PhD student Rhoda Darkwah shines light on Melbourne’s future water crisis

While Melbourne is often held up as a shining example of good water management, the city’s reputation masks an uncomfortable truth: its globally acclaimed sustainable water policy is currently not being implemented at full scale. Instead, institutions – from local councils, to community bodies, to home owners – are severely limited in their ability to autonomously manage future water crises.

According to Rhoda Darkwah (pictured below), Monash Arts PhD candidate and recipient of the Alex Raydon and Nina Narodowski PhD Scholarship, and her PhD supervisor, Associate Professor Megan Farrelly, Melbourne’s unique position as a hamstrung icon in water management raises a series of fascinating questions: who has access to water, and decision-making actions about water? How can individuals be empowered to make their own choices about water?  And how can we integrate incredible new technologies with existing structures on a large scale?

With a background in urban and regional planning, Rhoda has always had a keen interest in questions of how to build community resilience and grow sustainable urban and economic development. While she originally intended to focus her PhD studies on sustainable growth in her home country of Ghana, upon moving to Melbourne she realised that her new city is on the cusp of entering a difficult new phase. In a world where climate change is creating drastically different ecological patterns, Melbourne’s current integrated water management framework may not yet be enough to counter the shortages of water caused by inevitably pending droughts.

‘With ongoing climate change and rapid population growth, water management is a key issue in Melbourne,’ says Rhoda. ‘Melbourne is in the position of requiring more effort in maintaining the success it has attained. From my reading, it became clear that issues of institutional ‘lock-in’ is a major problem in the city’s sustainable water management efforts. I intend to use the urban political ecology theory to provide insight into the issue.’

Associate Professor Megan Farrelly, an expert in water management in the Monash School of Social Sciences, has provided the perfect sounding board for Rhoda’s efforts to challenge historical and contemporary water systems. ‘Rhoda and I are both interested in exploring whether there can be a shift away from the conventional approaches to governing water management, towards a model based on greater community involvement and investment,’ said Megan.

‘Water policy makers need to understand the full suite of actors who will play key roles in shaping how people access, use and manage water in the future. When it comes to this  resource, it turns into a question of power, equity and access.’

Rhoda aims to use her PhD to not just research current issues in Melbourne’s water management, but to create a real difference in sustainability policies at a local – and even global - level. ‘I’m aiming to build a framework to help institutions to deal effectively with water management in Melbourne,’ said Rhoda. ‘With an empowering framework, I hope that institutions in Melbourne and around the world can adapt to future droughts on their own, without being pushed by a crisis.’

‘We’re going to know exactly what the impediments are to the processes of institutional adaptation sustainable water practices. This PhD has the capacity to inform policy, and policy will lead to strategies being put in place.’

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PhD (Arts)

School of Social Sciences