Building Sustainable Communities in the Murray Darling Basin

Building Sustainable Communities in the Murray Darling Basin

Fundamental to the survival and wellbeing of all communities is the idea of “sustainable development”. Sustainable development brings together the governance, economic, environmental and social aspects of a community in a way “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”(World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987 p. 43). Ongoing uncertainty in communities recovering from crises such as drought, floods or bushfires often lead to an imbalance between social and economic development. Effective governance provides a way of addressing that imbalance. Governance describes the institutional methods by which societies determine and deliver public goods and services. The study of governance involves looking at how power is exercised as well as “the use of institutions, structures of authority and collaboration to allocate resources and coordinate or control activity in society or the economy (Bell, 2002).”

This research project, which is funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Futures Collaborative Research Network (see www.canberra.edu.au/murray-darling-crn) and was co-designed with colleagues in the strategic engagement team of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, evaluates the ‘governance of recovery’ in the Murray Darling Basin – in particularly, the role of local institutions in helping communities recover from crisis and move towards sustainable development. The study draws on qualitative research conducted in six Murray-Darling Basin communities that exemplify a purpose-built typology of vulnerability. The community sample includes, Canberra (ACT), St George (QLD), Bourke (NSW), Renmark (SA), Horsham (VIC) and the Murrumbidgee Valley (NSW). Our findings demonstrate that better local governance and localism, such as inclusive local networks of formal and informal institutions, can help increase the capacity of Murray-Darling Basin communities to adapt, and innovate in response to changing circumstances.