NGOs in Hungary, and at the regional level, members of the Bokartisz.

ADAM (Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies: Supporting European climate policy) was supported by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme. See: www.adamproject.eu
NeWater (New approaches to adaptive water management under uncertainty) was supported by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme. See: www.newater.info

Source: Werners, S.E., Matczak, P. and Flachner, Z. (2010). Individuals Matter: Exploring Strategies of Individuals to Change the Water Policy for the Tisza River in Hungary. Ecology and Society. 15(2): 24. Available online at: www.ecologyandsociety.org

Contact: werners@mungo.nl and matczak@amu.edu.pl and flachner@rissac.hu

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